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Archive for January, 2013

Mommy, Where Does Education Policy Come From?

January 31, 2013 4 comments

This is a question that can be answered in a number of ways …

…honey, in an ideal world, it is generated locally…

I don’t typically push a lot of national content on my blog, but yesterday’s blog on the Washington Post by Valerie Strauss is a must-read. In it she details links between Jeb Bush, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, Chiefs for Change, ALEC, education vendors funding all three groups, and states implementing the approved menu of reforms. The article is a great read with links worth pursuing yourself, but I’ll summarize the findings in one sentence: Corporations fund the political system in order to enact reforms that require states to spend money with them. Politicians and bureaucrats, it turns out, are cheaper than advertising.

…well, sweetie, when a politician forms an educational foundation, it’s really just a way to keep his name in the spotlight for bigger, better things that may come later…

Bush has his hand in a lot of pies. By keeping his name associated with FEE and these other groups he promotes himself as an altruistic reformer. And for some reason, people believe Jeb Bush (and his brother), with their private school upbringing when they say “it’s for the children” more than they do when teachers, principals and superintendents do. For what it’s worth, FEE’s website lists the following tenets as their reform agenda:

  • College and Career Readiness
  • Digital Learning
  • Effective Teachers and Leaders
  • K-3 Reading
  • Outcome-Based Funding
  • School Choice
  • Standards and Accountability

All of these are familiar talking points in Oklahoma except for Outcome-Based Funding, which made an appearance at a committee meeting earlier this week. Diane Ravitch’s blog explains how Arizona is trying to implement this. Basically, all schools would receive the same base funding, but then bonuses would be awarded to those receiving an A or B on the report card. The linkage between school letter grades and community wealth is well established, both by me and real researchers. And their methodology is widely regarded as flawed.

…from people who get paid lots of money to act like they have the best interest of children in mind…

Strauss included this quote from the Center for Media and Democracy to describe the entanglements between policy makers and corporations that benefit from education reform:

Aptly named FEE, Bush’s group is backed by many of the same for-profit school corporations that have funded ALEC and vote as equals with its legislators on templates to change laws governing America’s public schools. FEE is also bankrolled by many of the same hard-right foundations bent on privatizing public schools that have funded ALEC. And, they have pushed many of the same changes to the law, which benefit their corporate benefactors and satisfy the free market fundamentalism of the billionaires whose tax-deductible charities underwrite the agenda of these two groups.

…that’s really more of a grown up story…

You can go yourself here to search for emails between Barresi, SDE staff, and contacts with FEE and other groups. The database is completely searchable. My favorite search terms are “Barresi,” “Waiver,” and of course, “Report Card.” The funny thing about the documents available here is that all parties seem to be writing in the most guarded tones possible. Still, you get the sense that these poor Chiefs for Change, their masters, and their acolytes are a terribly persecuted lot.

I’m bookmarking my favorite emails from the bunch for a later post.

…when you think about it, pretty much the same place babies come from…

First somebody has to get … never mind – that’s a story for a different kind of blog.

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State Board of Education – On the Road Again

January 31, 2013 Comments off

Rather than making you sit through a game of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, I’ll just tell you that today’s State Board of Education meeting is in Howe. A quick of Google Maps tells me that Howe is 201 miles from the Capitol complex, just south of Poteau.

I have nothing against Howe – it’s a school district that long has seen the value of utilizing technology to bring curriculum to students attending school in a remote location. At a time when running a small district is tougher than ever, they’ve been proactive in chasing grants to fund programs that help the district reverse the trend of families leaving rural communities.

I do have to wonder, though, about the cost of this Board meeting. They’re calling the meeting to order at 1:00, so that probably eliminates the need for hotels the night before. They could take state vehicles, but there’s still a cost to that. Board members get mileage to and from meetings, but this is still an added expense because of the distance. Probably the biggest loss is in productivity. All the SDE staff required to be at a Board Meeting will spend at least seven hours in a car.

There are a few noteworthy items on the agenda. The Board will be asked to approve AP grants for training, materials, and vertical alignment. (By the way, the mere existence of this program highlights the fact that change always requires an investment on the human capital side of things). They will also award six grants to reward schools that are partnering with focus schools.

Another point of interest will be the discussion of the three districts that exceeded the allowable administrative cost for the previous school year. The Oklahoman covered this previously, and made it sound worse than it is. Each has severed ties with a previous superintendent, and duplicate costs put them over the limit. This should be pretty routine. It’s unfortunate when it happens, but it happened in three districts out of more than 500.

After that, we get a charter school application and a couple of ACE appeals. But none of this is what I really want to see.

I want to see the State Board of Education follow up on some of the statements that were made at the Education Committee meeting with legislators this week. Here are some examples:

  • Why did Superintendent Barresi, when asked about the need for supplemental RSA funding, indicate that it was the State Board who decided to put discretionary funds elsewhere? Yes, technically, the SBE votes on a budget. They do not, however, prepare the budget. This is like all the times someone from the SDE will say that the legislature is making them do A-F Report Cards and TLE. Those were agency initiatives. Passing the buck this way is transparent and disingenuous.
  • When Sen. Sparks brought up changes that are needed to the A-F Report Cards, there was a general sense that this made Barresi uncomfortable. I’m sure the Board and the state as a whole would like to hear more about the procedures that will be employed to make any rule changes that are forthcoming. It’s the end of January, and there has been no attempt to receive stakeholder input thus far. We’re looking at a very short timeline at this point if any tweaking is to be done.
  • She mentioned that as a fiscal conservative, she’d like to see “performance-based budgeting” in place by FY15. In case you haven’t looked that far ahead, she will be up for re-election in the fall of that school year. I’m not familiar with this term, and the George Orwell fan in me fears it.
  • She also asked for help in dealing with uncooperative districts and those that “impede” student learning. She cited Douglass HS in Oklahoma City, which is pretty obvious. Then she said there are “others out there.” Sorry…I’m going to need you to be specific. If you’re going to impugn educators, I’m going to need facts. I doubt I stand alone on this either. It’s a ridiculous, seemingly unfounded claim. Maybe she’s referring to everybody who has opposed one or more of her reform initiatives. If that’s the case, she’s going to need a lot of help.

Right now, before the legislature starts, before Spring arrives, there’s a chance for the SBE to make its priorities known. There’s a chance to ask for specific information on her claims about schools. And there’s a chance to say, As long as we’re being blamed for budget decisions, we’re going to make them for you next time.

Coming Soon: Vision 2020 2.0

January 29, 2013 Comments off

I had a long day at work, so I was glad to get home and see my email, containing today’s Education Currents Newsletter (which is still not up on their website), containing this announcement:

Save the dates of July 9-11, 2013, for this year’s VISION 2020 Summer Conference in Oklahoma City, hosted by the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

This conference offers learning opportunities and professional development for everyone from the engaged parent, the classroom teacher, counselor, librarian, technology instructor, treasurer, central office personnel, principal, school board member, district superintendent, and others.

Free attendee registration includes all professional development sessions at the conference.

You can track information on the conference here. Right now, it’s three days and free. We’ll see how fluid that is (the duration and cost changed multiple times last year). Last summer’s big event was a great time for this blog, bringing an increase in subscribers and daily hits. Oh, and people went places and learned things. Most importantly, the conference inspired this picture.

Conference Speakers e card

 

Let the planning begin!

 

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The School I Choose

January 29, 2013 3 comments

The mantra this week is that parents should get to choose the schools their children attend; that their zip code shouldn’t choose it for them. It’s quite the idyllic belief – that out there, somewhere is the perfect school.

As a parent, I’m still looking. Here’s what I hope to find.

  • I choose a school that values children for the unique individuals they are.
  • I choose a school with a strong, active PTA.
  • I choose a school where the parents of the other children value education as much as I do.
  • I choose a school that has well-paid faculty who are happy to come to work.
  • I choose a school where the teachers receive meaningful professional development and are treated as professionals.
  • I choose a school that teaches all students, regardless of background or ability.
  • I choose a school that has enough technology to prepare my child for the world after school.
  • I choose an elementary school with a safe and exciting playground.
  • I choose a school that can afford a resource officer, even though I live in a community that looks like it would never need one.
  • I choose a school with enough counselors to tend to every child’s social and psychological needs.
  • I choose a school not driven mad by testing.
  • I choose a middle school with teachers who work in teams to help children transition into adolescent learners.
  • I choose a school that offers art, music, PE, and computer instruction at all levels.
  • I choose a school that has a strong collaborative relationship with a Career Tech center.
  • I choose a school that fosters reading for reading’s sake and writing for writing’s sake.
  • I choose a school with every student receiving support to be on grade level in reading and math.
  • I choose a school that doesn’t arbitrarily mandate retention based on flawed tests.
  • I choose a high school that offers a variety of courses that allow students to explore their career possibilities.
  • I choose a school that encourages the study of Current Events.
  • I choose a school that teaches people not to be defined by their mistakes.
  • I choose a school where the parents support their children in sports while also respecting the boundaries between the field and the stands.
  • I choose a school with good breakfasts and lunches.
  • I choose a school that can raise money for band trips and cheerleader uniforms but doesn’t have to for teacher supplies.
  • I choose a school that operates under mandates fully funded by the state.
  • I choose a school focused on children rather than A-F Report Cards.
  • I choose a school with no bullying.
  • I choose a school with board members who listen to the professionals in their district.
  • I choose a school that is a partner with its community.
  • I choose a school where the teachers have manageable class sizes.
  • I choose a school with teachers who will laugh when students properly pull off a flash mob.
  • I choose a school with at least one nurse.
  • I choose a school with at least one librarian.
  • I choose a school with spirit.
  • I choose a school that takes field trips and has class parties.
  • I choose a school with fully-equipped science labs.
  • I choose a school that teaches social studies and civic engagement to all students.
  • I choose a school that values service-learning.
  • I choose a school that has well-maintained buses with comfortable seats.
  • I choose a school with a safe room, a roof that doesn’t leak, and functioning heat and air.
  • I choose a school that encourages participation in Math Counts, Geography Bee, Science Fair, Competitive Speech and Debate, and Robotics.

Maybe I haven’t found the perfect school yet. I haven’t even created the perfect list, I’m sure. I came up with these 40 things in about 15 minutes. Nonetheless, I’m still grateful for the schools my children attend(ed). I know most feel the same way.

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National School Choice Week

January 28, 2013 Comments off

Prepare to see the PR machines in overdrive. School Choice Week is being celebrated around the country as state legislatures prepare to begin their annual work. In Oklahoma, this means 600 bills that relate to education in some way or another. I would try to provide a digest of them, but I try to keep my blog between 500 and 800 words. Most of these bills are likely to be consolidated or fall to the side completely.

The mythology of school choice goes something like this: students are too often trapped in struggling schools with no alternatives. If the state would only make their money portable, then any private school in the state would take those kids. Short of that, we can just reinvent public schools as charters. Or pull the parent trigger and make schools charters. Or allow any student who feels unsafe to transfer to any other school.

Last year, Superintendent Barresi issued a press release to mark this momentous occasion. In part, it read:

I am a huge advocate of a parent’s right to choose the education that best suits the needs of their children,” Barresi said. “In a free country, with so many exceptional school offerings, there is no reason a child’s education should be bound by his parent’s income level or his geographical location.

This is all empty rhetoric. For school choice to be the great equalizer, you have to have some guarantee that the school you choose would choose you back. Private schools don’t have to. Charter schools technically do, but as I’ve mentioned before, they can insert codicils into their policies that make it extremely difficult for special needs students or children needing remediation to attend. While Oklahoma charter schools still tend to be locally-sprung entities, there are national charter school chains making huge profits.

Nor are the results from private schools and charter schools comparable with those from public schools. In fact, with the private schools, there are no results. They don’t take the same tests. In our data-driven school climates, you would think there might be a push to find out if the potential recipients of vouchers are worth the cash. And charter schools actually did worse overall than the state on the A-F Report Cards.

If we pass a full-on voucher law, does that mean Casady and Holland Hall are just going to change their standards and let anybody in? Does it mean they’re going to expand to offer programs to twice as many students? Of course not. We don’t have private schools – elite or otherwise – in all parts of the state either. Vouchers would be a good boost for families already choosing private schools. In some locations, they would also be a small boost in revenue for schools trying to stay in business. They will not, however, increase equity in public education.

Readers of this blog tend to be independent thinkers. As you hear the various talking points this week, try to find the subtext. Whom will this proposal benefit? What part of the narrative is self-serving or incomplete?

The good news is that I’ll have blog material all week long.

A Reasonable Request and a New Narrative

January 26, 2013 1 comment

Superintendent Barresi is asking the legislature for supplemental funding at the beginning of the legislative session. While I have serious differences with the SDE concerning their budget request for the next fiscal year, this one is spot on. It includes a total of $37.7 million to be used by school districts for the remainder of this school year. The appropriation would go to the following categories:

  • $15 million for ACE Remediation
  • $6.5 million for Reading Sufficiency
  • $8.5 million for Health Benefits
  • $5.9 million for the school funding formula
  • $1.8 million for the Student Longitudinal Data System

The first two line items address gaps in funding for school districts meeting old mandates. Without the supplemental funding, after school and summer programs to help struggling readers and to keep students on track to graduate just won’t happen. The ACE law requires school districts to provide remediation to students in grades 7-12 was only fully funded the first two years. At this time, funding is less than 40 percent what is necessary. Meanwhile, the old Reading Sufficiency program – never fully funded to begin with – takes on greater significance with the addition of third-grade retention. Today’s Tulsa World editorial put it well:

Oklahoma doesn’t need to create a sub-class of young people who have met all other graduation requirements but can’t pass the required exams and thus are denied the diploma needed to get a job or join the military. If we are going to have a law that requires students to prove their test-taking ability, the state ought to provide the remedial help that was promised when the law was passed.

Collectively, these two items, as well as the benefits and formula requests, seem to reflect an understanding that public education in Oklahoma was underfunded prior to the recent slate of reforms.

(For the legislature to have to go back for a third year in a row to fully fund health benefits is simply unconscionable. This needs to be funded correctly the first time for 2014!)

The request for 2014 shows that the reforms need money to have any chance at succeeding. This is a rewrite of a previous narrative – one that told legislators and school districts that the reforms were all revenue neutral.

The new narrative also flies in the face of the statement Barresi made last summer: “Funding for education in this country has doubled over the last 10 years with flatline results.” Yes, we all know money itself doesn’t improve education. We do know the lack of it can be quite limiting, however. Superintendents and school boards have been saying this for years, playing mostly to deaf ears.

Hopefully, at least for the supplemental request, the legislature listens to Barresi and acts quickly. Then, when it comes time to address education funding for next year, there should be a healthy – perhaps uncomfortable – debate.

A Brief Primer in “Scholarly Jargon”

January 24, 2013 4 comments

One prescient commenter on the Oklahoman’s editorial slamming the CCOSA/OSSBA commissioned study of A-F Report Cards attributed the paper’s snarky tone to a lack of understanding. The writer stated, “Really dok, your inability to grasp the jargon of a scholarly report doesn’t mean it’s skewed.” I think this is part of the problem. Grades scaled A-F appeal most to people who want a simplistic answer to the key question, “How is my school doing?” Research done by real live scholars breaks that mold.

To help the editorial writers, I’ve captured ten statements from the report containing scholarly jargon and provided a brief explanation. Why ten? Because it’s a nice round number that people recognize. And that’s what really matters.

Statements

  1. The scores assigned to represent proficiency levels (0, .2, 1.0, 1.2) do not seem to correspond to any recognizable metric.
  2. The metric does not justify the mathematical manipulations performed in the A-F scaling.
  3. The use of proficiency levels rather than test scores in these computations introduces grouping error.
  4. Information is lacking regarding classification consistency.
  5. Attendance and graduation rates are known to be correlated with socioeconomic status.
  6. By not making explicit threats to the validity of report card grades, the OSDE misinforms the public about the credibility and utility of the A-F accountability system.
  7. There is a nonlinear relationship between proficiency level and growth since growth is restricted at the top.
  8. The A-F accountability system is susceptible to forms of “test score pollution.
  9. The A-F accountability system stands in contrast with more comprehensive understandings of measuring organizational effectiveness.
  10. [E]xternal inducements to task performance reliably undermine motivation.

Explanations

  1. The idea of a recognizable metric is that the system would use some kind of a scale that makes sense or sound familiar. The A-F grades are recognizable. The scale used to assign value to performance, as the report indicates, is completely arbitrary.
  2. The SDE created a formula in which an advanced score is worth six times the value of a limited knowledge score. They manipulated the results to create a performance index that does not tell anybody how many students actually passed each test. And the justification for the formula is completely unclear.
  3. This image I uploaded a while back showing the distribution of Report Card GPAs by poverty levels gives a good visual explanation of grouping error. statterplot
  4. The classification inconsistency comes from the fact that test results come before performance levels are set. The four categories are not equally grouped. For example, on one test, the range of scores for Proficient may be just a few responses from high to low. On the test for the same subject in the next grade, it may be much larger. On some tests, the range of scores for Advanced is very narrow. On others, it is quite wide.
  5. Statistically, correlation is the relationship between two variables. One common mistake is to say that correlation shows causation. It doesn’t necessarily. Poverty is highly correlated with other variables such as low school achievement, poor health, and family dysfunction. In this report, the researchers discuss correlation to explain why attendance rates and graduation rates are somewhat factors that schools can’t control. I would add that if a school is doing well in terms of student achievement and growth, is attendance really all that important? Yes, students should be in school whenever possible. If they aren’t, and they still do well, though, what is the huge concern?
  6. I would have re-written this sentence. The authors don’t mean the SDE should make “explicit threats.” They mean, “There are threats, and the SDE should state these explicitly.” Months of scrutiny have exposed many flaws in the methodology for the grades. The SDE’s denial of those concerns and promotion of these grades misinforms the public.
  7. Do you remember calculating slope in Algebra? Slope is the way to represent a linear relationship. Slope is also a way to explain correlation … rise over run … y = mx + b … But sometimes the relationship curves. Students scoring poorly have a lot more opportunity for growth than students scoring very well. Taking the average of student growth and applying it to students misrepresents this reality. Badly.
  8. A huge problem in accountability systems is the idea that they force schools to filter all curriculum decisions into various methods of test preparation. Nothing else gets through. Tests should sample what students know. Instead, they end up capturing the entirety of what has been taught. This is test score pollution.
  9. In short, the A-F Report Cards keep us from seeing whether or not schools are truly effective. They capture a snapshot of all the wrong things.
  10. I absolutely loved this sentence from page 23. It contests the idea that before A-F…before API…before NCLB, schools were complacent. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I’ve said repeatedly on this blog that schools try to improve continuously because the people working there care about their kids. Nobody wants to be embarrassed (or validated) by grades that misinform the public. Ultimately, when the teacher is with the class, that all goes out the window.

The truth is that most of us aren’t professional researchers or scholars. Most Oklahomans aren’t even educators. That’s perfectly fine. We all speak a variety of languages that make sense in our own circles. I’m an educator and a researcher. I get what the report says. But even if I didn’t  I wouldn’t take the intellectually dishonest path of rejecting the findings. The researchers at OU and OSU are spot on with this report. I detect that most people get that, even if certain newspapers do not.

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