Monday, March 25, 2019

OK: Bogus School Efficiency Report

EPIC charter schools are boasting about the results of a new efficiency study of Oklahoma schools, and there are so many layers of deep-fried baloney here it takes a minute or two to dig through them. But when charter boosters start talking about "accountability" and "transparency," this is the kind of bullshit that makes their claims less than believable.

The very top layer is the least important, but it's worth noting because this is exactly the kind of foolishness that gives journalism a bad name. The Oklahoman is a legitimate news organization out of Oklahoma City; they run a website which also powers another site called newsOK. That site includes BrandInsight which connects "local experts and business leaders with the NewsOK audience" which means that it runs puffy marketing dressed up to look like a news item. It's there that we find a piece ostensibly about the Oklahoma schools efficiency report, with a note at the very bottom that this was sponsored by EPIC.

Sommers takes a rest.
Why care? Because the charter free marketeer stated dream is that parents will sit down with clear, useful data to drive their decisions about where to send their children. But what we keep finding in reality is that parents have to sort through a lot of marketing foofery masquerading as facts. We keep getting rhetoric about empowering families when what happens is that charter businesses are hoping that they can drive families into their arms.

Unfortunately, some news outlets have picked up the story and run it as if it's legit news. It's not. If you're in Oklahoma, here's why you can safely ignore the findings.

A copy of the report is living on the Oklahoma Public [sic] Charter School Association website; we'll just skip to the executive summary.

The entire measure efficiency rests on a thing called the Kalmus Ratio, which never appears without a little copyright symbol beside it. So, not just baloney, but proprietary baloney. The formula for the Kalkmus Ratio is dollars expended divided by student success points. Want to take a wild guess and what student success points are based on? The report is clear:

This report defines student success as passage of state academic tests.    

SMH. On top of the usual malarky about saying "student success" when we mean "student test scores," the report adds another layer of faux data fluffernuttery by assigning each test category a number. So ever advanced test result equals 1.2, proficient equals 1.0, limited is 0.3, and unsatisfactory is 0.0.

But wait, you may ask, does the Kalmus Ratio allow for factors like poverty? sure it does-- the report notes that each "student in poverty increases the value of success by .25." After that, it becomes less clear somehow:

This is the same percentage adjustment provided schools for students in poverty. The adjustment increases the number of student success points a school district earns. For example, a district with 100 proficient students would typically earn 100 student success points. If the district poverty rate is 50%, those same 100 proficient students would earn 150 student success points.

Something seems wrong with the math here, but I was an English teacher. If you want to examine the theoretical and evidence-based underpinnings of this factoring for poverty, well, the report says, "The adjustment accounts for the challenge," so there you have it. Does the Kalmus Ratio factor anything else in, or add factors for growth. No. No, it does not.

There are other layers of foolishness here. The report argues that the Kalmus Ratio is better than cost-per-pupil because schools can cut cost-per-pupil by getting rid of staff and programs "irrespective of impact on student achievement [aka test scores]." But clearly the way to increase Kalmus Ratio efficiency scores would be to cut every teacher and program not involved in prepping for the test. You could raise your Kalmus ratio by cutting all sorts of enrichment programs, which may, in fact, tell us something about the results of the study.

At this point you might be thinking that the Kalmus Ratio must have come off the back of a cereal box, or from Bob's Friendly Consulting Firm. But no-- looking for the factory that created this slab of baloney takes us to a guy who was almost head of education for the state of Ohio.

The company involved is CF Educational Solutions. "Student success is our passion," they declare. They are all about future ready graduates and technology and continuous improvement and focusing on student results.

We must singularly define educator success in terms of real intellectual, emotional, and physical change within the student. Every activity we undertake must answer the question, “What good for whom?”

Okay, so they're not poets. CFES was co-founded by Robert Sommers and Rob Sommers, a father and son team. According to LinkedIn, the son's background is in sales, and he did his co-founding in October of 2018. According to LinkedIn, Dad did his co-founding in January of 2018.

Robert Sommers (dad, mid-60-ish) has a long and checkered education history. Sommers worked for years in the Ohio Department of Ed, then moved to Butler Tech, a career and technical school, as CEO. He spent one year as CEO of Cornerstone Charter Schools in Detroit, then became director of 21st Century education for Governor John Kasich in Ohio. Somewhere in there Sommers took on the job of expanding Arizona's Carpe Diem charter chain into other states; the students-sitting-in-cubicles-working-on-computers didn't do well. Sommers somehow ended up in Oklahoma, where Governor Mary Fallin put him in charge of education (we're up to 2013 now). CompetencyWorks was delighted, given his ties to several reformster groups, but he left the job within a year; he noted that aging relatives scuttled his plans to relocate to OK. In 2016, he was up for the education chief job in Ohio, but by then the past had started to pile up. One news organization reported that his Carpe Diem school in Ohio was a low performer. And Plunderbund brought up the story of his truth-impairment during his Kasich days. The Cleveland Plain Dealer said that even though he pledged to sell his financial interest in Carpe Diem if he got the job, he was perhaps far too cozy with the charter school industry to become the guy who brought Ohio's sprawling charter mess under control. He did not get the job.

And so CF Educational Solutions was born, landing work in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Georgia and Oklahoma. They were sometimes greeted with less-than-open arms, in particular questioning the wisdom of hiring a charter guy to run strategic planning for a public system.

The Kalmus Ratio? It would appear that this is the brainchild of Sommers himself, who was using it all the way back in his Butler Tech days (it appears in 2004, already copyrighted). I've found no examples of its use by anyone but Sommers; that copyright might not be entirely necessary.

There is one other small mystery-- who hired CFES to write the Oklahoma schools efficiency report? I'm going to assume that the fact that OPCSA is web-hosting the copy is a huge hint.

You can read the full report if you like (it's only 27 pages long), but I'm not sure how you build a strong study on a foundation of bunk. But this is how hustlers keep hustling and how bad policy gets fed by bad research. Granted, in the mess that is Oklahoma education policy, this is small potatoes, but it's important to remember how the baloney gets made.


  1. Peter, if you would like a resume of my entire education career, it would show me in charters for about 4-5 years out of 45. You would also find articles I've written about the failure of many of the reforms in the last 15 years. My testimony in the Ohio legislature is blunt. Read up on the Kalmus Ratio and I'd be happy to define success in other ways than testing. Happy to build a more meaningful measure on measures you value. As for teachers, I would suggest you talk to the hundreds who put Butler Tech on the map during our work there. They are the true heros. BTW, I started as a very successful teacher. Bottomline: Would love to meet and discuss these issues without all of the hatred. I'm guessing we have more in common than difference. All the best!

  2. Unknown, I would love to have information regarding your experience in Ohio. Please contact me at