Build and Support Works
Jeff Bryant writes about the success of Long Beach Unified School District in pursuing a build and support approach focusing on building capacity to focus on improving instruction. http://educationopportunitynetwork.org/yes-schools-can-improve-heres-how/
Building teams and continuous improvement
A recent excellent book on building teams and continuous improvement—critical elements in improving teacher and school performance. The Internal Coherence Framework Creating the Conditions for Continuous Improvement in Schools by Forman, Stosich, Bocala with a foreword by Richard Elmore.
One of the authors Elizabeth Stosich, who studied the implementation of common core in several districts and then authored a very astute article in the AERA Journal. She states:
Recent research on the relationship between standards and teachers’ practice suggests that teachers are unlikely to make changes to practice without extensive opportunities for learning about standards with colleagues. This article extends this line of research, using a comparative case study of three high-poverty urban schools to examine the nature of teachers’ collaborative work around the Common Core State Standards and the conditions that support this work. It argues that collaborative practices that encourage joint examination of instruction and student learning against standards support teachers in noticing and attending to differences between their current practice and standards. In addition, it examines the role of teachers’ instructional knowledge and principals’ leadership in supporting teachers’ collaboration around standards. https://edpolicy.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/publications/scope-author-stosich-joint-inquiry-article.pdf
Another report on building effective teams and continuous improvement. https://learningforward.org/docs/default-source/pdf/teacheragencyfinal.pdf and https://learningforward.org/publications/blog/learning-forward-blog/2017/02/14/nyc-district-teams-use-improvement-science-to-strengthen-teaching-practice
A report by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching on implementation science, an important method for developing continuous improvement in schools. https://www.carnegiefoundation.org/blog/quality-improvement-approaches-implementation-science/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=list&utm_campaign=blog_3-16-17
An article about how a High-Tech charter elementary school in Chula Vista brainstormed how to improve literacy using implementation science techniques. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/learning_deeply/2017/03/using_improvement_science_to_think_deeply_about_literacy.html?utm_source=feedblitz&utm_medium=FeedBlitzRss&utm_campaign=learningdeeply The article starts with a quote from Albert Einstein: If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.
A whole issue of the journal Quality Assurance in Education was devoted to improvement science. http://www.emeraldinsight.com/toc/qae/25/1
A new report from the Center for American Progress on broadening accountability to examine school and district capacity building. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education/reports/2017/03/03/427156/a-new-vision-for-school-accountability/
The report identified five broad categories into which states are organizing their reforms and used those categories to formulate a new concept for accountability. The categories are:
Measuring progress toward college and career readiness
Diagnosing and responding to challenges via school-based quality improvement
State systems of support and intervention
A new PACE report finds a positive effect of social-emotional learning. http://www.edpolicyinca.org/publications/using-sel-and-cc
Betsy DeVos Watch
DeVos has a skewed view of public education. http://educationopportunitynetwork.org/what-betsy-devos-means-when-she-says-public-schools/
Charter School Problems
A charter school written up in USA Today brags about an 88% graduation rate, but just a rarified 38% of the students who started the cohort in sixth grade remain so the statistic is meaningless. Democracy Prep claims an 87.5% graduation rate. New York State has a pretty good public data system, so I investigated the numbers for Democracy Prep’s first cohort, the ones that 87.5% of their graduates are on track to graduate from college. What I found was that in 2006-2007, they had 131 6th graders. According to their testing data from that year where 127 students were tested, there were 63 girls and 64 boys tested. Also, of the 131 students, 80% were Black while 20% were Latino.Six years later they had 50 12th graders. This represents just 38% of the original 131 students. Of those 50, 13 were boys and 37 were girls. So they went from 50% boys to 33% boys. Also of their 50 students, they went from 80% Black in 2006 to 66% Black in 2013. https://garyrubinstein.wordpress.com/2017/03/15/charter-school-with-38-high-school-completion-rate-brags-about-88-college-completion-rate-in-usa-today/
Lax accountability leads to self-dealing third-party transactions much like the Enron debacle even with non-profit charters. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2924886
More evidence that on-line charters substantially underperform, this time from Ohio. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.3102/0013189X17692999
Another example from Arizona where an unregulated for-profit on-line charter siphoned off $10 millions of dollars of profit and $84 million in revenue from a non-profit online charter in an egregious case of self-dealing. From Diane Ravitch’s blog. https://dianeravitch.net/2017/02/28/arizona-online-high-schoolcollects-10-million-profit-in-one-year-and-devos-wants-more-of-them/
Arizonans for Charter School Accountability:
The Consequences of Unregulated Charter Schools:
For-Profit American Virtual Academy Nets $10 Million Profit in 2016 After Siphoning $84 Million from Non-Profit Primavera Online. (Full report)
In its first year of operation as Primavera Online High School, for-profit charter holder American Virtual Academy (AVA) made an astounding $10 million profit in 2016. American Virtual Academy was given the charter for Primavera Online by non-profit Primavera Technical Learning Center (PTLC) in 2015 without compensation.
PTLC operated Primavera Online from 2002 to 2015 and had annual revenues of over $30 million a year with accumulated total cash assets of over $44 million with no debt. PTLC was the richest non-profit charter holder in Arizona in 2015.
On May 21, 2015 the PTLC Board suddenly decided to relinquish their charter to their software supplier, American Virtual Academy. There was no money exchanged in the transaction. PTLC is now out of the charter school business and is sitting on $44 million in assets.
Both PTLC and AVA were incorporated and directed by the same man, Damian Creamer. Creamer and his family members have received over $2 million in compensation as officers of PTLC. PTLC has employed Creamer’s software company, American Virtual Academy, since 2005 – paying AVA over $84 million from 2009 -2015 just to use software created by Creamer for Primavera Online.
In 2016 Primavera Online had a record year earning over $40 million. Creamer paid his new software company, FlipSwitch Inc., $13 million for software licenses and another $2.5 million for software support. Despite these huge expenditures, AVA cleared $10 million in profit that went to the company’s only stockholder, Damian Creamer.
Jim Hall, founder of Arizonans for Charter School Accountability commented, “This is worst case of a private citizen profiting from the actions of a non-profit organization imaginable. There is a charade going on in the charter school industry, both in Arizona and around the nation, that allows charter owners like Damian Creamer to control non-profit charter schools to enrich their for-profit subsidiaries – and themselves.”
The full report is at www.azcsa.org
A persuasive opinion piece by David Hornbeck about the problems with charters. His quote: chartering schools is not an education reform; it’s merely a change in governance.http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-hornbeck-charters-20150301-story.html
Heartbreaking testimony by a teacher who quit on the harsh atmosphere at a Success Academy charter in NY City from Diane Ravitch’s blog. https://dianeravitch.net/2017/02/28/jane-doe-why-i-quit-as-a-teacher-at-success-academy-charter-schools/
When I applied to teach at Success Academy Charter Schools, I was just out of college with little teaching experience, and I was interviewing at every school I could, hoping to get my first real teaching job. As soon as I walked into Success’s Wall Street office for the interview, I knew this was a different kind of school. The space looks and feels like corporate headquarters, complete with glass-walled conference rooms and a minimalist aesthetic.
I was called into a boardroom with five or so other applicants, and someone from the “Talent” team (in charge of hiring) showed us a slick marketing video: we were being seduced. Then, one by one, we were asked to deliver a mini-lesson to everyone present. After each turn, we were given explicit feedback, which the next person was expected to implement immediately. It became clear that this was less of an interview, and more of a practical test to determine how well we could emulate the specific teaching style Success subscribes to. It was also an early introduction to the network’s trademark language and unique demands: we were told that every employee pledges support for the “dual mission,” which is to say that our job description included advocacy for “school choice” in addition to our roles as teachers.
I was placed at Success Academy Cobble Hill, which made news last year after The New York Times released a video of “Labsite teacher” Charlotte Dial berating a first-grader for stumbling during “Number Stories,” before she publicly rips the young girl’s worksheet in half. (This practice is common enough to have a nickname within the network, the “rip and redo.”) Contrary to statements made by Ms. Dial, CEO Eva Moskowitz, and Principal Kerri Tabarcea, this type of interaction is not at all out of the ordinary at Success. Ms. Dial’s harsh classroom management was known – in fact, celebrated – by school leaders. Newer hires were even sent to Ms. Dial so they could learn to model her “no-nonsense” teaching, earning her the “Labsite teacher” title and a higher salary. Perhaps most disturbingly, Charlotte Dial is still employed as a first-grade teacher at Success Academy Cobble Hill, sending a clear message to students, families, and other teachers in the network.
One of the real and valuable benefits to working at Success is that there is remarkable focus on professional development. Teachers are observed often, given feedback almost constantly, and participate in formal professional development sessions at least once a week. The caveat is that this training is entirely geared towards the specific strategies developed by Success for the purposes of social control over “scholars” and high test scores for the network.
“Scholars” are taught to value urgency. Children are expected to complete transitions in a given amount of time, often as short as ten seconds – taking any longer is considered unacceptable. This teaches students that learning is precious. It also teaches that taking one’s time, moving at one’s own pace, is irresponsible. It was heartbreaking to know that I was imparting on my young students the very same constant pressure that I felt from my supervisors.
Teachers’ directions to students must follow a stubborn formula, and are enforced just as strictly. “When I say go, safely and silently walk to your desk, take out your book, and begin reading. You have ten seconds, go.” Once at their desks, students will already know the correct posture for reading; they know that to avoid a “consequence,” their feet need to be flat and still on the floor, with their backs straight against their chairs, and two hands on their books. When I allowed for a more relaxed atmosphere in my classroom, I was reprimanded and lectured about the value of posture while reading. Any wavering from Success philosophy is treated as heresy, and often encourages unwanted attention from administrators – for instance, a teacher who fails to maintain perfect silence while students are on the carpet might be ordered to participate in “live coaching,” wherein a superior stands in the back of the room during the lesson, whispering directions into a microphone, which the teacher hears through an earpiece. In the middle of a sentence, the teacher will hear, “narrate and consequence voice,” and is expected to immediately use pre-practiced language to correct a murmuring student in the corner. Part of the reason I accepted a position at Success was for the professional development, but this was not what I had in mind.
Most of the students I taught at Success dreaded coming to school, as did most of the teachers. It is a grueling, relentless atmosphere where every second is cherished as potential learning time, and every slip-up garners an immediate consequence. There is a small fraction of people – students and adults alike – who thrive in this extreme environment. More often, the constant pressure makes for tense relationships, high anxiety, and negative affects on health and behavior. During testing season, each Success school is shipped extra pairs of pants to keep on hand, because inevitably several third graders will be so scared to sacrifice test time for a bathroom trip, they’ll have an accident. Some students react to this extreme environment in extreme ways; at the strictest Success locations, it is commonplace to hear screaming and crying in the hallways throughout the day as children as young as five break down for one reason or another. Different Success locations have different ways of dealing with this behavior, ranging from the infamous “got to go” list at Fort Greene to School Safety interventions elsewhere. If there was screaming in the hallway, one of my students would silently get up to close the classroom door. Other students continued working, both because they were unfazed and because they knew they would be held accountable for being on-task regardless of what was happening around them.
Every teacher imparts learning to students outside of their explicit lesson content. Given the tenor of current events, I have been thinking about what priorities and values I want to model in my teaching and embody in my curriculum. I want my students to know the importance of empathy, respect, and generosity. I want them to know that they matter, and that every other human matters too. I want them to feel empowered to speak up to an authority figure – including me – if they feel they are being treated unjustly. These are crucial social-emotional understandings, and though they may not affect test scores, they will surely affect students’ lives. Not only does the curriculum at Success ignore social-emotional learning, but the structure of the day allows for such minimal peer-to-peer interaction that students are unable to learn such skills from each other.
Like so many others, I quit Success because the brand of teaching the network demands prevented me from providing the quality of education my students deserve. When I tried to accommodate a restless student by allowing her to fidget on the carpet, I was told I was doing her a disservice and was ordered to keep her still. When I tried to advocate for under-performing students to undergo psychological testing so that they might receive services they needed, I was ignored or admonished, and in one instance told flat-out that the school was not testing students so as to avoid being legally obligated to provide services to them. I watched coworkers struggle to decide whether to report suspected family abuse when leaders didn’t share their concerns, given that network protocol is for school administration to make such calls. (Legally, teachers and psychologists are mandated reporters and cannot be punished for reporting suspected abuse. But with no union representation, it is difficult for an employee to feel confident that this will hold true in practice.) I was sick of overlooking the profit-driven motivations of the network, and sick of being forced to comply with practices that I believed were damaging my students.
When I use the word scammed, I am not just talking about money, and I am not just talking about those who send their kids to Success. I’m talking about the whole country, because all of us are being scammed by Charter advocates like Betsy DeVos and Success CEO Eva Moskowitz. The changes they seek put public schools at a disadvantage, as they are being forced to fight with Charters for space, funding, and high-engagement/high-resource families. Meanwhile, not all Charters perform like Success. Some are much better, with more emphasis on experiential learning and less emphasis on strict behavioral expectations. Others, like those DeVos lobbied for in Detroit, have test scores similar to or worse than nearby public schools, with the same downsides of Success – no unions, poor treatment of special education students, and high suspension rates, to name a few.
What I want people to know when they see advertisements for Success Academy is that to enroll or apply to a charter chain is to propagate a very specific brand of education. Success is funded in part by private donors like the Koch brothers and the family that owns Wal-Mart, because conservatives and big corporations have a vested interest in chipping away at public education. I call upon all teachers, all parents and caregivers, and all who care about public education to resist this model of teaching and learning. Our students deserve better. NYT article on Dial vid: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/13/nyregion/success-academy-teacher-rips-up-student-paper.html
Charter school with a 19% graduation rate. http://www.bendbulletin.com/localstate/education/5030445-151/charter-school-killed-crook-county-grad-rate
Problems with Vouchers
Three big research reports on the largest voucher programs in the US show dismal results. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/upshot/dismal-results-from-vouchers-surprise-researchers-as-devos-era-begins.html?_r=0
A comprehensive article on why vouchers haven’t worked in this country or abroad— low performance, draining funds from public schools and re-segregation by Martin Conroy. http://www.epi.org/publication/school-vouchers-are-not-a-proven-strategy-for-improving-student-achievement/ Studies of U.S. and international voucher programs show that the risks to school systems outweigh insignificant gains in test scores and limited gains in graduation rates
More evidence demonstrating vouchers don’t work but cause considerable harm. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-miner-betsy-devos-education-voucher-schools-20170212-story.html
In a similar vein, a comprehensive report on the problems caused by Chile’s voucher plan. https://www.newamerica.org/education-policy/edcentral/chiles-school-voucher-system-enabling-choice-or-perpetuating-social-inequality/ What lessons does Chile offer to the United States? First, it provides a cautionary tale on the potential for voucher programs to exacerbate school socio-economic segregation. Here in the U.S., schools in urban areas are not only racially segregated but have high levels of concentrated poverty and policymakers are right to be concerned that universal voucher programs may exacerbate this problem. Second, Chile’s recent reforms highlight the importance of considering equity up front and ensuring that private vouchers schools are held to the same standards as public schools. Evidence from Milwaukee’s voucher program suggests that holding private voucher schools to different standards can foster the creation of low-quality schools that do little to advance student learning and achievement. Finally, the inconclusive evidence on boosting student achievement is a red flag for policymakers who believe that simply shifting students into a private school will lead to stronger academic performance. Voucher systems are no cure for the inequities that plague our education system.
Vouchers would not help rural and sparsely populated counties. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education/news/2017/03/03/414853/vouchers-are-not-a-viable-solution-for-vast-swaths-of-america/
Jeff Bryant warns that Trump’s and DeVos’s voucher plans are attempts at funding religious fundamentalism at taxpayers expense. http://educationopportunitynetwork.org/trumps-school-choice-plan-religious-fundamentalism-at-taxpayer-expense/
Voucher plans become subsidies for up-scale private school parents or religious schools while not showing any performance benefit but draining large amounts from non-charter public schools. To quote from Diane Ravitch’s blog https://dianeravitch.net/2017/03/13/karen-francisco-indiana-and-the-great-voucher-scam/
Karen Francisco, editorial page editor of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette in Indiana, reviews the state’s disastrous experiment with vouchers. In 2011, state lawmakers started the voucher program with the promise of helping low-income children get better schooling. As time has passed, the income level for eligibility has gone up, the costs have gone up, but the vouchers have never fulfilled their promise. Instead, they have become a permanent drain on public school funding even as the schools remain unaccountable and non-transparent. Over time, they have become a subsidy for private school parents who never sent their children to public schools and never intended to. Over time, they have developed a strong political constituency in the legislature that is unwilling to hold voucher schools accountable for performance
Vouchers have been a disaster in North Carolina according to a report by Duke University. https://law.duke.edu/childedlaw/School_Vouchers_NC.pdf To quote from the executive summary:
The North Carolina voucher program is well designed to promote parental choice, especially for parents who prefer religious education for their children. It is poorly designed, however, to promote better academic outcomes for children and is unlikely to do so.
In 2013, the NC General Assembly enacted the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Program to make taxpayer-funded grants, or vouchers, available to low-income students to assist with payment of tuition at private schools. A voucher can be a grant of up to $4,200 per year.
The number of children receiving vouchers has increased from approximately 1,200 in the first year to 5,500 in 2016-17. The General Assembly has authorized an additional 2,000 vouchers for each year over the next decade, bringing the total to 25,000 by 2017.
The Opportunity Scholarship Grant Program is funded through general revenues. The initial annual appropriation was $10 million; the current annual appropriation is $60 million; the anticipated annual appropriation by 2027 is $145 million. At this rate, the total expenditure by 2027 will be $900 million.
Approximately 93% of the vouchers have been used to pay tuition at religious schools.
Based on limited and early data, more than half the students using vouchers are performing below average on nationally-standardized reading, language, and math tests. In contrast, similar public school students in NC are scoring above the national average.
Accountability measures for North Carolina private schools receiving vouchers are among the weakest in the country. The schools need not be accredited, adhere to state curricular or graduation standards, employ licensed teachers, or administer state End-of-Grade tests.
Because private schools receiving vouchers are not required to administer the state tests nor to publish detailed achievement data, researchers will be unable to develop thorough and valid conclusions about the success of the program at improving educational outcomes for participating students.
Lax accountability for voucher plans leads to a $400,000 embezzlement of tax dollars in North Carolina. http://ajf.org/employee-states-largest-recipient-school-voucher-funds-accused-embezzling-nearly-400000-public-tax-dollars/
Similar disappointing results for the Louisiana’s voucher plan. http://educationresearchalliancenola.org/files/publications/ERA-Policy-Brief-Public-Private-School-Choice-160218.pdf
A passionate speech by a Texas superintendent on the dangers of vouchers on Anthony Cody’s blog. http://www.livingindialogue.com/john-kuhn-educates-texas-legislature/
An article by the blogger Russ on Reading decries vouchers as welfare for the rich, racist, and religious right. http://russonreading.blogspot.com/2017/03/school-vouchers-welfare-for-rich-racist.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+RussOnReading+%28Russ+on+Reading%29
Problems with For-Profit Colleges
The cycle of scandal at for-profit colleges. https://tcf.org/topics/education/the-cycle-of-scandal-at-for-profit-colleges/?utm_source=TCF+Email+Updates&utm_campaign=99c814cf9e-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_03_09&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e5457eab21-99c814cf9e-92593749
Research on Turnaround Strategies
Massive Investment by the Feds in harsh turnaround strategies didn’t work. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/obama-administration-spent-billions-to-fix-failing-schools-and-it-didnt-work/2017/01/19/6d24ac1a-de6d-11e6-ad42-f3375f271c9c_story.html?utm_term=.3a356250c9a1 Contrary results occured in California with a more positive approach. https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/es_20170209_loeb_evidence_speaks.pdf Two studies from California show not only that schools improved student learning outcomes as a result of participating in the SIG program, but also some of the mechanisms by which this improvement occurred. In particular, rich data on SIG schools in one of the studies shows that schools improved both by differentially retaining their most experienced teachers and by providing teachers with increased supports for instructional improvement such as opportunities to visit each other’s classrooms and to receive meaningful feedback on their teaching practice from school leaders. https://www.brookings.edu/research/continued-support-for-improving-the-lowest-performing-schools/
High-School Grades Are a Better Predictor of College Performance Than College Admission Tests
Which predicts college performance better—grades or college admission tests? Study after study finds grades are a better predictor. https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs/projects/project.asp?projectID=4546
Test and Punish Federal Policy Didn’t Work
Another report on the failures of test and punish. No Child Left Behind: A Deeply Flawed Federal Policy by Helen Ladd. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/pam.21978/full
California Education: Students Rank 5th in the Nation on Advanced Placement Exam Scores.
Merit Pay Didn’t Work
Another study, this time in Florida, that finds merit pay plans don’t work. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/02/17/trump-backs-merit-pay-for-teachers-but-one-florida-school-system-now-says-it-doesnt-work/?utm_term=.3a3208634a7d