Wednesday, November 25, 2015

PA: Testing Good News & Bad News

This week the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted to postpone the use of the Keystone Exam (Pennsylvania's version of the Big Standardized Test required by the feds) as a graduation requirement. The plan had been to make the Class of 2017 pass the reading, math and biology exams in order to get a diploma. The House bill pushes that back to 2019.

The House measure joins a similar Senate bill passed last summer. The only significant difference between the bills is that the House bill adds a requirement to search for some tool more useful than the Keystones. The bills should be easy to fit together, and the governor is said to support the two-year pause, so the postponement is likely to become law. And that is both good news and bad news.

Good News 

The Keystone is a lousy test. It is so lousy that, as I was reminded in my recent Keystone Test Giver Training Slideshow, all Pennsylvania teachers are forbidden to see it, to look at it, to lays eyes on it, and, if we do somehow end up seeing any of the items, sworn to secrecy about it. But because I am a wild and crazy rebel, I have looked at the Keystone exam as well as the practice items released by the state, and in my professional opinion, it's a lousy test.

So it's a blessing that two more rounds of students will not have to pass the tests in order to graduate-- particularly as the feds bear down on their insistence that students with special needs be required to take the same test as everyone else, with no adaptations or modifications. The year the Keystones are made a graduation requirement is the year that many Pennsylvania students will fail to graduate, even though they have met all other requirements set by their school board and local district.

That will not be a good year.

Bad News

The tests will still be given, and they will still be used for other purposes. Those purposes include evaluating teachers, and evaluating schools.

Pennsylvania's School Performance Profile, looks like it based on a variety of measures (some of which are shaky enough-- PA schools get "points" for buying more of the College Board's AP products) but at least one research group has demonstrated that 90% of the SPP is based on test scores (one huge chunk for a VAMmy growth score and another for the level of the actual score).

So we will continue to have schools and teachers evaluated based on the results of a frustrating and senseless test that students know they have absolutely no stake in, and which they know serves no purpose except to evaluate teachers and schools. Get in there and do your very best, students!

Bonus Round

Of course, some districts tried to deal with that issue of getting student skin in the game by also phasing in a pass-the-test requirement as a local thing. So now a whole bunch of students who have been hearing that they'll have to pass the Keystones to graduate-- they'll be hearing that the state took that requirement away, except then someone will have to tell them that their local district did NOT take the requirement away. This should open up some swell discussion.

So How Do We Feel?

State Board of Education Chairman Larry Wittig (a CPA who was appointed to board by Tom Corbett) is sad, because he thinks the whole testing program is awesome and well-designed. Wittig's reaction is itself a mixed bag. On the one hand, he thinks that the testing system is "well-crafted" and beneficial to students, which is just silly, because the test is neither of those things. On the other hand, he also said this:

If I'm a teacher and in part my evaluation is based on the result of these tests and now the tests are meaningless, I'm going to have a problem with that.

And, well, yes. "Not stakes for students, high stakes for schools and teachers" kind of sucks as an approach.

And really, is there anyone in Harrisburg who wants to articulate the reasoning behind, "We don't have faith in this test's ability to fairly measure student achievement, but we do have faith in its ability to measure teacher achievement." No? No, there doesn't seem anybody trying to explain the inherent self-contradiction in this position.

Perhaps the House-sponsored search for a Better Tool will yield fabulous results. But in the meantime, we've already signed Data Recognition Corporation, Inc, to a five-to-eight year contract to keep producing the Keystone, even if we don't know what we want to use the tests for.

The good part of this news is undeniable. Two more years of students who will not have to clear a pointless, poorly-constructed hurdle before they can get their diplomas. That's a win for those students.

But to postpone the test rather than obliterate it, to keep the test in place to club teachers and schools over the head, to signal that you don't really have an idea or a plan or a clue about what the test is for and why we're giving it-- those are all big losses for teachers, for education, and for all the students who have more than two years left in the system.

Has CCSS Affected Instruction

Brookings, an outfit that is usually a reliable provider of pro-reform clue-free baloney, offers an interesting question from non-resident senior fellow Tom Loveless: Has Common Core influenced instruction?

It's a worthy question. We've talked a lot about how CCSS has affected policy and evaluation and assessment, but has it actually affected what teachers do in the classroom?

The proponents of the Core never developed a way to answer that question because their assertion has always been that we would see the effects on instruction in the flowering of a million awesome test scores. But the 2015 NAEP scores turned out to be a big bowl of proofless pudding, and so now we're left to ask whether the Common Core tree fell in the classroom forest without making a sound, or if it never fell at all.

William J. Bushaw blamed "curricular uncertainty," while Arne Duncan went with the theory of an "implementation dip." Loveless's brief piece includes this masterpiece of understatement:

In the rush to argue whether CCSS has positively or negatively affected American education, these speculations are vague as to how the standards boosted or depressed learning. 

In other words, Core fans are unable to get any more specific than their original thoughts that Common Core Standards would somehow magically infuse classrooms, leading to super-duper test scores. Of course, they also assumed that teachers were blithering incompetently in their classrooms and that adhering to awesome standards would mean a change. Loveless notes a 2011 survey in which 77% of teachers said they thought the new math standards were the same as their old math standards. So there's one vote for, "No, the standards changed nothing."

Then Loveless drops this wry observation:

For teachers, the novelty of CCSS should be dissipating. 

Yes, the "novelty" is surely fading away. I could jump to the conclusion that Loveless is one more deeply clueless Brookings guy, but he follows that up with these lines:

Common Core’s advocates placed great faith in professional development to implement the standards.  Well, there’s been a lot of it.  Over the past few years, millions of teacher-hours have been devoted to CCSS training.  Whether all that activity had a lasting impact is questionable.  

Loveless cites some research that tells us what we mostly know-- after a new change is shoved on us in professional development, there's a "pop" of implementation, and then it mostly fades away.

Loveless doesn't try to explain this, but I'll go ahead and give it a shot. Every teacher is a researcher and every classroom is a laboratory. And every instructional technique, whether it's in my textbook or pushed on me by edict or sold to me in PD or is the product of my own personal research and development efforts-- every one of those techniques is subject to the same rigorous testing and data-driven evaluation.

Does it work in my classroom?

I can find you numerous elementary teachers who took their newly purchased Common Core math textbooks, tried the recycled New Math instructional methods and pacing in the texts (because most of us will try anything once or twice) and then said, "Well, my students are confused and can't do the work. So I will now add a few days to the suggested pace of the book, and I will teach them how to do this The Old Way so that they can actually get a handle on it." The "fading novelty" looks a lot like "adapting or rejecting new ideas based on the real data of the classroom." And since Common Core's novelty is the product of well-connected amateurs and their personal ideas about how school should work, the novelty has indeed faded swiftly.

To the extent that we are allowed to (and that is the huge huge huge problem facing teachers in some districts-- they are no longer allowed to exercise their professional judgment), we do what meets the needs of our students. We do what works. We don't stick with something that doesn't work just because some textbook sales rep in a PD session or some faceless bureaucratic ed amateur in an office said we should stick with it.

Loveless suggests there are two plausible hypotheses. 1) As educators get better at using CCSS techniques, results will improve. 2) CCSS has already shown all the positive effects it ever will. I'm going to say that both are correct, as long as we understand that "get better at using CCSS" means " steadily edit, revise, change and throw out pieces of the Core based on our own research and knowledge of best practices."

Loveless does highlight one measurable effect of the Common Core-- the increased emphasis on non-fiction and the concurrent de-emphasis on fiction. He has data to back this up. And he also knows what the shift really means:

Unfortunately, as Mark Bauerlein and Sandra Stotsky have pointed out, there is scant evidence that such a shift improves children’s reading.

He also notes that more non-fiction doesn't necessarily mean higher quality texts, noting that two CCSS supporting groups provide completely different ideas about curriculum.

Loveless notes that analysts tend to focus on formal channels of implementation and ignore the informal ones. It's a good catch. A top-down directive from a state department of education can carry much less power than teachers sharing the video clip of CCSS architect David Coleman explaining that "nobody gives a shit what you think or feel." And politics are involved in the Core (and always have been, since the Core was imposed by political means).

Finally, he notes that implementing top-down curriculum and instruction reforms always runs afoul of what transmitters think, and boy, do I agree with him on this one. Every top-down reform is like a game of telephone, and each person who passes the program along reads into it what they personally think should happen.

As the feds tell state departments of ed and the department tells its functionaries and they tell their training division and they tell superintendents and superintendents tell principals and principals hire professional development ronin-- at each handoff of the baton, someone is free to see what they believe the program "must" require.

Loveless uses the example of non-fiction reading, postulating that an administrator who had always wanted to dump fiction for non-fiction would be given protective cover by CCSS. But that rests on a pretty explicit reading of what CCSS says about itself. This sort of top-down implementation also gives rise to policies that involve reading between the lines, such as an administrator who wants English teachers to teach less grammar and uses Common Core as justification. And of course the standards have been completely rewritten by test manufacturers, who interpret some standards and leave others out entirely.

In fact, some folks make a curriculum argument based on what the standards don't say at all. The rich content crowd insists that implementing Common Core must involve rich, complex texts from the canon of Important Stuff, and their argument basically is that because Common Core doesn't really require rich content because otherwise, it would just be a stupid set of bad standards emphasizing "skills" while leaving a giant pedagogical hole in its heart where the richness of literature should be. They must mean for us to fill in the gaps with rich text, they argue. Because surely the standards couldn't be that stupid and empty. (Spoiler alert: yes, they are).

In fact, in an otherwise pretty thorough brief, Loveless misses another possibility-- the Common Core Standards are limited in their ability to influence instruction because they aren't very good. Can I influence the work of cabinet-makers by putting bananas in their tool boxes? Can I influence how surgery is performed by telling surgeons to wear fuzzy slippers into the operating room? The implementation problem remains unchanged-- it's impossible to have a good implementation of a bad program.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

MA: How To Gut a School District

Back in April of 2014, Jim Peyser was managing director of the NewSchools Venture Fund, a group set up to support "venture philanthropy" in the charter school world with grant-funneling, consulting, lobbying, etc. Think of them as bag men and enforcers for hedge funders interested in making a charter school buck or two.

That would make Jim Peyser and ordinary charter-pushing well-connected money man, but that was Peyser in April of 2014. But two days before Christmas of 2014, Santa brought Peyser a gift of the job of Secretary of Education for the state of Massachusetts. Not since the fox was hired to stand guard over the henhouse has a job been so cleverly filled, but Governor Charlie Baker loves him some charters and has thrown open the gate to every kind of charter shilling under the sun.

But the case of Peyser is unique, because as NewSchools Venture Honcho, Peyser laid out his ideas about how the path forward for gutting redesigning school districts. Take for instance the piece he published in that long-ago April, "Redesigning School Districts: The Way Forward."

He opens by quoting an imaginary friend who bemoans the fact that although charters are swell, they only serve a few students, and in order to "close the achievement gap at scale," the "real work" of fixing school districts must be done.

These friends and allies believe charters have successfully proven that it’s possible to create high-performing public schools in high-need neighborhoods, but now charters need to step aside so that their practices and systems can be taken to scale by enlightened district leaders.

Peyser wants to point out two problems with that view. You will perhaps be surprised to learn that neither of the problems are that charters have not actually successfully proven anything. Okay-- they've proven that will an infusion of resources and a carefully chosen student population, you can test prep your way to higher test scores. But we've known that since before charter schools were a twinkle in a hedge funder's eye.

No, Peyser thinks there are two other things wrong with that.

First, it is based on the Great Man theory of reform, the belief that a really awesome superintendent or principal can Fix Everything. But Peyser says that fans don't reckon with the bump-and-run employment pattern of urban superintendents. In the very next sentence he indicts the "this-too-shall-pass" attitude of "tenured teachers" (though if superintendents leave every three years, this too, whatever it is, really will pass) and "entrenched administrators." See what he did there? Problem administrators are stuck in the mud, but problem teachers have evil job protections.

Second, Peyser lays out what he calls the "twin obstacles to effective and sustainable change: politics and collective bargaining." Those really are the bugbears of the corporate approach to school operation, and they really are twins, because both of them interfere with the leader's ability to do whatever the hell he wants without having to get anybody's approval. "Applying sound management practices" to a big ole school district is hard enough when leadership has the unfettered freedom to Do As He Will. "Doing so in an environment where change must be negotiated with powerful unions and ultimate control rests with an ever-changing cast of politicians and school board members, is next to impossible."

It's a pretty quick, clear explanation of the corporatist view. Get rid of elected officials. Get rid of collective bargaining. Let me run the company the way I think best, based on "sound management practices." These guys really, literally, do not know what the hell they are doing when it comes to schools.

Peyser lists the other problems. The large majority of students are still being educated in the public schools, and "politico-bureaucratic inertia" makes it hard to "right-size a school system that is gradually losing students and resources as charters grow." Yes, those taxpayers can get so grumpy when their neighborhood school is right-sized.

The result is an annual series of budget cuts and a growing chorus of complaint from district employees and parents of district-school students that charter schools are forcing their schools into a downward spiral.

Peyser's feeling about this is not clear. Is he suggesting the death spiral isn't really happening, because that would be a hard point to sell. Does he think people should be happily compliant about the death spiral?

But Peyser does have answers to the Big Picture Issues.

Specifically, district superintendents, state education commissioners, and mayors, in partnership with one another and with charter operators and local and national funders, are developing new systems for breaking down the walls that separate the district and charter sectors, and that reorganize central offices to empower individual schools – both district and charter, alike.  This isn’t a veiled attempt to co-opt and regulate the charter sector, in order to “level the playing field” (i.e., force charters to live with all of the dysfunction that district schools suffer under).  Instead, it is an effort to liberate all schools from the dead-weight of central management, in exchange for a results-based system of accountability.

Note that he wants to rest assured that this not some attempt to co-opt charters, meaning, I guess, suck them back under some office's control. Instead, he would like to free the public schools from their chains of central office management. Yes, when the charter operators come to take over public schools, they will be greeted as liberators.

Practical steps in this liberation?

Well, Peyser likes a universal enrollment system, like the ones in Newark and New Orleans, where students are thrown in a big single lottery and each student waits to be chosen by a charter school "receives a single offer of admission from a school that his or her parents has chosen." He also likes the idea of designating a charter as a default neighborhood school with an opt-out option for parents.

He likes common school report cards, so that parents can make informed choices about the schools that charter operators will assign students to. Some parents will choose schools with high standardized tests scores, and some parents will decide to send their child to a school with low test scores, I guess. Well, no matter. Newark and New Orleans teach us that most won't get an actual choice anyway.

But common school report cards do help set up another favorite Peyser practice-- bringing charters in to take over or replace "failing" schools. The big bonus here is real estate:

In exchange, the charter schools can lease or buy the school building, a precious commodity for any growing charter operator. 

Because the very best school plans make sure to address the needs of charter operators, and students are not nearly as precious as the buildings they occupy. Peyser likes the Tennessee ASD, and he provides this hilariously understated summary of charter real estate grabbing in New York:  

Even when a charter school is not directly replacing a low-performing district school, some districts, like New York, have helped find space for charter operators in underserved communities.

Yes. "Find" space. As in, "While we were looking for a co-location site, we just shoved all these public school kids out of the building and-- voila! We found some space!" 

Peyser also wants to be clear that in his perfect School District of Tomorrow, there are plenty of opportunities for folks to cash in on the remaining public schools as well. All sorts of school functions can be shifted to outside contractors and new funding formulas can help turn any low-scoring public school into a fiduciary funnel for private operators. And don't forget-- freedom from those damn contract restrictions so that school leaders can flex their autonomy and deal with teachers as they wish.

All of this would be one more set of musings from a corporate-style, pubic-school-gutting, hedge-fund-feeding charter promoter if it weren't for the fact that this is the guy now in charge of Massachusetts' public education system. No wonder charter sharks like Families for Excellent Schools are now churning the Massachusetts waters, and Boston's mayor has laid out a plan for gutting Boston Public Schools. The only good thing about Peyser is that he's already laid out exactly what he has in mind. None of it is good, but like a big truckload of manure driving toward you across a field, you can at least see it coming.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Clinton-Induced Charter Freakout Continues

Man, just thirty little words can cause sooooo much fuss.

Most charter schools – I don’t want to say every one – but most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them.

These have been quoted over and over and over again. Sometimes they are quoted by folks who are excited that Clinton said something supportive of public schools. But they've also been quoted by charter supporters who are absolutely freaking out.

Reformsters Robert Pondiscio and Richard Whitmire also made attempts to raise some dudgeon high over Clinton's thirty-word assault, and while I think they're wrong, they at least showed a little rhetorical and intellectual rigor. Not so some of the other defenders of the charter cause.

The Washington Post editorial board scolded her by citing bogus data from a report written by the Center for Education Reform, a group that exists strictly to push charter schools and crush teacher unions. That's high order journalistic sloppiness, like turning to the Tobacco Institute for your "facts" about smoking. The Wall Street Journal also rushed to the defense of the hedge fundies who profit from charter schools, citing more fact-free facts.

But nobody has leaned on the Panic Button with hands any heavier than Juan Williams today on The Hill. Williams is a Fox News "Analyst," a position he moved into after being fired by NPR for either A) some impolitic remarks about Muslims on planes or B) because he was buddying up to Fox. Take your pick of explanations.

All the features of the High State of Charter Dismay are here in this piece.

It starts with the headline (which, it should be noted, is probably not Williams' call)-- "Hillary betrays charter schools." Betrays?? As in double-crosses? Did they have some claim to her? Are they offended because they thought Clinton was their BFF, or because their ethical standards say that when a politician is bought, she should stay bought?

Next, Williams opens by invoking children:

My 5-year-old grandson goes to a big city charter school. But Eli and his classmates do not belong to a union. They do not give money to politicians. They can’t vote.

That is unquestionably true of Eli and his classmates. It is probably not true of the people who own and operate Eli's school. I bet those people have plenty of money to give to politicians.

Williams throws in the word "flip-flop." He calls her thirty word backstab an act of "political expediency." He accuses her of running over Eli. He says her words sound like a script written by the teachers union (to whom? and what exactly is that sound?) And then he starts in with some of the same old non-fact facts.

By law, almost all charter schools get their students from a lottery. They do not cherry-pick their students.

Yeah, no. The very act of a lottery is a creaming process, as it automatically selects out those parents who are able to navigate the lottery system and are willing to do so. When charters start taking randomly selected students from the public school system-- including students who didn't even express interest in attending a charter-- then you'll have a point. And the widespread evidence of push-outs, as exemplified by Success Academy's got-to-go list, is one more example of how charters make sure they are working with a select group of students-- unlike public schools.

Williams says he has talked to parents who see charters as "a great stride towards improving public education by providing competition and pioneering teaching techniques that offer a model for all schools." And yet, charters have done none of those things. Name one educational technique, one pedagogical breakthrough that has come from a charter.

Williams quotes the Washington Post quoting the Center for Education Reform in saying that charters take on a higher percentage of poor and minority students than public schools. No, that's not true, either, unless I suppose you are comparing charter schools to all the public schools in the country, including all the public schools that serve very white communities. But if we start looking city by city, we find things like the charter schools of Massachusetts that serve no non-English speaking students at all. Or you can check out some of the legitimate actual research done in New Jersey about exactly what populations charters serve. Or you can just keep reading copy from the ad fliers put out by the Center for Education Reform.

The Post also cited research that shows “charter schools produce greater student learning gains than traditional public schools, particularly for poor and minority students.”

It takes an extraordinary amount of laziness not to locate the research that shows that charters do no better than public schools, and often do worse. Heck, the writers at the Washington Post could have just looked through the reporting in the Washington Post to see that they were missing a point or two.

Williams moves on to a recounting of Clinton's flip-floppery, and then, of course, we have to spend some time indicting the Evil Unions.

The unions do not appreciate the Obama administration’s effort to have public school districts compete for grants given to districts with improved student achievement. They opposed holding teachers accountable for their students’ success or failure. 

That's because "improved student achievement" just means "higher test scores on a crappy standardized math and reading test." Do you, Mr. Williams, have any hopes for Ele beyond that he just learn to do well on a Big Standardized Test on math and reading? I'll bet you do. Welcome to the club.

And for the gazillionth time-- teachers do not oppose being held accountable for what we actually do. Let me put it this way-- would it have pissed you off if NPR had fired you over something to do with the actual quality of your reporting instead of some baloney about saying the wrong thing whiel talking to the wrong people? Do you think it was fair that your job security suffered for something unrelated to your job performance? Because-- again-- welcome to the club.

You want to evaluate me, come on ahead. I welcome it. But evaluate me on my actual teaching skills, and not some random trumped up fake-science VAM baloney that is neither valid nor reliable.

But Williams is not done unloading his big truck full of bovine fecal matter. This next sentence is sitting all by itself, just for impact.

In the name of protecting failing teachers and bad schools, they are the number one opponents of school reform.

Bullshit, sir. Bull. Shit. We have opposed "school reform" because it is and has been bad for education and bad for children, and because, after over a decade, it hasn't produced a single success.

The Wall Street Journal fears that  future Clinton ed department will be a wholly-owned union subsidiary, which brings me to what I find most hilariously ironic about all this Clintonian pearl clutching.

The charter folks take Clinton's words far more seriously than I do. Clinton has always been a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wall Street, and I fully expect her to behave as such should she be elected (which, if it happens, won't be because I voted for her). So Clinton said something vaguely mean (and painfully accurate) about charter schools, one time. Hell, Clinton says a lot of things. And since both unions threw support to her without making her so much as curtsy in their direction, I don't think there's much of a deal there. Nor do I think that union coffers will, this one time, outweigh the vast mountains of money that Wall Street has thrown at her over the years. And since it is Wall Street that ultimately backs the charter industry, I don't think charters have the slightest thing to worry about.

Heck-- almost immediately, a Clinton staffer walked back the terribly ouchy thirty words and re-assured charters that Clinton still thinks of them as Very Important Public Schools.

So the irony here is that while charter fans are freaking out because they think Clinton might start telling the truth about them and they might not be able to hoover up tax dollars with impunity any more, I'm thinking those thirty words are pretty meaningless. You guys really need to take a deep breath and get your blood pressure down; this is going to be a long haul.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

OH: Raking in Consultant Money

Education reform has spawned a variety of new money-making opportunities, including a burgeoning field of education consultants.

That's because one of the new steady drumbeats is that superintendents, principals, and most especially teachers-- in short, all the people who have devoted their professional lives to education-- don't know what they're doing and possess no expertise in education whatsoever. No, for real expertise, we must call in the High Priests of Reformsterdom.

That takes us to Cleveland, Ohio. I love Cleveland; I did my student teacher at a Cleveland Heights middle school while living in an apartment at the corner of East 9th and Superior, and those, indeed, were the days. But Cleveland schools have a long history of difficulty. Back in the day, Ohio schools had to submit all tax increases to voter referendum; Cleveland voters routinely said no, and Cleveland schools repeatedly shut down around October when they ran out of money.

Now, in the reform era, Cleveland schools have embraced charters and privatization with a plan that stops just short of saying, "We don't know what the hell we're doing or how to run a school district, so we're just going to open it up to anybody who thinks they can run a school or has an opinion about how to run a school. Except for teachers and professional educators-- they can continue to shut the hell up." This is Ohio, a state that has developed a reputation the charter school wild west, where even people who make their living in the charter biz say, "Oh, come on. You've got to regulate something here!"

Given this climate, it seems only likely that Cleveland schools would call on a consulting firm like SchoolWorks. If the mashed-together name makes you think of other reformy all-stars like StudentsFirst and TeachPlus, you can go with the feeling. SchoolWorks started out helping charter schools get up and running and had a close relationship with KIPP schools. Their CEO's bio starts with this:

Spencer Blasdale considers himself a “teacher by nature,” but found early on in his career that his passion was having an impact beyond the four walls of one school.

And may I just pause to note how well that captures the reformy attitude about teaching-- you are just born with a teachery nature, and you don't need training or experience and you certainly don't need to prove yourself to any of those fancy-pants teacher colleges or other professional educators. The entry to the teaching profession is by revelation, and once you "consider yourself" a teacher, well then, what else do you need?

You will be unsurprised to learn that Blasdale's "career" consists being a charter founding teacher, rising to charter administration, and then deciding to jump to charter policy. His LinkedIn profile indicates that he did teach a couple of years at a private day school back in the nineties. He has never taught in a public school. He's a product of the Harvard Ed grad school. Based on all that, he and his company are prepared to come tell you what you're doing wrong at your school; you can sign up for just an evaluation, or they will provide coaching as well.

Which brings us back to Cleveland.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that SchoolWorks has already been to the district. They visited ten schools. They visited each school for three days. Based on three whole days at the school, they evaluated the school in nine areas.

For this they were paid $ 219,000. Seriously.

The reports were not pretty. "Not all educators convey shared commitments and mutual responsibility," they said (which strikes me as a pretty incredible insight to glean in just three days). Another school was slammed for "rarely -– only 11 percent of the time –- letting students know what the goals were for class." This would be more troubling if there were, in fact, a shred of evidence that sharing the goals had any educational benefits. Security officers were careless and the schools were messy and unclean. Good thing they hired a consultant-- I bet nobody in the district is qualified to tell if a school is messy or not.

The whole SchoolWorks package is like that. They come in to give one of four ratings on nine questions.

  1. Do classroom interactions and organization ensure a supportive, highly structured learning climate?
  2. Is classroom instruction intentional, engaging, and challenging for all students?
  3. Has the school created a performance-driven culture, where the teachers effectively use data to make decisions about instruction and the organization of students?
  4. Does the school identify and support special education students, English language learners, and students who are struggling or at risk?
  5. Does the school's culture reflect high levels of both academic expectation and support?
  6. Does the school design professional development and collaborative supports to sustain a focus on instructional improvement?
  7. Does the school's culture indicate high levels of collective responsibility, trust and efficacy?
  8. Do school leaders guide instructional staff in the central processes of improving teaching and learning?
  9. Does the principal effectively orchestrate the school's operations?
Now, some of these are crap, like #3's focus on data-driven instruction and decision-making. And many of them are really good goals in general, but it's going to come down to, for instance, exactly what we think "intentional, engaging and challenging" instruction looks like.

But on what planet are any of these-- even the iffy ones-- better checked by strangers with no public education expertise in the course of a three-day drive-by then by your own in-house experts? Do your superintendents and principals check none of this? We can take care of item #7 before the consultants even get to the school. Does the school's culture indicate high levels of collective responsibility, trust and efficacy? If you have just paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to come look at what your own people can see with their own eyes, the answer is "no," or maybe "hell, no."

But Cleveland schools say, "May we have some more." SchoolWorks will be driving by twenty-five more schools for a price tag of $667,000. Which-- wait a minute. Ten schools for $219,000 is $21,900 per school. And twenty-five times $21,900 is $547,500. Apparently the additional cost is so that SchoolWorks will provide a "toolbox of solutions."

If this seems pricey, SchoolWorks also offered Cleveland a one-day drive-by package which would have covered the thirty-five schools for $219,000.

If there's a bright spot anywhere in this picture, it's that Cleveland school leaders recognize that simply soaking test scores in VAM sauce won't give them a picture of their schools' effectiveness. But if I were a Cleveland taxpayer, I'd be wondering why I was forking over a million dollars so that some out-of-town consultants could come do the job I thought I was already paying educational professionals in my district to do.

ICYMI: Some weekend eduwebs reading

Here's some edureading for the weekend.

Five Cynical Observationa about Teacher Leadership

I mean to include Nancy Flanagan's insightful list about how teacher leadership isn't happening last week, and then, somehow, I didn't. But here it is. These days Flanagan is one of the consistently rewarding bloggers for Ed Week-- save your limited freebie reads for her.

Educators Release Updates VAM Score for Secretary Duncan

Educators for Shared Responsibility have come up with a VAM formula for evaluating Education Secretaries. Not entirely a joke.

Classroom Surveillance and Testing

At the 21st Century Principal, John Robinson makes the striking observation that our classroom data collection bears a striking resemblance to the tools of surveillance and, well, spying.

Drinking Charter Kool-Aid? Here Is Evidence.

Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig has provided an essential resource. You may not read through it all today, but you'll want to bookmark it somewhere. Here's a very thorough listing of legitimate peer-reviewed research on the effectiveness of charter schools. Handling of special populations, segregation, competition, creaming-- it's all here, and all the real deal. You will want to keep this resource handy.

Stop, Start, Continue

Not always a fan of things I find at Edutopia, but this is a short simple piece focused on three things teachers should stop doing, three things we should start doing, and three things to continue doing. A good piece for sparking a little mental focus.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Resume Bombs

Here's the problem. You can't build a resume with the following:

I took over a program that was doing pretty well, so I just kept things humming along in the same general direction. I may have tweaked a few things here and there, but basically I just left well enough alone.

No, to really put some beef on the old resume, you need a sentence that starts with "Implemented..."

And so, the resume bomb.

Someone moves into a new administrative position and starts looking for a way to Make a Splash, Leave Their Mark, or Show They Are a Dynamic Change Agent.

They may consolidate power by taking over functions previously performed by staff or other offices. They will certainly create a new program. And they will develop and start the implementation of the policies and procedures needed to support the new program. Congratulations. You have your brand new resume bomb, and your new administrator will grab his brightly polished resume and get out the door to his next job before the bomb ever goes off.

Some bombs have a long fuse. The program gets up and running without too much incident, and it is only once you get further down the road that serious problems begin to emerge, that the new program begins to create some real problems for the district. But by then, the one person who knows exactly how it's supposed to work and how to keep it functioning and can answer questions about it-- that person is at his next job.

Some bombs have a short fuse, or are set off by the administrative departure itself. "We just need to rip up this system here, and I'm going to create a new policy with software support over here, and we'll just reassign those functions to my office and then we'll be able to-- oh, look at the time! I need to get to my next job." The short-fuse quick-departure resume bomb is the contractor who does the demolition on your porch and then never comes back to build it.

Is every new program and agent of change the sign of an impending resume bomb? Of course not. Many times you'll get an administrator who has a real vision for change and forward motion, and she puts new programs in place, and then she sticks around and sees them through until they are running smoothly on their own. That person is not building a resume bomb. If your administrator is more concerned about the program's success than his own, he's not building a resume bomb.

But if you are standing in the middle of a mess, and the person responsible is nowhere to be seen because they have moved on to bigger, better things-- congratulations. You are the victim of a resume bomb.

Common Core is arguably the largest resume bomb ever-- Coleman and company built it, lit the fuse, and let their "success" pave the way to big money gigs. The revolving door world of government gig and private enterprise is run on resume bombs. But even on the small scale, in little school districts, resume bombs happen and cause unending mess. Almost every district has some piece of related shrapnel stuck in a policy handbook somewhere.

Consequently, change resistance isn't always about being conservative or stodgy or lazy. Sometimes it's just shell shock. You say you're an agent of change, and I wonder, what is going to blow up now, and how much will I feel the impact. But don't expect the people who set the resume bombs to feel too bad about it. Explosions always look prettier from far away.