Monday, December 7, 2015

MA: Vulture Convocation

Even as I type this, up in Boston there's a day-long gathering going on that is emblematic of all the wrong things driving ed reform.

It's a conference entitled "Leveraging Research and Policy to Improve K-12 Education in Massachusetts" and it was organized by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the MIT School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative (which seems like an odd name choice unless MIT has decided to create educational inequality on purpose, and say so).  The conference is going on at the Federal Reserve Bank, and it sounds like a day full o' joy.

After a continental breakfast (cheapskates) there were welcoming remarks from Robert Triest of the FRB and Sanjay Sarma of MIT. Then-- well, let me just run down through the whole program:

9:00 AM-- Alternative School Models

A short presentation about the Lawrence Public Schools Turnaround by three folks from the Harvard Grad School of Education. Lawrence has been pioneering turnaroundiness for a few years, making them beloved by the reformy classes. But they're only the warm-up act for

"Charters Without Lotteries: Testing Takeovers in New Orleans and Boston."  It takes three people from MIT and one from Duke to explain how New Orleans isn't so much about educating students as it is about testing takeover models. And congrats, Boston, for being lumped with NOLA-- be sure to mention that the next time Boston's Mayor Walsh complains that he is being unfairly tarred as a school privatizer. Also note that two of the MIT guys are also NBER guys-- that's the National Bureau of Economics Research, which is great news because economists have always been a boon to public education.

There's also a panel discussion featuring Christopher Gabrieli (who is somehow the head of both Empower Schools and the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education), Richard Stutman of the Boston Teachers Union, and Ryan Knight, Director of Strategy and Evaluation for the turnaround management specialists, UP Education Network (whose motto, sadly, is not "We have UPped many districts to excellence; now let us UP yours")

And all of that took just an hour.

10:05 AM-- Schools and Neighborhoods

A short presentation on a long-windedly-titled paper about the effects of foreclosure on student academic performance. That study is being presented by three people from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, because who understands student academic achievement better?

That comes with a panel discussion featuring the MA House Chair of the Joint Committee on Education, the superintendent of Chelsea Public Schools, and the executive director of Lawrence Community Works (one of those organizations where movers and shakers and business folks get together to act as if they are the elected leaders of a community).

10:45-- Break

11:00-- Accountability and Value-Added

Oh, it's getting deep and thick now. Two presentations here-- one on "Validating Teacher Effect Estimates Using Changes in Teacher Assignments" and the other on "Leveraging Lotteries for School Value-Added: Testing and Estimation" which both seem to come under the heading of "Baloney You Can Perform with Numbers." MIT, Harvard, and NBER are well-represented here, but of course no actual educators.

The panel discussion includes a Boston U Economics professor, the Executive Director of Data and Accountability from Boston Public Schools, and a person whose title is, as sure as I'm sitting here, Associate Commissioner of Planning, Research, and Delivery Systems, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. All I can say is that any organization that includes such a title should take a long look in the mirror and ask itself, "What am I doing with my life?"

12:05 PM-- Lunch and Keynote 

It's buffet time, along with Roland Fryer of Harvard University and EdLabs. Economist-cum-instant-Professor Fryer has produced some reformy gems in the past (though he is on the list of people who have proven merit pay doesn't work), including helping determine how to punish teachers more effectively and arguing for a two-tier testing system so that we can focus on Those Students. And-- uh-oh-- he's here to explain What We Have Learned from the Last Decade of Educational Research. I'm guessing that the answer, at least for the people at this conference, is Not Nearly Enough of the Right Stuff.

1:20 PM-- School Admission Policy

Christopher Walters of UC at Berkeley and NBER wants to talk about the Demand for Effective Charter Schools, and in what is sure to be interesting to Bostonians, Parag Pathak of MIT wants to present an overview of Unified Enrollment in American Cities.

The panel discussion includes the executive director of the Institute for Innovation in Public School Choice (puh-leeze), the Chief of Education for the City of Boston, and the dean of Boston University's School of Education.

2:25 PM-- Break

2:40 PM-- Access and Equity

MIT has a presentation on ELL and Special Ed Students in Charter Schools: Classification and Effectiveness (classification of what?). Then the Teachers College at Columbia is here to talk about Boston's Advanced Work Class and the Long Run Impact of Tracking High-Achieving Students.

The panel includes the senior director of Education to Career, the Associate Commissioner for Educational Redesign from Mass's Ed Department, the senior project director of Massachusetts Advocates for Children, and Erica Brown, whose name has the following after it: "Special Advisor to the Executive Director, City on a Hill Charter Public Schools; Founding Charter-District Steering Committee Member, Boston Compact; Chair of Teaching and Learning, Boston Charter Alliance."

3:45 PM-- Closing Remarks 

Making Research More Useful for Policy

Well, that's a hell of a title. I think I'm more interested in making research more useful for figuring out what is actually true, or not. How about making policy that reflects what we've learned from legitimate research. And to talk about this we have-- oh, lordy!

It's Carrie Conaway, the woman with the shameful "delivery systems" title from earlier. She's joined by former TFA reformster/superintendent Tommy Chang, and former vulture capitalist and current MA secretary of education Jim Peyser, whose expert vision is dismantling public schols for fun and profit (but mostly profit) we've discussed before.

After that's done, you can stick around and mingle over refreshments and an open bar, shmoozing, making connections, and just soaking up the rarified air of economists and reformsters contemplating all the delicious ways that schools can be used for economic ends. Thank goodness almost nobody was here to mar the day by bringing up things like education and students and the actual use of schools. This is the kind of special day that lets these folks spout their gibberish at each other without once being interrupted by actual educators with antedeluvian ideas about what public schools are supposed to do and who they are supposed to serve.

What a delightful day, I'm sure.


  1. Wait, are you saying Arthur Levine wasn't on the agenda touting the wonders of competency-based blah-blah-blah?


  3. It might be useful to read the papers. The paper Charters Without Lotteries: Testing Takeovers in New Orleans and Boston, for example, has nothing to do with explaining "how New Orleans isn't so much about educating students as it is about testing takeover models". Instead it is trying to address the often heard criticism that the application process used in charter education results in only truly motivated students attending charter schools. They address this concern by looking at charter school students in New Orleans and Boston that were grandfathered into the charter school and did not apply to attend the charter.