Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Illinois Facility Fund

What does the Illinois Facility Fund know about education? Not much. What the Illinois Facility Fund knows a lot about though is real estate, specifically real estate for charter schools. The Illinois Facility Fund is a non-profit lender and real estate consultant that offers a full range of financial services for charter schools including below-market rate loans, credit enhancement of bonds and investor pools and a range of real estate consulting services. The fact that the Illinois Facility Fund study was funded by a $100,000 gift from the Walton Family Foundation should trouble anyone who supports public education. The Walton Family Foundation, established by Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, has been one of the strongest forces in the country advancing public charter schools through its gifts. It has given hundreds of millions of dollars to charter schools as it seeks to promote charter schools that compete with government-run public school systems. Just as Walmart disregards locally-owned stores that can’t match its low prices, it disregards long-established neighborhood public schools.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Parents Anticipate Report as Assault on Low-Income Neighborhood Schools

The Deputy Mayor for Education, with a 100,000 dollar grant from the Walton Family Foundation, engaged IFF (Illinois Facility Fund) to study the capacity and performance of DCPS and public charter schools.
Click Map to Enlarge
IFF has authored reports in Denver, Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Louis, using a defined method to determine what they term "performing" or "non-performing" seats. This analysis is being done with an eye to "right sizing" district schools which beyond consolidation could include reconstitution and replacement with school management organizations.
Mary Levy, independent public school analyst, applied IFF methods to DCPS and public charter school data and found that where "performing seats" are located correlates with household wealth and family income of students. So that ALL schools in high wealth neighborhoods are "performing" and those in low wealth neighborhoods and with large numbers of children from low income families are "non-performing" with a very few exceptions, as illustrated in a map and data-tables. The IFF findings are expected to be issued at the end of November. There has been no public input or discussion solicited on the methods, criteria, or purpose of this study.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Illinois Facilities Fund Hired to Study School Closing/Opening Needs in DCPS

Valerie Strauss correctly questions in her column today why DCPS would want to hire a pro-charter school company from Illinois to advise the city on which additional public schools might be closed and where charter schools might be opened. The contract with IFF is for $100,000. Meanwhile, our own local 21st Century Schools Fund has been studying DC's facilities needs and advising DCPS for years. They already have the data being requested, including school utilization figures. Just a year and a half ago they published an excellent study of the not very plan-full way that charter schools had been located and the resulting inequitable access to educational services, by neighborhood in the city. The point person bringing in the new consulting company is Deputy Mayor for Education DeShawn Wright, who formerly helped oversee and promote charter schools in both Newark and NYC.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

How High Stakes Testing Led to Cheating Scandals in Atlanta and Washington DC

Dana Goldstein has penned another insightful column on the origin of the testing scandals and hits the nail right on the head. This time the piece appeared today in Slate Magazine.  The only problem is that although what she says must be occuring in DCPS, as of now, there has been no real investigation of cheating in DC, so the article is based on conjecture. Why has there been no real investigation? Where are the grown-ups?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Wishing Erasuregate Away DCPS Learns Nothing from Atlanta

In an article in the Post this morning, Bill Turque paints a picture of a stark contrast between the approach taken in Atlanta and DCPS with very similar testing scandals. In Atlanta employees lied initially and it was only when questioned under oath that they told the truth. It took 60 full time investigators with subpoena powers, to uncover the truth. At first the improprieties seemed isolated and small, but further investigation led to 178 participants in 44 schools with a massive coverup by the central administration.

If anything, the culture and conditions in DCPS seem more ripe than Atlanta for cheating. There has been too much emphasis on testing and test-prep over four years. There is a culture of fear in schools. The stakes --huge bonuses and unceremonious firing, the rewards and sanctions for test scores on a single test, are way too high. The level of cynicism from years of constant conflict is also high. Nevertheless, it turns out as revealed in Turque's piece today, DCPS is doing as little as possible to investigate what USA Today revealed are an abnormally high number of erasures in 103 schools.

Kaya Henderson asked the DC Inspector General to do the investigation. One investigator was assigned and a grand total of 10 people have been interviewed. According to the Post article today, no subpoena powers have been used by the DC IG. The US Department of Education has also asked to get involved, but it is unclear whether they will be doing a forensic analysis of test results or using subpoena powers to question people under oath or using a sufficient number of investigators. Do they too have a stake in a cover-up? Will the public stand for continued mystery about whether test scores have been fixed for the past three years? Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, Washington Examiner newspaper local opinion editor Barbara Hollingsworth sums it up this way.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Robbing Schools to Fatten Central Administration

There seems to be a need for greater DC Council scrutiny over the DCPS budget. Either DCPS budget expert Mary Levy is right and the proposed school system budget for next year is growing by $77 Million, none of it targeted for schools, or there is over $50 Million unaccounted-for in the DCPS budget for the current year. Mark Simon and Mary Levy's Op-Ed in the Washington Post today points out that the only publicly available data shows a massive transfer of funds from schools to central administration. Acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson says however that such a conclusion is drawn comparing the Budget Books for the two years, but that the "real budget" is in conflict with the "Budget Books" that Mary Levy and the DC Council have used. Spending in the current year, she says is actually $823 MIllion, $50 Million higher, making the increase for next year not so much. But... neither the DC Council nor the general public are allowed to see the "real budget." Is the school system leadership allowed to do this? Does Mayoral Control mean "trust us" and we don't have to account for monies spent anymore? And what did happen to all that extra money in the current year that never made it to the budget books?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Teacher Evaluation that Works -- Designed Together With Teachers

Doug Prouty, MCEA President
The NY Times reported today on the Montgomery County teacher evaluation system, built collaboratively with the union, and working perhaps better than anywhere else in the country. Although it is praised by Secretary Duncan as ..."where the country needs to go," it stands in stark contrast to what school districts are being incentivized to do. Praised by State superintendent Nancy Grasmick as "an excellent system for professional development," Montgomery is nevertheless locked in a major conflict with the state because the district refuses to use student test scores as any percentage of a teacher's evaluation, and Maryland got $250 Million premised on all teachers being evaluated using standardized student test scores for 50% of the judgment.

Meanwhile, in DCPS, the system continues with the IMPACT evaluation, unchanged, even though teachers have voted overwhelmingly that it be ended. The district is planning to greatly increase both the amount of student standardized testing and its use in teacher evaluation, and a scandal of possibly widespread cheating by administrators and teachers over the past two years is waiting for a thorough investigation. What a difference in the approach. What works seems irrelvant to the policy makers. Full-speed ahead.

Read the NY Times piece here.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

USA Today Features Teachers and Parents for Real Education Reform Petition

With over 3,700 signatures collected on our petition for a federal investigation of "erasuregate," USA Today followed-up on their original expose with a report on our petition. Read their report here.

UPDATE: And this afternoon, May 6th, Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss wrote a great piece about our petition on her blog. It will be in the print edition on Monday.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sign the Petition !!

   DC public schools, under former Chancellor Michelle Rhee, has become obsessed with testing. Teacher pay is tied to test scores. Principal bonuses are tied to test scores. Teacher evaluations are tied to test scores. School funding is tied to test scores. Students are pulled from their regular classrooms for days or weeks each year, to be prepped for the tests. What's this got to do with a quality education? Chancellor Rhee used to ask each principal, individually, to name the percentage point gain they would produce on test scores each year. She’d follow up with an email, reminding them of their commitment. Principal’s jobs were on the line if they didn’t produce.
   In such a system, cheating is nearly inevitable. Sure enough, USA Today recently broke a major investigative story about apparent cheating in DC public schools, on standardized assessments. It wasn’t the kids who were cheating. It was the kids who were cheated.
   Teachers and Parents for Real Education Reform DC has initiated a petition campaign for a thorough investigation and a moratorium on the test-crazy practices in DCPS.
   The petition calls on the General Accounting Office (GAO), which has jurisdiction over DC, or the U.S. Department of Education's Inspector General to investigate the DC testing scandal – and to determine how DC’s test-obsessed culture contributed to it. In addition, we’re demanding that DCPS immediately place a moratorium on all high stakes attached to the tests. Read the petition. Sign the petition. Help stop this craziness.

Sign the Petition Here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

USA Today Reveals Possible Widespread Test Irregularities Under Michelle Rhee

USA Today published Monday a lengthy analysis of possible widespread cheating at the majority of schools during the tenure of DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee, leading to test score gains that seemed to reinforce Rhee's draconian strategies. Defending her record, Rhee lashed out at the USA Today piece, but Diane Ravitch, one of the nation's foremost critics of test-based reform and privatization took Rhee on pointing out that her entire record in DC may be a chimera.
Update: And in a follow-up by Jay Mathews, Michelle Rhee retracted on Wednesday her attack Tuesday on the USA Today piece, calling her own comments "stupid." What Rhee failed to acknowledge, however, is that back in 2009, when State Superintendent Deborah Gist wanted a real investigation of testing improprieties, Rhee and Fenty blocked a real investigation, preferring the chimera of rising test scores. Gist resigned as State Superintendent shortly thereafter. So we have a ways to go before the full story has been revealed.
Further Update: With growing interest in the need for a thorough investigation of the cheating scandal under Rhee, and suspicion and rumors that doctoring test answer sheets was taking place at many schools with a cover-up at the central office, Valerie Strauss on Wednesday proposed a real investigation as the only way to get to the bottom of what took place and who knew about it. USA Today also followed up today raising the question of whether Officials in DC really want to get to the truth or are still engaged in covering up the extent of the scandal.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

DCPS Budget and Teacher Data Included in Testimony Presented Friday

Findings from my analysis included in testimony to the DC Council on Friday, March 4 and presented again as testimony to Mayor Vincent Gray on Monday include:
 1.  The number of DCPS central administration employees rose by 112 or 18% from 2007 to 2010 (the tenure of Michelle Rhee), while enrollment went down by 6,600 or 12%. Since FY 2003 central office FTEs are up 38% while enrollment is down by 28%.
2.  As of October 1, 2010, about 100 of the central office staff have salaries of over $100,000 per year.
3.  Per student spending went up 28% during Ms. Rhee’s tenure, compared to inflation of 6%, leading to the possibility that better student/staff ratios, smaller classes and other resources were responsible for the modest test score improvements that did occur. Unfortunately, the level of spending – which is high compared to other school districts -- can’t be sustained.
4.  DCPS is now losing half its teacher workforce within 5 years, and half its new teacher hires within 2 years.
5.  The percentage of inexperienced (first and second year) teachers has risen to almost 20%.
6.  Beginning teachers (first and second year) are 25% of the teachers in three wards with mostly low-income students (1, 5, and 8).
7.  Basic budget and expenditure information is not available to the public – such as financial reports, current budgets for both the system and local schools.
Copies of the testimony and the attached tables are posted here. A more detailed analysis of central office positions is here and more information is on the SHAAPE web site here under High School Policy Areas-Budget Analysis.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011

Student Achievement Under Rhee No Better than Her Predecessors

According to a new study of DCPS student achievement on NAEP scores, "the nation's report card," Alan Ginsburg, former director of policy and program studies for the US Education Department, finds that improvements under Rhee were no better than the upward trend under Superintendants Vance and Janey. In fact, achievement improved the most under former Superintendent Paul Vance. Ginsburg makes clear that his analysis is not that of the US Department of Education, but his own. The full study can be read here.

In spite of these findings, former Chancellor Rhee, in Florida this week advising Governor Rick Scott and urging the State Legislature to support school vouchers, claimed once again record NAEP score gains under her leadership in DCPS. “Over the three years that I was there, we saw really record gains in academic achievement on the NAEP examination,” she said. “We went from being last in the entire nation to leading the entire nation in gains in both reading and math at both the fourth and eighth grade levels. And we were the only jurisdiction in the entire country in which every single subgroup of children improved their academic standing.”
Well, not exactly. It turns out now that the gains had been greater under Vance and Janey, Rhee's predecessors.

Monday, February 7, 2011

School Budget Allocations Under Scrutiny

DCPS has now postponed for the third time release of local school allocations for next year. The question of hard to defend inequities in school allocations during the Rhee years got a bit of sunlight thrown on it in an article by Bill Turque in the Washington Post today. Drawing on testimony delivered by SHAAPE [the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators] the article voices concern about the lower level of funding that the large, comprehensive high schools have received relative to the specialty schools. Schools like Cardozo High, with really tough student populations, have to make do with significantly lower funding. The article raises the stakes on Kaya Henderson's administration as they get ready to release the preliminary school budget allocations -- any day now.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

40% of DCPS Teachers Eligible for Bonuses Reject Them

WAMU's Kavitha Cardoza reports this week in an important scoop that fully 40% of the teachers who earned cash bonuses under Michelle Rhee's IMPACT teacher evaluation system last year are refusing to take the money. This astounding expression of alienation from the IMPACT bonus program, which has received strong editorial support from the editors of the Washington Post, was also reported in Bill Turque's Washington Post blog on Friday.

New Study of Value-Added Modeling Reveals Problems

Jesse Rothstein
 University of California at Berkeley researcher, Jesse Rothstein, has taken another look at a Gates Foundation study released in late 2010 that purports to show that value added scores are correlated with broader, higher level teaching and learning competencies. Rothstein's new analysis reveals that the data in the Gates research study actually shows the opposite of what their conclusions state.  The fact that there is surprisingly little correlation between value added scores and broader teaching competencies measured by other tests means that teachers with low VAM scores might actually be excellent teachers when other, richer measures are used. The Rothstein correction calls into serious question the use of value added modeling in teacher evaluation, such as that used in the DCPS IMPACT system.