Saturday, November 17, 2012

Drifting Toward Two School Systems, Separate and Unequal

Ken Archer of the Greater Greater Washington blog makes the argument that the current proposal by the Chancellor to close 20 schools moves DCPS toward two school systems -- One West of Rock Creek park, with coherent feeder patterns and stable schools; and one for the rest of the city East of the park, with charters that operate by lottery, chaotic openings and closings of schools and poor student results. He suggests that DCPS consider instead an alternative route involving school boundaries and different decisions about the use of schools. Read his post here.

Monday, November 5, 2012

DC's IMPACT contrasted with Montgomery's Proven Approach

The November issue of ASCD's Education Leadership magazine,is devoted entirely to teacher evaluation. An article by Mark Simon compares DC's IMPACT to Montgomery County's collaboratively developed system. The author points out that the philosophical approaches are opposite and the effects on the workforce, teacher turnover, and student achievement are very different.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Growing Movement Against School Closures as a Reform Strategy Emerges in Five Cities

According to an article in Ed Week, a growing movement of parents, public school advocates and education researchers who have seen the costs and benefits of closing neighborhood schools is ringing the alarm bell. In Washington DC, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Newark, parents and others are demanding a moratorium on school closings as a strategy for reform.It's not good for the kids impacted. Its not good for the neighborhoods, and it doesn't even bring savings. So why has it become the strategy of first resort?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Wall Street Journal Op-ed by Randi Weingarten and Karen Lewis Monday Offers Insight About What the Chicago Strike Accomplished

Together, Weingarten and Lewis offer one of the most cogent analyses of the meaning of the Chicago strike below. It appeared as an Op-ed column in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, but in case you don't have a subscription...


After more than a decade of top-down dictates, disruptive school closures, disregard of teachers' and parents' input, testing that squeezes out teaching, and cuts to the arts, physical education and libraries, educators in Chicago said "enough is enough." With strong support from parents and many in the community, teachers challenged a flawed vision of education reform that has not helped schoolchildren in Chicago or around the country. It took a seven-day strike—something no one does without cause—but with it educators in Chicago have changed the conversation about education reform.

These years of dictates imposed upon teachers left children in Chicago without the rich curriculum, facilities and social services they need. On picket lines, with their handmade signs, teachers provided first-person accounts of the challenges confronting students and educators. They made it impossible to turn a blind eye to the unacceptable conditions in many of the city's public schools.

Teachers and parents were united in the frustration that led to the strike. Nearly nine out of 10 students in Chicago Public Schools live in poverty, a shameful fact that so-called reformers too often ignore, yet most schools lack even one full-time nurse or social worker. The district has made cuts where it shouldn't (in art, music, physical education and libraries) but hasn't cut where it should (class sizes and excessive standardized testing and test prep). The tentative agreement reached in Chicago aims to address all these issues.

Chicago's teachers see this as an opportunity to move past the random acts of "reform" that have failed to move the needle and toward actual systemic school improvement. The tentative agreement focuses on improving quality so that every public school in Chicago is a place where parents want to send their children and educators want to teach.

Its key tenets:

First, use time wisely. The proposed contract lengthens the school day and year. A key demand by educators during the strike was that the district focus not just on instituting a longer school day, but on making it a better school day. Additional seat time doesn't constitute a good education. A well-rounded and rich curriculum, regular opportunities for teachers to plan and confer with colleagues, and time to engage students through discussions, group work and project-based learning—all these contribute to a high-quality education, and these should be priorities going forward.

Second, get evaluation right and don't fixate on testing. Effective school systems use data to inform instruction, not as a "scarlet number" that does nothing to improve teaching and learning. One placard seen on Chicago's picket lines captured the sentiment of countless educators: "I want to teach to the student, not to the test." If implemented correctly, evaluations can help Chicago promote the continuous development of teachers' skills and of students' intellectual abilities (and not just their test-taking skills).

Third, fix—don't close—struggling schools. Chicago's teachers echoed the concerns of numerous parents and civil rights groups that the closing of struggling schools creates turmoil and instability but doesn't improve achievement. Low-performing schools improve not only by instituting changes to academics and enrichment, but also by becoming centers of their communities.

Schools that provide wraparound services—medical and mental-health services, mentoring, enrichment programs and social services—create an environment in which kids are better able to learn and teachers can focus more on instruction, knowing their students' needs are being met. Chicago, with an 87% child-poverty rate, should make these effective—and cost-effective—approaches broadly available.

Fourth, morale matters. Teachers who work with students in some of the most difficult environments deserve support and respect. Yet they often pay for their dedication by enduring daily denigration for not single-handedly overcoming society's shortcomings. These indignities and lack of trust risk making a great profession an impossible one.

In a period when many officials have sought to strip workers of any contractual rights or even a collective voice, the Chicago teachers strike showed that collective action is a powerful force for change and that collective bargaining is an effective tool to strengthen public schools. Chicago's public-school teachers—backed by countless educators across the country—changed the conversation from the blaming and shaming of teachers to the promotion of strategies that parents and teachers believe are necessary to help children succeed.

It is a powerful example of solution-driven unionism and a reminder that when people come together to deal with matters affecting education, those who work in the schools need to be heard. When they are, students, parents and communities are better for it.

Ms. Lewis is president of the Chicago Teachers Union. Ms. Weingarten is president of the CTU's national union, the American Federation of Teachers.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What Provoked the Chicago Teachers Strike? Bad Managment Philosophy

Greg Anrig writes in the Pacific Standard magazine that the Chicago teachers strike is at bottom a response by teachers to an outmoded Taylorist "carrot and stick" management approach being pursued by the likes of Rahm Emanuel and Michelle Rhee. Most successful businesses actually no longer use this problematic early 20th century approach but have rather adopted the more progressive "Total Quality Management" pioneered by Edward Demming. The US education reform movement seems to have been captured by an outmoded philosophy, particularly inappropriate in education, that is being roundly rejected by the education profession. In that sense, the Chicago teachers are standing up for the entire education profession, says Anrig.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Huffington Post Column Cuts Through to What the Chicago Teachers Strike is Really About

In the Huffington Post today, BBA Coodinator Elaine Weiss and University of Illinois professor Kevin Kumashiro cut through the general media stupidity and unified opposition to the teachers from the nations political class to describe the real issues of the Chicago teachers strike. The real issue is dueling visions of how best to reform the nation's public schools. The issues are serious, and they are not the usual self-serving ones related to money. Rather, the teachers object to the corporate reform strategies being pursued, and they have a different set of ideas about what kids need. This analysis helps to explain both the near unanimity behind the strike on the part of teachers and the overwhelming support they have from parents and the broad public in Chicago.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Washington Post's Melinda Henneberger Points Out What's At Stake In Chicago Teachers' Strike

From a DC public school parent perspective, what's important about the Chicago teachers strike is that teachers are finally standing up to an education reform agenda that's not good for kids. Washington Post columnist Melinda Henneberger, who writes the "She the People" column, reflects today in her column on what she's heard from her children's teachers here about the effects of the new emphasis on standardized testing and suggests that its really at the heart of the Chicago Teachers' strike. Teachers and parents across the country stand in solidarity with Chicago teachers, because as Henneberger implies, Rahm Emanuel's approach to reform is not in the interest of kids. In Chicago, the Mayor has finally succeeded in uniting educators who have had enough of the disrespect. And if you haven't seen the latest public opinion polling, parents and the broader public in Chicago are squarely on the side of the teachers' union.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

IG "Investigation" Does Not Bring Closure to Testing Scandal

At long last, the DC Inspector General issued his report, the one requested by DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson on whether there was or was not cheating on the 2008-09 DC-CAS standardized tests. His conclusion was that except for the one teacher who admitted to it, there wasn't any. Well...USA Today and the testing company themselves found probable cause that cheating had taken place in 103 schools. And the DC-CAS scores bumped up inexplicably that year, citywide, and then dropped each of the next two years. But the Chancellor only asked the IG to look into one school. He interviewed 32 people, and took their word for what they did or didn't do. End of investigation.

Jay Mathews and Valarie Strauss, both columnists in the Washington Post who have been following this story, blogged that the "investigation" was a travesty. 

Actually, the IG did what he was asked to do. It was Chancellor Kaya Henderson and the Mayor who decided they wanted a whitewash rather than a real investigation. Shame on them. Only under mayoral control could there be such a lack of accountability for educational malpractice and school district mismanagement.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Chicago Turnaround Strategy Comes Up Short

A new study of schools that were zero-base staffed by Chicago's main "turnaround" vendor shows that they were outperformed by 33 neighborhood schools with similar demographics. And the neighborhood schools did better without the significant additional funding given the "turnaround" schools in Chicago. The study comes at a time when the school board is trying to decide whether to continue to commit resources to the turnaround strategy begun by now secretary of education Arne Duncan that has become increasingly controversial.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Is Teacher Churn Undermining Real Education Reform in D.C.?

An Op-ed in this Sunday's Washington Post calls attention to the rate of turnover of both teachers and principals as a huge barrior to making our schools better. The column is up on the Web here. Education analyst Mark Simon argues the turnover rates are so high we're losing a lot of our best teachers and creating a hostile culture in too many schools. Turnover in charter schools is even higher.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Time to Re-Think Schools Governance

Deborah Simmons in the Washington Times looks at the unaccountable management of DCPS and says its time for the public to re-institute some measure of accountability that used to exist with a dedicated council committee. We say go further. We need an elected body to oversee the schools. Its called a School Board.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Get Rid of Teachers or Encourage Them To Stay -- What's Best to Improve Schools?

The subject of teacher turnover is receiving new scrutiny with the recent publication of research that demonstrates that teacher turnover itself hurts student achievement, separate from the relative quality of the teachers who replace those who leave. Mark Simon, education policy analyst at the Economic Policy Institute authors a Commentary here that takes a fresh look at the strategies driving high rates of turnover in DCPS compared with a more collaborative and successful approach to improving a high poverty, low performing school in Montgomery County.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

New Study Documents the Negative Effects of Teacher Turnover

Researchers Matthew Ronfeldt from the University of Michigan, Susanna Loeb from Stanford, and Jim Wyckoff from the University of Virginia just published a study that by implication calls into question the fire and hire strategy of school improvement. Locally, when Michelle Rhee stated in 2008 that efforts to build a culture focused on improving teaching and learning take to long and cost too much, that she wanted rather to focus on firing and hiring her way to school improvement in DC, she was committing the District to years of churn and instability. Turnover in DC has been sky high since 2009. According to the findings of this new study, the net effect of such a strategy is probably negative. Read the Ed Week Story Here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The New Crisis in DCPS and Elsewhere: Test-Prep Pressures Driving the Best Teachers Out of Teaching

One of the least discussed effects of the current corporate ed reform culture that ignores the knowledge of educators, insisting instead on production quotas, is that the drive to get test scores up by any means is causing the best and most conscientious teachers to re-think their careers. Teacher and principal turnover is at an all-time high. In a preemptive move, parents at one DCPS school have started to interview teachers to uncover and document the corrosive culture behind teacher dissatisfaction. They want to stave off the imminent departure of some of the best this spring. To the parents it seems to be the most thoughtful, skillful, and independent among teachers that have had it with the pressures to do the wrong things. Meanwhile, ED Week blogger Nancy Flanagan invited a public school teacher from Florida to explain why she was thinking of going to teach in a private school. Her story feels very relevant.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

21st Century Schools Fund Warns of Dangers in the IFF Study

Mary Filardo and Michael Siegel, who both sit on the Education Finance Commission for the District of Columbia have authored a critique of the IFF Study that explains what is wrong with the methodology used, but also makes clear what the implications would be of following through on the study's recommendations. This is an important read in light of the fact that the Mayor and his Deputy for Education, the editors of the Washington Post, and groups like DC Reform Now continue to promote the IFF study as the starting point for a useful blueprint for the city.  Its not just bad research. It is promoting assumptions that will eliminate every child's right to a neighborhood school -- the definition of public education. Read the Siegel-Filardo critique here.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Robert McCartney Calls for Full-Scale Investigation of DCPS

In today's Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney called for a full-scale investigation of the DCPS cheating scandal along the lines of the investigation that got to the truth in Atlanta. The public seems to finally be demanding the investigatoin DCPS has been avoiding since the scandal came to light in 2010.
In expressing his outrage, McCartney points out that "No details have been provided, and almost nothing has emerged about classes in about 100 other schools with suspect numbers of erasures from 2008 to 2010. Considering that such erasures were first identified as a problem more than three years ago, it’s appalling that the District hasn’t gotten to the bottom of this." We agree.

Monday, January 30, 2012

IFF Study Released to Criticism of Research Methodology

Quality Schools, Every Child, Every Neighborhood Indeed
A response by Teachers and Parents for Real Education Reform

The Illinois Facilities Fund report titled: Quality Schools, Every School, Every Child, Every Neighborhood was released last week at a briefing by Deputy Mayor for Education De’Shawn Wright.  There were no surprises in the report. Back in November, local analyst Mary Levy had accurately predicted the analysis and recommendations that would be forthcoming based on the reports IFF has written in five other cities.

Flawed Methodology Brands Schools for Closing and Staff for Firing

When IFF’s Director of Educational Research Jovita Baber presented the overview, the methodological problems in the report became clear.  The IFF report’s methodological problems can be summarized as follows:
  • The researchers created a zero-sum game in which schools are divided into four “Tiers” based on how much better or worse their DC-CAS scores are from the mean score. Each school is deemed to have “performing seats” or “non-performing seats” depending on whether students’ DC-CAS scores are higher or lower than the mean.  Under this methodology, there will always be winners and losers relative to other schools.
  • When schools are compared, no account is made of the socio-economic background of the students or the number of special education students, or English language learners among them. Differences in DC-CAS scores are compared under an assumption that students are all equally equipped and supported to do well. The differences in achievement and whether the trend is upward, downward or stationary is credited entirely to the school.
  • Within each of 39 neighborhood clusters, when schools get different DC-CAS results, the researchers assume that the students are the same and therefore, the difference is a credit to the school. No attempt is made to look at possible differences in socio-economic background of the students who select one school over another, which might be different than the neighborhood overall.
  • The researchers acknowledged that there was an abnormal bump in DC-CAS scores across the city in 2009 that they couldn’t explain, and that 2009 is alleged to be the high-point of cheating to the standardized test. They said that since it was widespread it probably washed out and that in any case they looked at scores over multiple years. However, the number of abnormal erasures in 103 schools has only decreased by 50% since then, so some schools have probably been cheating every year, affecting the median scores, advantaging the schools that cheat and disadvantaging the others. The fact is that given evidence of widespread cheating on standardized test scores from 2008 to the present without a real investigation by OSSE, DCPS, the US Dept. of Education or the Mayor, this report relies entirely on an unreliable indicator.
  • The researchers acknowledged that standardized test scores are not the best way to measure the quality of a school, and they wished they had other ways describe differences in quality, but used the only measure that they had at their disposal. Notwithstanding their admission, this study is the most extreme example of reducing the quality of a school only to its test score we have ever encountered. No other factors were used. Most reputable research examining school improvement efforts, for example that of the highly esteemed Consortium on Chicago Schools Research, has never taken this reductionist approach. 
  • The IFF researchers failed to consider recent history in DCPS, before making their recommendations.  The track-record of school turnarounds in DCPS since 2008 has been an embarrassment.  Outside management firms have been brought in to run Dunbar, Anacostia, and Coolidge high schools. Two have abandoned their partners. None of them have achieved significantly better results. School consolidations have led to explosive results at Hart MS and elsewhere. The national report card for national charter chains has not been good. In other words, there is no silver bullet contained in changing the management of schools. Nevertheless, the folks at IFF are wedded to this recommendation as their bias. It will be resisted in DC for good reason.
  • The IFF also seems to ignore the national research that shows a mixed track record of school turnarounds and national charter chains, and overwhelming national research that demonstrates that standardized test scores tend to mirror the socio-economic background of the students taking the test. It is one thing to make every effort to counter this reality with programs and strategies that mitigate the effects of poverty. It is quite another to structure a study premised on the assumption that any difference in test scores is the result of good or bad teaching alone, or as they term it – “performing seats.” The simplistic design of this study flat-out ignores the national research and it promotes an unfair and punitive set of assumptions in response to the data.
We Already Know That A Lot of Schools Need Help; What They Need is Real Reform, Not More of What Has Been Tried For The Last 4-5 Years and Has Obviously Failed

In contracting with an outside firm that has no knowledge of the city or its schools, a firm with a pattern of coming to the same recommendations in each city they have done work – to close schools with “non-performing seats” and bring in national charter chains with a track record of success – the deputy mayor has ignored better expertise that was available to him. Indeed, a similar but much more comprehensive report was done by the 21st Century Schools Fund, Urban Institute, and Brookings in 2009. It was roundly ignored by this deputy mayor. He seems to have continued a pattern of being tone-deaf in his dealings with the community:
  • In August he promised he would bring the preliminary IFF findings to “a group of stakeholders” before the report was complete and that the dialogue "will inform the final report.”  Instead, the report was completed in secret and released to the press, complete not just with data but with recommendations for what the city should do.
  • The IFF misdiagnosis of quality in the case of many schools, struggling against the odds to play important roles in their communities, will negatively impact the work in those schools. This report has already done real damage and makes the job of educators more difficult, particularly in Tier 4 schools. Indeed, five of the ten comprehensive high schools in the city are placed in tier 4 in this report.
In spite of the methodological failings described above that qualify this report as simplistic research, and in spite of the failures by this deputy mayor to work with this community, its schools, and local experts, there are three respects in which the report is a step forward.
  • Heretofore, the city has allowed the charter schools to govern themselves, opening and closing schools wherever the charter school board chose, creating duplicative services in some neighborhoods where new charters and good neighborhood schools complete for the same limited pool of students, while other neighborhoods remain grossly under-resourced. This report is premised on the notion that every neighborhood deserves a good school in that neighborhood, and that some of the expansion of charter schools may have been a mistake. 
  • The report does quantify the geographic inequities in the city in stark terms. It identifies 10 neighborhoods in dramatic need of educational investment. We agree with this sentiment, this sense of urgency, and this priority for action in the city. None of this information, however, is new.
  • The data on the DCPS schools suggest that the reforms of the last five years have not been adequately supporting our neighborhood “schools of right.” Far from a call to close or convert schools, the report can be read as a prompt to evaluate the reforms and change course. The successful schools have also been the ones with more stability and the ones least impacted by the roller-coaster of micro-management.
Finally, however, the Illinois Facilities Fund is in no position to be making recommendations about what decision-makers in the District of Columbia should do to improve schools in under-served neighborhoods, particularly in light of the fact that they never set foot into a single school building. They have not observed or considered dramatic differences in the quality of school facilities, or in the level of funding and resources between schools. They are offering no qualitative assessment whatsoever.

We urge the Mayor, the State Board of Education, the DC Council and the DC Public Schools to accept the data in this report for what it is, to understand the methodological errors in the report, and to reject the bias of the researchers woven throughout.

Authors:           Mark Simon, Iris Toyer, Miriam Cutelis, Margot Berkey, Cathy Reilly, Ron Hampton,
Mary Levy, Emily Washington, Suzanne Wells, Sherry Trafford, Barbara Riehle, and Kerry Sylvia 
for Teachers and Parents for Real Education Reform

Two other critiques of the methodology used by the IFF in this study of DCPS:
1. Mathew DiCarlo at the Albert Shanker Institute analysis of what make this highly suspect research: HERE.
2. Steve Glasserman's critique HERE.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Facts Not What They Seem on Teacher Evaluation Study -- Strauss Corrects Rhee

Valarie Strauss responds in her Washington Post column to Michelle Rhee's inaccurate reference of a new study on use of value added student test scores in teacher evaluation. Evidently the shorthand sound bites used by Rhee grossly distort the actual study. Its amazing how tiny effects can be described in a way that makes them look big. Strauss teaches us all a lesson in this one about how not to read data. Here.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Test Erasures Continue -- Questionable Investigation Remains Under the Rug

In his DC Insider Column in the Washington Post, Sunday, Bill Turque continues to follow the ongoing pattern of test score erasures and the resulting effects on "student achievement" scores. Scores appeared higher when cheating was widespread under Rhee in 2008 and 2009, and inexplicably dropped when the issue came to light. Turque documents DCPS Leadership and the Office of the State Superintendent of Schools' recent attempts to cover the whole thing up. The biggest story continues to be the lack of a real investigation and continuing coverup. Turque describes the attitude of the schools leadership as wanting to keep the whole issue out of the headlines rather than wanting to clean the mess up or get to the bottom of what went on.