Monday, September 30, 2019

Are School Vouchers A Path To Religious Freedom?

Let me make a confession-- I am not at all unsympathetic to many Libertarian beliefs. I am wary of government involvement in many arenas, and the bigger the government, the warier I am. Additionally, I know some Libertarians personally, and they are perfectly nice human beings. But when you start turning general Libby philosophical notions into specific policies, particularly in areas where my exercise of my liberty crashes into your exercise of your liberty-- well, that never seems to work out well-- or even consistent.  At a minimum, I find some of these conclusions puzzling.

Let's take the new Libby talking point on school vouchers, as articulated in many venues by CATO Institute's Education Guy Neal McCluskey. 

The argument that to have "equality under the law," religious folks need to be able to fully exercise their beliefs, including sending their children to a private religious school, and so taxpayers should fund vouchers for just that purpose. 

This is a close cousin of the argument that this administration has put forth in a variety of forms, which boils down to this: if your personal faith says you should discriminate against certain classes of people, but federal law says you can't, then federal law should step aside for your personal beliefs. This point of view has scored a victory or two, and it's important because it marks the first time that the battle between the free exercise clause (you should get to exercise whatever religious beliefs you hold) and the establishment clause (the government should not choose a side in the world of unending religious debates) is being decided in favor of the exercise clause.

You have, of course, always been free to send your chid to a religious school. What's new here is the argument that the government should pay for it. 

I'm confused at finding this argument coming from conservative Libby folks. These are the same folks who like to characterize taxation as theft, but in their support of vouchers, Libbys are saying that citizens should be taxed so that their neighbors can practice their religion. Imagine telling a community of right-wing Trumpian Christians that their property taxes will be used to send children to an Islamic school, or Southern Baptists discovering that their tax dollars will be supporting the local Catholic school. This does not require a great deal of imagination, as part of how we got here is the outrage of religious taxpayers being riled up (sometimes honestly and sometimes at the prodding of those who would like to weaken public schools) that their tax dollars are going to a public system that allows the study of Other Religions (aka the not-Christian ones) or Transcendental Meditation or evolution. Good heavens-- just watch this administration go after colleges just for saying too many nice things about Islam.

Their argument is that they don't want their tax dollars to support a school that doesn't teach the things they agree with-- but a voucher system will not change that one iota. The public system is ideally religiously neutral, and yes, I know it is not always successful in that regard, but at least the ideal is there. A voucher system with no religious restrictions allows, even requires, your Christian tax dollars to be sent to a school that  explicitly teaches that your faith is wrong. 

Beyond that, a voucher system also gets government in the business of religious oversight. It's possible, I suppose, to have a voucher system with no oversight at all in which parents are handed a government check that can be spent on private school tuition, textbooks, an X-box, or a used car. We could have a system where the government just gives the money away, no questions asked. But again, that seems to have been one of the objections reformy folks have to public schools in the first place, and I think, "Just give us your money and don't ask where it's going" is unlikely to fly with folks interested in accountability.

So at a bare minimum we get a system in which a government agency asks, "Are you going to spend  this on something legit? Is this place a real school?" When then Catholics, the Free Methodists, the Muslims, the Satanists, and the Pastafarians are fighting over limited resources and are each struggling to prove that they're a real school that is entitled to voucher funds, how exactly is the Government Bureau of Legitimate Religious Schools going to make that call? And why would anybody want them to??

It is a measure of how narrow-focused and how assured of their own supremacy that Christianists are that they tend to imagine that breaking down the wall between church and state would only unleash Christians in the public square, and not also every other religion and anti-religion to fight for space in that same square. Nor are enough people of faith conscious of the fact that the wall between church and state protects the church just as much as it does the state.

I always expect Libertarians to struggle with religion-related issues; after all, Libertarian Patron Saint Ayn Rand thought religion is for dopes. But I am sincerely puzzled that Libbys would advocate for any of this. I expect a certain amount of "Anybody should be able to educate their kids any way they want," (even though I'd argue that as a country we have a stake in making sure that everybody gets an education based on the strongest current body of knowledge we have available). But when you add on "and taxpayers should foot the bill," I'm just sincerely puzzled to find Libertarians and other righties cheering. They didn't  want to pay for anyone's health care; why would they want to pay for their education?

There are plenty of other reasons to oppose vouchers without religious restrictions, including the tendency of such schools to discriminate in ways that are, and should be, illegal. That's before we even get to questions about accountability,  both financial and academic, as well as the sheer financial inefficiency of trying to pay for multiple school systems with the money that wasn't enough to fund a single system. 

Maybe Libbys like this idea for no reason other than it punches another hole in public education. I generally think of Libertarians as more intellectually honest than that, but I have a hard time seeing why they would be interested in pushing federally-subsidized religion. Yes, parents chose, sort of (is there any better  marketing hook than "Give us your voucher dollars or your child might go to hell"), but taxpayers, those poor abused victims of the government pay. It's a bad idea for so many reasons, reasons that cover such a broad range that some of them should be visible no matter where you sit-- even if you sit way over on the right.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

ICYMI: Show Weekend Edition (9/29)

Last weekend was a family wedding in State College, so I did not get this weekly digest done. This weekend I open the local production of The Music Man that I'm directing, so things are a little busy at this house. But I'm still collecting a few good reads for you to read (if you haven't already). Remember to share.

Litigating Algorithms Beyond Education  

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley went to a conference to talk about VAM and heard about the widespread use of similarly bad algorithms all across society. It's not just education, and it's not pretty.

How To Keep Teachers From Leaving The Profession  

From the Atlantic. The secret is in the URL title-- teachers need other teachers to succeed.

How The Bush Foundation Wasted $45 Million Attacking Teachers 

The story of how one more bunch of rich amateurs set out to remake education and failed.

Immigrant kids and a town's backlash    

When the bus driver is against immigration. This is a well-reported piece from the Washington Post  that captures many of the tensions created by large immigration  in small towns.

Another School Leadership Disaster  

Jeff Bryant has been taking a look at the lucrative pipeline that puts less-than-awesome candidates in administrative positions.

Blinded By Science  

Nancy Flanagan looks at how throwing around the "s" word doesn't always work out well for educators.

That Stanford Study That Links Achievement To Money  

There were several takes on that study this week (including mine), but I don't think anybody did a better job with it than Jan Resseger.

Media Coverage of Science of Reading 

Would you like a handy reading list for prying apart the latest round of reading warfare? The ever-erudite Paul Thomas has you covered.

Stand For Children Messing with LA Elections 

Why and how is the Oregon-based reformster group messing with Louisiana's education business? The indispensable Mercedes Schneider has tracked it all down.

Digital Ed Has a Cheerleading Problem  

Rick Hess clues us in on what we already know-- digital ed tools are often a snare and a delusion and a sad web of false promises.

The Myth of the Behind The Times School Is Wrong  

Yeah, we already knew this, too. But it's nice to see somebody say so.

Do Districts Actually Want Black Male Teachers?

At EdWeek. Actions speak louder than words.

More Money, Less Oversight for Ohio's Charters  

Short but sweet-- well, not sweet, exactly-- blog post from 10th period. Ohio is a mess.    

Betsy DeVos, The Musical  

Yes, that's a real show, sort of. Have You Heard had the creator of this nifty musical on the podcast (Jennifer Berkshire actually saw a performance) and this is your must-listen item of the week.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

A Good Teacher Is Not Like A Candle

I just hate this kind of thing.

















First of all, is there any other profession that has to put up with this. Substitute "lawyer" or "plumber" or even "doctor" for "teacher" in this meme, and it just sounds dumb. "Nurse," maybe. (Hmm. What do nursing and teaching have in common as professions. Could it be that they're not commonly associated with testosterone?) We don't expect any professionals to consume themselves in order to do their jobs.

Second of all, notice the use of "it." For the simile to really tracks, "it" should be "she," but as soon as we put it that way, the ickiness of the analogy becomes more obvious. Really? Do parents say, "I expect my child's teacher to consume herself in order to educate my child?"

If we walk into our child's classroom in March and find a teacher who is exhausted, worn down, barely functioning, do we think, "Excellent. This is going just as it should." Do we expect a teacher to somehow become a new, fresh candle every fall and be a burned-out stub every May, or do we expect this self-immolation to occur over the length of the teacher's career? If so, is the expectation that the burned-out husk of a self-consumed teacher should just die promptly after retirement, having been fully self-consumed?

This is a close relative of the hero teacher myth, and it shares the notion that someone becomes a teacher out of some outsized level of nobility and self-sacrifice. And there are all sorts of problems with this baloney.

One is that, of course, someone who is teaching out of noble impulses of heroic self-sacrifice couldn't possibly be worried about making a living wage or having decent benefits. It's people who buy this sort of baloney who get all pearl-clutchy over teachers who want a decent contract, as if the desire to be able to support a family is sullying their noble calling, distracting from their "personal mission." This model becomes an excuse to take and take and take from teachers-- their money, their time, because, hey, you want to give your all to the kids, right?

More importantly, this is the kind of crap that saddles young teachers with a huge pile of guilt. Six years ago I wrote a piece that is still the most-read piece I've ever written. Here's part of what I said:

The hard part of teaching is coming to grips with this:

There is never enough.

There is never enough time. There are never enough resources. There is never enough you.

As a teacher, you can see what a perfect job in your classroom would look like. You know all the assignments you should be giving. You know all the feedback you should be providing your students. You know all the individual crafting that should provide for each individual's instruction. You know all the material you should be covering. You know all the ways in which, when the teachable moment emerges (unannounced as always), you can greet it with a smile and drop everything to make it grow and blossom.

You know all this, but you can also do the math. 110 papers about the view of death in American Romantic writing times 15 minutes to respond with thoughtful written comments equals-- wait! what?! That CAN'T be right! Plus quizzes to assess where we are in the grammar unit in order to design a new remedial unit before we craft the final test on that unit (five minutes each to grade). And that was before Ethel made that comment about Poe that offered us a perfect chance to talk about the gothic influences. And I know that if my students are really going to get good at writing, they should be composing something at least once a week. And if I am going to prepare my students for life in the real world, I need to have one of my own to be credible.

If you are going to take any control of your professional life, you have to make some hard, conscious decisions. What is it that I know I should be doing that I am not going to do?

The blazing candle of self-immolation encourages young teachers to think, "I'm so bad at this. Last night I could have stayed up till three grading papers, but I fell asleep on the couch instead. And I never should have told my husband that I'd go on a day trip with him and the kids this weekend-- that's time I could be getting planning done. Maybe if I go in Monday at 4 AM and get a head start, I can fix this..."

Teachers either grow out of this mode of thinking, or they leave teaching.

This is no way to model being a responsible adult for the children in your classroom (many of whom many know no other adults that aren't family). This is no way to do your job well. This is no way to live your life. Yes, teaching a job that requires you to employ everything you have, everything you know, every tool in your ever-expanding tool box. But it most definitely does not require you to consume yourself-- in fact, it requires you to NOT consume yourself. You exercise and work out and give your sweat and blood to get stronger, not to destroy your physical self. You study and read and discuss and ponder to become smarter and, God willing, wiser, not to break down your mental faculties.

For heaven's sake, don't be a candle. Be, I don't know, a tree. Grow stronger and taller and as you do, provide the shade that helps a garden grow by you. Or be a river that swells and flows and feeds into other waterways. Or be a bird that collects twigs and branches to build a strong, nurturing nest. Or be a sack of cement that becomes a part of a strong foundation, or become a tube of toothpaste, or a diesel engine, or a waffle.

Or you could, you know, be a human. Just a regular human being using the skills and knowledge that you have acquired (and continue to acquire) to help young humans better understand the universe around them and their own best selves and how to be fully human in the world. Do that. Do that while accepting and embracing the limits of your own humanity even as you stretch against them so that you, too, can also grow into your best self while being more fully human in the world-- the whole world and not just the world inside the walls of your classroom.

Do that. Because you are person and not a frickin' candle.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Stanford: Opportunity And Testing Baloney

Look, it's not that I want everyone to stop any discussion of Big Standardized Test scores at all forever (okay, I might, but I recognize that I'm a radical in this issue and I also recognize that reasonable people may disagree with me). But what I really want everyone to stop pretending that the BS Test scores are an acceptable proxy for other factors.

But here comes a new "data tool" from Stanford, and watch how EdWeek opens its piece about the new tool:

An interactive data tool from the Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University creates the first database that attempts to measure the performance of every elementary and middle school in the country.

The data set not only provides academic achievement for schools, districts, and states around the country, but it also allows those entities to be compared to one another, even though they don't all use the same state tests.


No.

No no no no no NO no no no hell no. The tool does not measure the performance of every school in the country, and it does not provide academic achievement either. It allows folks to compare the math and reading scores on the BS Tests across state lines. That's it. That's all. It's a clever method of comparing apples to oranges, but that's all. Academic achievement? It covers two academic areas, and not very well at that.

(And while I'm ranting, let me also point out that schools do not perform. Students, teachers, staff, other human beings-- they perform. Schools sit there. If we start talking about performing schools, before you know it we start spouting dumb things like "low-achieving schools have a large number of low-scoring students" as if that's an analysis and not a definition.)

But maybe this is a press and reporting problem. What does the tool claim to actually do?

We’re measuring educational opportunity in every community in America.

The Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University has built the first national database of academic performance.

That's not promising.

The tool actually provides three "measures of educational opportunity" and those are 1) average test scores, 2) learning rates, and 3) trends in test scores. And the explanations are-- are we sure this thing came from Stanford?

You may, for instance, wonder what the heck average test scores have to do with educational opportunity. Here is the short explanation on the front page of the website:

The educational opportunities available in a community, both in and out of school, are reflected in students’ average test scores. They are influenced by opportunities to learn at home, in neighborhoods, in child-care, preschool, and after-school programs, from peers and friends, and at school.

"Are reflected" is weasel language, meaning "probably has some sort of connection to." It might be useful if the project looked at what provides, for instance, opportunities to learn at home. But we're just going to go with "every single thing in the  child's environment has some effect on her test scores, probably."

Learning rates are, of course, growth scores, which the report says "are a better indicator of school quality than average test scores." The notion that student growth is at least as important as raw scores is not new, but I'm going to once again get on my high horse about this indicating school quality. That is only true if you think the mission of a school is to get students to do well on a poorly designed standardized test of reading and math. Is that the sum total of school quality? Nothing else you an to consider, like other non-math and non-reading programs, or safe environment, or caring teachers, or even good facilities?

And trends in test scores?

Tracking average test scores over time shows growth or decline in educational opportunity. These trends reflect shifts in school quality as well changes in family and community characteristics.

And this goes back to my point above-- if you change the population of a school, you change the "school performance" because "school performance" is really "student test scores."

These explanations of how these three methods of massaging test score data tells us anything about educational opportunity or academic achievement or school effectiveness-- they may seem perfunctory and thin, but that's all we get. We are just meant to accept the notion that a score on  a standardized math and reading score gives us both a full picture of how well a school is doing and as a measure of the educational opportunities available to students. Just how magical are these Big Standardized Tests supposed to be?

All of that said, there is a ton of data here available in interactive map graphic form. That data is just about standardized test scores, but there are still some interesting things to see. For instance, Florida absolutely sucks in student growth of scores, which is ironic considering Florida's huge BS Test fetish. Arkansas is also pretty lousy, as are Kansas, North Carolina, Alabama, and Wisconsin. They also thought to run average test scores against SES for districts and lo and behold, there's the same result that we've confirmed over and over-- the direct correlation between poverty and test scores.

Is some of that test data stuff worth discussing? Maybe, but not if we're going to insist that those scores are somehow proxies for much larger, broader concepts like school effectiveness or for nebulous concepts like educational opportunity. If we are going to have useful, meaningful discussions about education we have got to--  GOT TO-- stop pretending that we have data that tells us things that it absolutely does not tell us.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

RAND Plays Corporate Reformy Buzzword Bingo

RAND Corporation, with its vision to be "the world's most trusted source for policy ideas and analysis." regularly contributes to the total thinky tank output of material that wants to be viewed as "a report" or "research" or "a study" or "a paper," but is more like an op-ed or blog post that has put on a tie and juiced up its vocabulary.

This week they cranked out a new one entitled "Reimagining the Workforce Development and Employment System for the 21st Century and Beyond." Its scope is fuzzy and wide, like a wooly mammoth that has overindulged in pizza and beer, and while it doesn't lay all the blame there, it does take some shots at K-12 education, and in doing so manages to tick off plenty of the boxes on the Reformster Talking Points Bingo Card.

Authors with no actual background in education? Check, check, and check. (For bonus points, two of the three are economists.)

Bloodless gobbledeegook? By the truckload. For instance, the authors note that during childhood "people make decisions about schooling and other aspects of human capital acquisition." Yes, I often think back fondly to when I sat down with my children to discuss their human capital acquisition. Them was the days.

21st century skills? Yep. Employers are "struggling to find workers with 21st century skills that go beyond routine cognitive skills and stock academic knowledge to capture competencies in such areas as information synthesis, creativity, problem-solving, communication and teamwork." Wait-- those are 21st century skills? Really? Communication?? Because it makes me wonder how humanity survived all the previous centuries. On the other hand, I know feel like my colleagues, my college teacher program, and I were all forward-looking savants, given the fact that we were talking about all these things well before Y2K was a bug in a shortsighted programmer's eye.

Schools haven't changed in the last [fill in your favorite time frame here]? Yep. What the reportish thing calls "the current approach" is characterized as "a linear pipeline from kindergarten through 12th grade education to possibly college and then a job" and it hasn't changed, despite "technological change, globalization, and important demographic changes."

Half-baked ideas they read about somewhere? Sure. Hey, isn't gamification a thing? Wouldn't schools better if they did that?

Pitch for personalized learning that goes on forever? Yep. The need to keep training throughout "lifecourse" is necessary because employers need workers to acquire new skills, though not necessarily through any fancy college-type stuff. Quick micro-credentials (yes, check that box off, too) that you can shop for yourself online-- that's the ticket.

Because many jobs of the future don't exist yet. Sigh. Matt Barnum has made a side job out of tracking these kinds of bogus claims, which used to hover around 65% but have been inching up into the 80s. Bottom line: nobody has any idea how many of which jobs will or won't exist in the future.

Education is really expensive! Our current funding model makes us sad, and we would like a new one where if we have to chip in money, at least we get a return (like owning part of the student's work life once they finish-- seriously, they're called "income-sharing agreements"). Also, computers really ought to make the process cheaper. And we like vouchers and other things that at least let somebody profit from all this money we're spending on meat widget development.

Talking about the K-12 education system as if its only purpose is to provide properly-machined meat widgets for corporate overlords? That's kind of the whole point of the reportish thing. This view of education goes hand in hand with the view that education is simple training-- you acquire some skills, some bits of knowledge, and you are trained to do something in particular. But now corporations can't find the selection of meat widgets that they want-- we need a new system.

Data and evidence-based practices? Yes, the system should run on data, using practices that "support monitoring system outputs and outcomes..." And of course all remedies that the data leads to should be scaled up. And information should flow freely (by which we mean information about our company and our meat widgets-- don't be publishing the CEO's home address and phone number).

System thinking? Sure. The reportish thing wants to point in the direction of a system, a technocratic solution that will push meat widgets through a pipeline like toasters through a toaster assembly robot. It's that same old cradle to career pipeline that is supposed to do things like ensure "timely and appropriate matching and rematching of skilled workers with jobs to which they are well suited over their time in the labor market." Phrases like "The framework articulates the overriding goals of the system..." make it seem as if there are no actual humans making these decisions-- it's just The System. Which brings us to...

Most notable is the degree to which this reportish thing and its recommendations are dedicated to absolving business itself from any responsibility whatsoever for helping deal with the issues of the 21st century workforce. For instance, this explanation of the "increased risk on some workers" notes that in today's economy "with the apparent growth of nontraditional work arrangements, such as freelance and contract employment, certain workers are less likely to access the features associated with traditional wage and salary jobs, such as well-defined career ladders and access to fringe benefits to buffer the risks associated with health care needs, accidents, injuries, disabilities, and the business cycle." You or I might think that the next logical thought is "Maybe corporations and businesses should try to do less screwing of their workforce so that people who don't have the good fortune to be born into wealth can have a better shot at a better life. But no:

This places more of the onus on workers to anticipate changes in job requirements, take on the risk associated with poor health or saving for retirement, and bear the cost of job training or retraining.

And nowhere in their discussion of The System that they recommend, do I see anything that suggests that a push for more moral or ethical business leadership might help with some of this. The closest the thing comes is some emphasis on making sure that The System enhances equity, by which it means providing an opportunity for people of all races and backgrounds to become meat widgets that are pleasing to the employers. No, we need a system to help meat widgets better meet the needs of corporate overlords, whose needs are not to be questioned. Hey, they're just responding to market forces and the economy as they must-- it's only the Lessers and future meat widgets who have to make actual personal choices for which they bear responsibility.

It's a discouraging read, but since it advocates for vouchers and choice, it will be lapped up by Certain People. There really isn't anything new here, but an outfit like RAND can put the old wine in fancy new skins. Well, maybe not wine. More like koolaid.




Wednesday, September 25, 2019

NH: Failing To Learn From Charter History

I have a soft spot in my heart for New Hampshire. I was born there, and much of my family lived there. My grandmother was a legislator for ages, and many of my relatives are still in the state.

So it's a bummer to see the state fall into reformy mistakes.

Earlier this year, the state announced that they were going to grab some of that free federal money to embark n a five-year mission to seek new charter schools and boldly repeat mistakes where many have gone before. The state intends to double the number of charter schools by adding about 27 new charters to the 28 current one.

Also, this iconic scene no longer exists.
The state is getting $46 million in federal taxpayer money specifically to help with charter start-up costs. It's an interesting stance for a heavily GOP state; consider the website for Live Free And Start "an initiative of the NH Tech Alliance, is working to make New Hampshire an even better place for innovative businesses to start, grow and succeed." They have lots of ideas about how to fund you new business; none of them are "hit the federal government for some bucks." The federal grant program is certainly not the only government grant program for starting a business, but it's an odd thing for free-market sink-or-swim conservatives to support.

What makes it even worse to support is the amount of money in this business tart-up fund that has been flushed away. I'll refer you, once again, to the report from the Network for Public Education that lays out how many many many many millions of taxpayer dollars that have been wasted on charter schools that closed quickly or, in the worst cases, never even opened. I suppose the state can take the  position that the money being wasted on't be theirs. But coverage raises the usual  question of just how much free market dynamics really truly play into charter schools. Here's one charter operator making an observation:

“It is impossible to start a charter school if you don’t have those federal start-up funds," she said. "At the end of the day, you need to find a space for your school, you need to populate it with furniture and materials, you maybe need to do a renovations on the space, and when you sign a lease, you have to put money down on that lease.”

How is this different from any other business? If you don't have enough money to open a business, the market says you either borrow the money or you go home, because if you don't have enough money to open the business, you don't open the business.

NH has an additional problem; the state department of education has one person responsible for overseeing the charter school sector. That does not seem destined for success. But the DOE is a big fan of charters, though they don't offer much compelling support. Here's DOE Commissioner Frank Edelblut, a venture capitalist who got the job as part of some political horse trading and who likes a variety of privatizing ideas. Edelblut has no background in education other than profiting from it, so he's reduced to reform boilerplate when lauding the grant:

New Hampshire charter schools have not only provided excellent educations for Granite State students, but provided a model for innovation and education improvement for the nation. Every kid deserves an educational environment in which they can thrive. Charter schools provide a valuable alternative for students who need one.

Oh, baloney. Name one "innovation" that has come out of a New Hampshire charter and spread through the education world. Explain what kind of alternative these schools provide other than an alternative method of shuttling public tax dollars to private businesses.

And as history tells us, many of these mighty engines of imaginary innovation will suck up tax dollars and then fail to ever educate a single person. Not sure the Granite State will really benefit from that.


Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Ohio Has A Chance To Fix A Terrible School Takeover Law. It's Going To Blow It.

It looked like Ohio was going to get better, but the legislature is poised to screw it all up.

It has been hard to keep up with the news out of Lorain, Ohio, a school district that is being run through the wringer under Ohio's terrible, awful, no good, really bad school takeover law (HB 70). Lorain's CEO (a district takeover czar created by HB 70), David Hardy, Jr., is yet another guy who believes that his two years as a TFA temp in a classroom qualifies him to be an education policy expert and, under HB 70, run every single aspect of a school district-- well, at worst, he is someone who has vastly over-estimated his capabilities and, at best, is a manager who does not play well with others.

Some shady baloney going on here
I'm not going to go through all the shenanigans of the past many months, but one episode gives you a flavor of the atmosphere in Lorain. The district treasurer tried to resign for a new job. The board did not accept his resignation, but Hardy did, and proceeded to attempt to replace the treasurer with his own pick. The board filed a restraining order against Hardy, who in turn threatened that the district staff would not be paid, a threat that seems to have been based in nothing more than Hardy's tendency to get pissy when people get in his way (kind of like the time he "fired" some union reps).

But meanwhile, even as Hardy has been working overtime to show all the ways that HB 70 is a bad law, legislators were working to change it. And they were doing pretty well-- the House passed a bill that was actually incorporated into then budget. And it was right about then that the champions of privatization in Ohio decided they should get back in the game. There are some business and reform folks who have exceptional access to legislators in Ohio, and they have a lot to say about hw education laws are written. Their  fingerprints are all over this mess.

The used-to-be-a-reform-of-the-reform bill is HB 154, and it has been through a whole raft of changes. Since HB 70 was passed in less than a day with no real discussion, it's only fitting that the last version of Sub HB 154, which is actually a complete swap of the original bill for a new bill under the same number, should be coming down to the wire as a well.

I will walk you through some details in a moment, but the bottom line is this-- the latest version of the bill is a cynical piece of baloney, a thin pretense that is the kind of thing that legislators produce when they don't have the guts to vote down a popular bill. The substitute version of HB 154 reforms nothing, fixes nothings, changes nothing-- it just renames a few things in a piece of underhanded bullshit.

Here are some of the details. (I'm working from a pdf copy shared by someone on the legislative mailing list).

The original HB 70 put "failing" districts under the control of an Academic Distress Commission. Sub HB 154 puts failing school districts under the control of a "school transformation board." That board is stacked with folks selected by the governor and the state ed chancellor, just like the ADC. There's one spot reserved for local union seat; good luck with that. Three members (the governor's picks) must have "experience and expertise in education policy or school improvement," because this law is loaded with opportunities for all sorts of education consultants and edubusinesses to cash in on a school district's problems.

Other earlier versions of the reform-the-reform bills included various amounts of relief for the three districts under state meddling control (Lorain, Youngstown, East Cleveland); Sub HB 154 states that any district that has an ADC now gets a School Transformation Board.

This next part you just need to see to believe:




Yep. They just went through, crossed out "chief executive officer" and wrote in "director."

The job remains the same as it was under HB  70-- everything, from bus schedules to teacher assignments to cafeteria set-up. The job requires someone of super-human capabilities and vast knowledge of all the workings of a school system, from philosophical underpinnings to the nuts and bolts. The CEO director has all the powers of a superintendent and the school board, plus nifty powers under worst case scenarios in which he can also unilaterally rewrite contracts, close schools, and hand schools off to charter operators.

It's nuts. There can't be a dozen humans alive who could handle it. But then, the new bill also leans heavily on the idea of hiring lots and lots of consultants to make everything work.

The new bill does allow the superintendent to be selected for the czar job. It also requires the czar to make quarterly reports to the board, which is probably a nod to the fact that Hardy refused to talk to the elected school because they aren't the boss of him. The bill also adds a procedure by which the board can protest and ask for another option. Good luck with that.

Folks, Sub HB 154 is HB 70, with some names crossed out and a couple of minor changes here and there.

And hold onto your hat-- the Senate Ed Committee was supposed to be getting another amendment at a hearing set for today, but now rescheduled for some other. I told you it was hard to stay in front of this story. If you're in Ohio, pay attention and contact your senator, repeatedly.

Monday, September 23, 2019

The College Board Tweaked The SAT Adversity Score. But It's Not Fixed-- Or Gone.

Since David Coleman took the helm at the College Board, its flagship product--the ubiquitous SAT, one-time queen of college entrance exams--has been the victim of a series of unforced errors. The roll-out and walk-back of the "adversity score" is only the latest--and recent reports of that score's death may be greatly exaggerated.
The company ran into some glitches in its rush to get a new, Common Core-aligned test to market. Coleman expressed a desire for the test to be a great leveler, a test that would recognize and elevate intellectual prowess wherever it was found. The SAT has long been criticized as being loaded with cultural bias, and the College Board's own data seems to support that assertion. The other knock on the test was that it could be beaten with the help of test prep and coaching (a criticism bolstered by an entire SAT test prep industry). And the College Board has been confirming that these criticisms are valid.
In 2014, the College Board entered into a partnership with Khan Academy to offer free test prep to anyone who wanted it. Rather than designing a test that was immune to test prep (which may, in fact, be impossible), the College Board appeared to be conceding that SAT scores measured, at least in part, how well a student had been coached for the test.
Then came the Environmental Context Dashboard, featuring the Adversity Score. The score was supposed to capture the social and economic background of students through a combination of fifteen dimensions. But though it was supposedly "steeped in research," the genesis of the score remained a proprietary mystery, somehow combining factors from school and community. The result would be a score between 1-100, with a score of more than 50 representing disadvantage and a score under 50 indicating some privilege. Critics attacked the notion of reducing a student's entire background to a single score. They criticized it for being an attack on meritocracy. And most of all, they criticized it for being an admission that the SAT itself is a biased test given on a tilted playing field. Meredith Twombly, vice president of admissions and financial aid, at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, one of the many test-optional colleges in the U.S., had a typical response:
For decades the College Board said the SAT alone is the best unbiased, objective indicator of success and likened it to an equalizer. The creation of the ECD is the SAT proving the point they have been denying.”
Coleman responded initially with variations on this comment:
Since it is identifying strengths in students, it’s showing this resourcefulness that the test alone cannot measure. These students do well, they succeed in college.”
That comes perilously close to admitting that the SAT itself cannot actually predict college success.
Now the College Board has responded to criticism of the ECD and the Adversity Score. The headlines are reporting it as "College Board Drops Plans For SAT Student Adversity Score," but that might oversell the move, which could be described as a tweak and some rebranding.
First, the Environmental Context Dashboard has been given a new name--Landscape.
Next, the College Board has increased the transparency of the product. Students will be able to see their own Landscape information, and the process that generates that information is now somewhat more transparent. There will be a variety of information about the school itself, including information such as how rural or urban the school is, the size of the senior class, number of free-or reduced-lunch students--a batch of information taken from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). There will be information about AP classes and tests (the AP test is another College Board product). Landscape will also show how the student's SAT scores compare to other students in that school.
Finally, Landscape will offer high school and neighborhood average indicators. Six factors--college attendance, household structure, median family income, household stability, education level, and crime--will be "averaged and presented on a 1-100 scale." A higher value on the scale "indicates a higher level of challenge related to educational opportunities and outcomes." The two "values" will be kept separate, rather than combined, as with the Adversity Score. The College Board very carefully avoids the word "score," but it certainly looks like a scaled-down version of the Adversity Score.
In its press release, the College Board emphasizes that Landscape doesn't replace any of the information that students supply as part of a college application. It's just trying to provide admissions offices with a bit more context. Said the College Board's Coleman:
We listened to thoughtful criticism and made Landscape better and more transparent. Landscape provides admissions officers more consistent background information so they can fairly consider every student, no matter where they live and learn."
With the dashboard rebranded and the word "score" banished, the same old question remains--if an SAT score reflects coaching, and additional "context" is required to consider a score fairly, then what good is the SAT in the first place? 

Originally posted at Forbes.com

Friday, September 20, 2019

ALEC Issues A Report Card, But Still Fails

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is the corporate Match.com for wealthy mover-shakers and legislators looking for someone to do their homework together. Among their many favorite issues is education, and to that end, ALEC trots out a report card every year rating the states. It is not unlike a sort of businessperson's prospect overview, and it contains a mountain of thinly sliced baloney. Let's take a  look at that mountain, and then consider one surprising thing that came out of this year's report card promo.

The packet was headed up by Scott Kaufman, ALEC’s task force director for Education and Workforce Development, whose background is strictly in opinion writing and not education. But then, you didn't expect any actual education experts to be involved in this, did you? The report card is largely cribbed together from the work of other reform outfits. It gives states a grade based on... well, here are the categories.

State Academic Standards

This is not actually based on the state's academic standards. Seriously. Instead, ALEC turned to the 2017 EducationNext work that rated a state based on how closely its percentage of "proficient students" on the Big Standardized Test matched the percentage on the NAEP. It's similar to work that FEE did to gin up something they called the Honesty Gap (based on the idea that if students did better on the state's test than the NAEP, that showed the state cheating on its test).

There are plenty of unchecked assumptions here. The biggest one is that the test measures how "rigorous" the state standards are and not, say, how great their teachers are or how smart their students are or how good their schools are or, more to the point, how wealthy the test takers are. In short, it assumes the tests don't suck even as it assumes that they measure something they were not designed to measure. It also assumes that NAEP deserves to be considered a benchmark, and there are plenty of reasons to argue about that as well.

Charter Schools

This grade is based on the 2018 work of the Center for Education Reform, a group that loves charter schools so very much and hates teachers unions and public schools even more. They gave an A only to DC, Arizona and Indiana. They like a state that has few regulations, lets anyone authorize or open a charter, puts no limitations on charters, and gives charters plenty of money.

Homeschool Regulation Burden

This grade comes from the Home School Legal Defense Association analysis, and what HSLDA likes best is a state with no regulations at all-- not even a requirement to let anyone know you're doing it.

Private School Choice

Is there some form of voucher. This category is basically pass-fail, although they express it as either an A or an F, which kind of messes with the state's overall GPA.

Teacher Quality and Policies

Here they've borrowed the National Council on Teacher Quality report from 2017. I wrote about the 2015 report here, and, well, you get the idea. This is yet another group that decides on their own what quality should look like and then goes out and measures, like a person who carves a yardstick in his basement just based on his own ideas about how long an inch is and how many of them should be in a foot.

Digital Learning

This explanation opens with an odd sentence that starts "In 2016, integration of technology into the classroom..." almost as if someone cut and pasted from an earlier report. Then they talk about using the report from the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), except that FEE is nowadays called  ExcellinEd and the report is from 2014.

You'll note that the work ALEC has borrowed is from all over the place; almost as if they were less interested in getting at what's actually happening and more interested in making a case for privatization and profiteering in education.

But let's play a game-- now that you've seen what's factored in, can you guess what the report claims to be rating states on, education-wise? Well, here's the full title:

Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress and Reform.

Notice that none of the six factors that went into state grades had anything at all to do the performance of the state's education system or any progress that has been made. Nothing here considers what is being taught or how well it is being taught or how well students are learning. Nothing here even remotely considers the fundamental classroom business of educating young human beings.

ALEC acknowledges that, even as the officially indicate that they want to change the game.

"Our Education Report Card rollout this year will focus on the non-academic effects of educational choice," says the report. We could talk about the academic affects which are, trust us, awesome. Yuge, even, as indicated in some of what we hear are the very best studies. Very best. But nowadays, we consider academic effects are beside the point:

This success, however, is overshadowing what are arguably the more important results of empowering families with educational freedom: school choice is helping families shape their children into better citizens, and into young adults of whom both they and America can be proud.

In other words, we don't need choice to rescue students from failing schools, and we don't need choice because it is more efficient or less expensive, and we don't even need choice because it would get better educational outcomes. We need choice because we need choice. It empowers family and somehow, some way, turns children into better people. I don't know if that's dogwhistle talk for "it let's us get children away from the evil socialist-infected government school system" or whether it's just baloney flung to justify "We want to privatize education because there is a ton of money to be made."  Neither is really a good look.

One Other Interesting Point

The report contains other factoids, like the dollars-per-student figure for each state, displayed prominently by their NAEP scores, as if we should comparison shop the best price-per-NAEP-point. This is done with no context; for instance, Alaska's cost-per-pupil is high, but then, the cost of everything in Alaska is high. There's a lot of apples to aardvark comparison going on in this report. But that's not the fun thing I promised.

EducationDive's uncritical reporting of the ALEC release included one fun quote from Scott Kaufman, who called the Common Core Standards "dead and buried." On the one hand, it's an odd thing to say, since the standards-- either under the original name or under witness protection style aliases-- are still kicking around most states.

On the other hand, maybe he means what I mean when I say that the Core has had it-- the original dream that it would crack open a national market for education profiteers ("Imagine! Every state can use the exact same textbook!"), then yes, it's dead. If he means that the federales will no longer try to push it, well, as long as you don't acknowledge that "college and career ready" is a sad euphemism for CCS, then yes, it's dead -ish. If, as the rest of the report would suggest, ALEC is mostly interested in growing free-market libertarian don't-steal-my-tax-doillars-to-help-Those-People anti-government education, well, then, the Core has mostly done its work and can sasfely be declared dead.

It's unfortunate that a "report card" like this even exists, though given ALEC's general shyness, I don't think we'll see it touted in the press a great deal. Unfortunately, I suspect the main function is as a motivator for legislators who want to stay on ALEC's good side, a sort of prescription for what ALEC expects its BFFs to advocate for. Look for some of this language coming to a speech from a politician near you.




Why Directing Community Theater Is Like Teaching

Readers of this blog generally get a dose of whatever is on my mind, and what's on my mind at the moment is theater. I'm coming down to the wire on one more community theater production; The Music Man opens one week from tomorrow (by all means, feel free to stop by). I've been doing this and school theater for thirty-some years, and yes, it's an awful lot like teaching. Once we get the obvious out of the way-- it's all showbiz. Let me count the other ways.

You Work With What You Get

Big time Broadway directors have it easy. If you decide you want to cast someone who's  5'3" with blue eyes and blond hair with a cleft chin and a baritone voice, plus juggling and tap skills-- for the  chorus--  you can have your pick of twenty such guys. In the community theater world, you tend to get what you get, and your challenge is to figure out how you  make a show out of that. Not that I don't get plenty of great performers, and not that I haven't had the opportunity to pick and choose from several prospects for a part. But there's a tricky line to tread; on the one hand, you have to have a vision going into auditions, but on the other hand, you cant hold so tightly to it that you can't get the show cast at all.

It's like a classroom. You can curse your fate every day that you don't have a room full of enthusiastic readers with a good grasp of writing basics, or you can just accept that your students are who they are. You may have your favorite Ron Swanson quote, and at my house, we do, too. There's an episode  in which Ron is telling a story about a getting shot in the foot with a nail gun. Leslie's exclaims, "You only have nine toes?!" And Ron replies, "I have the toes I have." That's pretty much it.

Adaptability Is Not Only Necessary But Rewarding

Broadways shows are mostly written for lots of men. Community (and high school) theater tends to be testosterone-deprived. But (see previous point) you adapt. You look for characters who could be gender swapped, and you do what you have to do. Funny thing about that-- sometimes it makes no difference at all (the patriarch in Brigadoon and the wine dancers in Kiss Me Kate work just fine as women). But sometimes it opens up all sorts of cool new subtexts. If Belle (Beauty and the Beast) has a daffy mom instead of a daffy dad, it creates some whole new undercurrents. Or cast a female Laertes and watch what happens to how Hamlet plays out.

Point being that sometimes you have to adapt for your limitations, and it actually causes you to land on some rich and powerful things that you might otherwise have missed. If you insist that the text or the plan is absolutely sacred, you will miss some exciting moments. Ditto for the classroom. You can stick hard and fast to the plan, even the Big Plan that was hatched before you even met the students, or you can grab the teachable moments and adapt the plan to better fit the students who are there in front of you.

Different Performers Require Different Directions

Some actors like to know exactly what you want them to do. How to stand, how to gesture, when to move. Others like a more global direction-- "Your character is really angry, but also frustrated and a little sad, so show us that when you play this scene." Some want to the director to work closely with them, and some just want to do their thing without someone breathing down their neck all the time. And every single one prefers a differently mixed cocktail of praise and criticism. As a director, you have your own particular way of delivering all of these things. Plus factoring in the material you're working on.

One size does not fit all.

Collaboration Matters

I have one directing partner with whom I've worked about a dozen times; we split up music and stage directing a bunch of different ways, but I always do better work when teamed up with her. On top of that, a director depends on a whole team for costuming, sets, lighting, orchestra, the whole works. Being familiar with how those jobs works helps keep a director from asking for stupid things; being open to listening to the people doing those jobs helps the director grab some great new ideas.

Collaboration is harder for most teachers, but if you seek out collaborators within your department and building, it will benefit your class.

The Hidden Nuts And Bolts Matter

It's not enough just to have a set-- you have to be able to get it on and off stage and stow it while the rest of the show is happening. So much of staging a show is not Grand Artistic Vision, but engineering. Where do we hang this costume for a quick change? Which dressers are going to handle which zippers on that gown? How do we make that prop work?

If we get it right, nobody really notices the effort it took. The best technical work is invisible even while you're looking right at it. This is also true for teaching. This is why so many people who went to school still don't know a damn thing about how a classroom works-- they never saw the technical parts.

Be Prepared, But Don't Set It In Concrete

Study the script. The study it some more. Figure out your production design, your set, the whole works. When the production starts work, you are supposed to be the expert, the person who knows more about this particular production than anybody.

The "I learn more than the students" or "student-directed" classroom makes me nuts. If you aren't the leader and expert in your classroom, then why are you there? Why are the taxpayers paying you? It would be nuts for a director to aay, "Oh, I just let the actors direct themselves." Collaborate, sure. Accept input definitely. Being the leader doesn't mean that you function like a totalitarian monster, but somebody has to drive the bus.

Beaten People Don't Do Their Best

You get the best performance out of people when they feel confident. In an ideal situation, they are confident because they are doing an undeniably great job. But in the amateur theater world, not always. The thing is, people who have been beaten down do not do their best work. So your only hope of getting a great performance out of people is to support them and build them up. To the extent possible, find out what they need and give it to them.

This principle works with directors and actors, administrators with teachers, teachers with students, and basically humans with other humans they have responsibility for or authority over. It doesn't mean to avoid all criticism or never mention something that's wrong, but you do those things with the end in mind of building the person up. Yes, I know there are times when it's really hard. Then you go home and scream into a pillow.

Dream Big and Enjoy What You Get      

Community theater is like July and September. You start out with big dreams, big goals,  big visions of what you have in mind. Then reality hits you like a bathtub full of cold water. It can be discouraging. But the gig is not to bend everyone else to your will and vision; it's to lead the creation of something good out of the pieces parts you've got. It's a tricky dance-- you need to be driven by your vision and fight for all the very best parts, but you can't ignore reality, and you must always remember that you are working with live human beings. One of your most necessary skills is to know how to push as hard as possible without pushing so hard that you break things.

Yes,  there will be people asking why your production didn't use the same grand effect as the Broadway version (our theater doesn't have enough fly space to accommodate a full-sized helicopter). And there are plenty of people these days who demand that you teach kindergartners how to write short novels and sophomores how to create genetically modified life forms-- and of course get them all good grades on the Big Standardized Test, which can be the equivalent of spending your entire set budget on buying every cast member a really nice pair of shoes.

Try not to get distracted. You may well not end up exactly where you envisioned at the start, but with luck and skill and effort and good partners and carefully applied expertise, you can end up someplace great and wonderful and rewarding.


Wednesday, September 18, 2019

PA: Zombie Board Says Charter Free To Do Whatever The Heck It Wants

In education, as in most things, Philadelphia is its own little state-within-the-state. The public system has a long and messy history, including a state takeover. The district is often used as Exhibit A for pro-choice legislators ("But we must give the poor children of Philadelphia a way to escape their terrible school system even as we refuse to adequately fund that system!") and is consequently the most charter-heavy city in the commonwealth.

In Pennsylvania, the local school district has oversight of charter schools within its boundaries. But like several states, there is also a state-level review board to which charters can appeal, and that board has told Philadelphia that at least one charter is free to go on ahead and do as it pleases.

The charter in question is Franklin Towne Charter. The charter has attracted attention in the past for a variety of reasons.

There's the time a fired principal filed a whistle blower suit, charging that he's been terminated because he pointed out that some Franklin Towne practices such as non-serving ESL students, serious nepotism, and billing the Philly school district for a non-existent all-day kindergarten program. Also, that they had lied to him in his initial interview in order to cover up their high principal turnover rate (it was only later that he learned that the Chief Academic Officer who helped interview him had been removed from the principalship because of outcry over shoplifting and excessive use of force against students). After a pattern of retaliation developed against him, he took it to the board president who allegedly replied, "You know we cannot move forward with you as principal."

Franklin Towne's CEO also pulled the old "rent the building from yourself" dodge, a great way to rake in those public taxpayer dollars (Franklin Towne was not the only charter to pull this stunt). You can (and they apparently did) make even more money by mortgaging the building to the hilt-- essentially extracting the equity value, converting it to cash, and sticking the cash in your pocket.

The charters are managed by OmniVest, a properties management company that handles more than fifteen charter schools and, I kid you not, JiffyLube. OmniVest offers education management, financial services, and real estate development. But when it comes to education, they can do it all:

Specializing in school management, OmniVest can assist you in realizing your ultimate dreams of operating an efficiently run, high quality blue ribbon school. Opening and operating a school, whether it is public, private or a charter school, can sometimes be extremely overwhelming based on all of the current educational and financial demands as well as in-depth compliance issues. As an independent, education-based company, OmniVest Properties Management specializes in the planning, design, development, construction, financing, and management of schools, and we have hands-on experience in the development and operations of over 150 private and public schools in 17 states, coast to coast.

Well, everything except actually educating. OmniVest was founded by B. Robin Eglin, who also runs a construction company and whose name  turns up a lot in stories about Philly charter shenanigans. His educational background is cashing on other charters like People for People and before that, Nobel Learning Communities-- a charter management company that was hauled into court by the justice department for refusing to educate students with disabilities-- and we could play this game all day, but you get the idea. These are not dedicated educators-- these are profiteers.

The problem most closely related to tFranklin Towne's latest flap is hinted at by their website; if you click on the link, you'll see that the crowd of happy students looks awfully white.

White students account for only 14% of the School District of Philadelphia's enrollment base, but make up nearly two-thirds of Franklin Towne’s student body, according to district data.

Now Franklin Towne wants to open a new middle school, and the Philly school wanted to set some requirements for that, particularly when it comes to the school's enrollment system. That doesn't seem out of line as, to the casual observer, it does seem that something's a bit skewed. It is of course illegal to discriminate on the basis of race in obvious ways. Of course, you can use marketing to signal  which students can expect to feel welcome (go back and look at all those white kids again). Lotteries seem like a "fair" technique, but lotteries come with an assortment of hoops to jump through, which serve as a sort of filter. Franklin Towne adds to that filtration system by doing something unusual-- when they have a spot open up, rather than pulling out the waiting list, they hold another lottery-- so if you want to get your kid in, you have to really be paying attention.

The problem of inadequate special education and blinding whiteness is not a new one in Philly charters, but this time it caught the attention of the Education Law Center of Philadelphia, which caught the attention of the Philly School Board which took the unusual step of denying an approval for Franklin Towne to add a middle school to its elementary and high school offerings unless the charter took a few actions, including giving priority to students in the neighborhood. But the charter fought back, taking its appeal to the state charter board.

The story highlights one other problem with PA charters. While the governor has been talking a tough game, he has not repopulated the state charter board. There should be six members; there are five and they were all appointed by previous governor Tom Corbett, and they are serving past their assigned term. If Governor Wolf wants to do something about charter oversight, he might want to look at that.

In the end, zombie charter board waved Franklin Towne on through, free to keep being just as white  as they want to be, along with the rest of their shenanigans. Charter fans like to say that bad charters get shut down, but some days it sure doesn't look that way. Meanwhile, Philly taxpayers will have to pay for one more charter school, even though their school board said no.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

OH: Meaningless School Grades And Money

Over at Cleveland.com, Rich Exner has done yeoman's work taking Ohio's school ratings and connecting them with census information from the US Census Bureaus 2017 American Communities Survey.

Ohio is another one of those states that believes it can reduce the entire issue of a school's quality to a single letter grade. This is a dumb idea, and there is no state that has ever implemented it in which it did not prove to be a dumb idea. It has been decades since we concluded that reducing student performance to a single letter grade was a dumb idea. How could it not be a dumb idea when applied to an entire complex system that is a school? If we asked a hundred parents what a B means foir a school grade, we would get over a hundred answers because many of those parents would say, "Hmm, well, it could refer to the general academic atmosphere of the school, or maybe how involved students are, or the level of enrichment offered, or, hell, I don't know."

Because giving a school a single letter grade is a dumb idea. Can a school suck in some areas and be awesome in others? Of course it can.

So if this is such a dumb idea, why does it keep cropping up? Well, its advocates have never made a coherent case for the practice (and many reformsters are judiciously silent on the practice), but we can make some educated guesses.

For one, a letter grade makes a nice way to hide the fact that you are grading an entire school based on a single standardized test of reading and math. If you just published the school's average or aggregate score, the public would shrug and say, "Okay, that's one piece of data and I'm not even sure I much care." So we have to dress that score up with a name or designation or, hey, a grade, to make it seem like that single test score is somehow indicative of bigger things, or even to give the impression that the score has been enhanced by all sorts of other measures.

For another, I can't help noticing that school grade states tend to be states like Ohio and Florida, where there are all sorts of folks chomping at the bit to open some non-public schools and hoover up some of those sweet, sweet tax dollars. Only to drive the market away from the public schools and into the waiting arms of charters and voucher schools, you need a way to point at certain public schools and say loudly, "Look! That school is failing. Faaaaiiiiling!! You had better run away! Run away!!" Letter grades for schools are a great way to do that.

Now, I now that I suggested that these grades are meaningless and tell us nothing, but thanks to Exler's work, we know better. Take a look at this graph and see if you can draw any conclusions here...

Yes, there's a nice direct correlation between wealth and school grades.

There is also the same sort of correlation for the child poverty rate and the education level of parents.

As with other research that we've seen before, what we learn is that demographic data is so predictive of school rating results, we don't even need to give the Big Standardized Test.

This works out well for reform minded folks, because it sounds nicer than saying, "Let us take over education in the poor communities, because Those People don't have the political clout to fight back."

Click on over to the article and look through all of Exner's data. The only one that will surprise you at all is the graph for the grade based on improving at-risk third graders-- that is just kind of a random splotch. All the rest present the same old picture-- the kinds of measures that are used to grade schools favor schools where the students come from wealthier, more educated families.

And it's worth noting that Ohio has been at this for quite a while-- hell, we all have. Which means that if Common Core college and career ready standards and innovative charters and high stakes testing were going to reverse the effects of poverty, we would see it in these charts. So that's one other thing the data tells us-- by the measures that Ohio is using, education reform hasn't helped a bit.

Most importantly, it tells us that gradiung is schools is a useless exercise that provides no helpful or actionable data, but simply provides one more way to target poor communities for reformsters.


Yes, Teachers Are Spending Money On Their Own Classrooms

Like the cost of a romantic date at Valentine's Day or the price of the Twelve Days of Christmas, the amount of money that teachers spend on their own classroom has become a reliable seasonal story. This year the word is that on average teachers spend, depending on your source, somewhere between $400 and $500. But that's not the whole story.

The Economic Policy Institute has crunched the numbers from the National Center for Educational Statistics, including a breakdown by states. The state averages vary (from $664 in California to $327 in North Dakota), though EPI is quick to note that the range says more about variations in state funding and school conditions than about the relative generosity of teachers in different states.
EPI uses relatively old data (2011-2012) to create its picture. The National Teacher and Principal Survey provides data from 2015-2016. A more current look comes from the sixth annual survey of teachers released today by SheerID and Agile Education Marketing. The most notable finding in their survey is not the amount teachers spent, but the sheer number of teachers who spent it--the survey shows that 99% of teachers spent their own money for school-related-purposes. And while the beginning of the school year seems to be prime time for these stories, the survey also notes that teachers do their spending throughout the year.

The SheerID/Agile Education Marketing folks want to make a practical business point--there's a huge market out there, composed of teachers looking for bargains because they are spending for professional purposes with their own private cash, and smart businesses are tapping that market (and they're not just buying student supplies, but materials to make their classroom a more welcoming place, too).

Many of the stories about teacher spending aim to be more warm and fuzzy. This year, there's been extra focus on #ClearTheLists, a hashtag started by a Texas teacher to help connect contributors with teachers who have their own classroom wish lists. That's over and above old standards like DonorsChoose.org and AdoptAClassroom.org that give teachers a chance to be helped by some cyber-philanthropist. "How To Help Teacher" stories turn up in places like the feel-good "Better" tab at NBC.

These stories feed the narrative of heroic teachers making sacrifices for the good of their students. But like tales of successful GoFundMe health care campaigns, they should raise the question of why such stories are necessary in the first place. Surgeons do not crowdsource for scalpels or pay for clean hospital linens out of their own pockets. Lawyers are not expected to bring their own tables and chairs to the courtroom. Why are teachers paying their own money to provide the workspace and materials that their students need?

Such charity and personal spending can have detrimental long term effects as well. This year's charitable gift can become next year's "Great! We don't have to put that item in the budget ever again." When teachers take a voluntary pay cut to make up for the underfunding of their school, there's less motivation for leaders to fix the funding problem.

"Most teachers are spending a bunch of their own money on their classroom" is not good news; it's not really even news at all. Let's work for a back-to-school season in which it is no longer true.
Originally posted at Forbes.com