The Real Lesson of Singapore Math!

By now you’ve probably heard that Singapore and Shanghai are the two places on earth with the smartest kids in the entire world. We can see their PISA scores (go to page 5) are right at the top.

Case closed, right? Whatever they are doing in education, we in the US need to emulate that in order to catch up! Common Core! StudentsFirst! Teach for America! Race to the Top! PARCC! Bust those teacher unions! No more recess! All test prep all the time! Charter Schools! Turn the schools over to the billionaires (Gates, Bloomberg, Koch family, Walton family, and their hirelings and shills)!

But wait a second.

Have you noticed that an ENORMOUS fraction of the low-skilled, low-paid people living in Singapore are temporary foreign workers from various parts of Asia and Africa and are not allowed to bring their kids with them? Those kids are raised back in the workers’ homelands by various relatives, far away, and only get to see their parents at long intervals (somebody has to fly somewhere); back home, jobs are even scarcer and worse-paid, so the parents go elsewhere to try support their families.

Now, everywhere in the world, family income is very, very closely linked to children’s test scores in school. It’s one of the tightest correlations there are in the social sciences, as you can see in the simple scatter-plots I have repeatedly shown in this blog over the past 4 or 5 years. (Try using terms like “poverty” “income” and “scores” together in the search box on this page and be prepared to look through a lot of posts with such graphs, from all over!)

If one-quarter to one-third of the population of a country was legally not permitted to have children in the schools, and it was the low-paying 1/4 to 1/3 of the population, then the scores of the remainder of the kids would, quite naturally, be pretty darned good, since the bottom 1/4 to 1/3 of the distribution just got cut off.

If we systematically excluded the poorest quarter or third of our American student population from taking PISA, we know that our scores would be pretty darned high as well.*

Hmm, maybe the leaning tower of PISA hype is falling.



*Let’s remember that this WAS official policy in many states of the USA up until 1865: a large fraction of the population (guess which one!) was forbidden to send their kids to schools at all and it was explicitly forbidden even to teach them to read privately. When Jim Crow was established from the 1870s to the early 1960s, school facilities for Blacks and Hispanics, BY DESIGN of the racist authorities, so inferior to those for whites that they were a national disgrace. Which is why the calls for going back to the good old days should be so infuriating. There WERE NO GOOD OLD DAYS.

Some Released PISA Questions

Yong Zhao and some other commentators have been criticising PISA for a number of reasons, one being that its sample populations are at times ‘gamed’ by two cities (Shanghai and Singapore – and that’s all they are, two cities that import their labor force from elsewhere and neither place educates or tests the children of that labor force) while ignoring the outstanding performance of certain individual US states on the exact same test. In her recent book “The Smartest Kids in the World” Amanda Ripley follows a handful of exchange students to and from the US and thinks that the PISA is a pretty good test and that it predicts real things about how societies are going; she appears to be a great fan of Poland these days.

Looking at some of the questions, I am beginning to have a lot less faith in PISA as a test itself and in those folks who claim that the sky is falling on American education based on our scores.

Some of the questions seem OK, some not. I have no idea whether these released items are of equal difficulty if written in French, Polish, Chinese, English, Arabic, Urdu or Swahili, but let’s pretend they are equivalent.

More importantly I read recently an argument that PISA is *not* in fact a test of creativity and original applications of things learned in school; instead, it IS things learned at school or else IQ-type logic puzzles, Even Rick Hess, a big friend of Michelle Rhee, apparently agrees, to my surprise.

Apparently there ARE tests of creativity that are, supposedly, quite reliable. I haven’t read scholarly critiques of THAT creativity test, but I’ve heard of the concept. I will need to  reserve judgment on the real records of the creativity test, but I did indeed recall that one PISA question I saw really was basically a little math/logic puzzle of a sort that I had seen in various puzzle books.  Let’s see if I can find it.

In any case, now that I’ve seen the sample questions, I have even less sympathy

Just now I went to look for some sample PISA items that have been declassified — i.e. it is legal to discuss and show them to people; nobody will lose their jobs for leaking their contents — as teachers and other school staff are threatened with, no matter how stupid a question might be or how many students complained that the problem didn’t make any sense at all and you saw that they weren’t kidding, yes, the problem makes no sense at all.

Let me show you one PISA test item that I think has a fatal flaw – it doesn’t make sense, because ALL of the answers are possible. Some have a higher probability of being correct, but that’s all.

Here is the question:


A seal has to breathe even if it is asleep in the water. Martin observed a seal for one hour. At the start of his observation, the seal was at the surface and took a breath. It then dove to the bottom of the sea and started to sleep. From the bottom it slowly floated to the surface in 8 minutes and took a breath again. In three minutes it was back at the bottom of the sea again. Martin noticed that this whole process was a very regular one.

After one hour the seal was

  1. At the Bottom
  2. On its way up
  3. Breathing
  4. On its way down

In my opinion, the phrase “Martin noticed that this whole process was a very regular one” does NOT mean the same as “Martin took very careful notes and timed a seal that he had learned to recognize for precisely one hour. What’s more, the water was so transparent that Martin could see everything the seal was doing. At exactly 9:00 AM, the seal was at the surface and took a breath that lasted ____ seconds and then dove … and so on, and then it floated to the top where it surfaced at exactly 9:08 AM, and so on”

Notice the details I added. If you are out in cold coastal waters where I myself have seen some seals during my lifetime, you often can’t see down to the bottom if you are on top; even if you are underwater in scuba gear, you generally can’t see a long way; and if it took this seal THREE WHOLE MINUTES to swim to the bottom going, I suppose, straight down at speed that no human swimmer could possibly achieve without mechanical help of some kind, then it’s gotta be pretty deep water, right? You are going to have an impossible time seeing that seal.

And then how does mythical Martin actually know that it’s the exact same seal?

Come on, now. This is a bullshit question, made up by someone who hasn’t actually watched seals at all. I’ve only watched a few dozen myself, but it’s BS.

And plus: animals do NOT act like clocks. Their behavior is not metronomic: it is influenced by what goes on around them. Even though the problem says “Martin noticed that this whole process was a very regular one”, and even if we allow that that is true, nowhere in the problem does the wording imply the kind of clock-like precise repetition that is required to be able to answer the question.

Plus: it doesn’t really say how loong the seal is breathing, nor does it say how long the seal is at the bottom. All the numbers are very vague. It is impossible to answer the question with the information that is ghiven — we are being asked to guess what the problem-writer really meant.

In my opinion, repeating that pattern as being precisely 3 minutes and zero seconds plus 8 minutes and zero seconds, for exactly 60 minutes, is absurd and unbelievable. Animals are NEVER that regular, as I complained earlier. The cycle will shift, somewhat, and those odd seconds do add up. And, as I said, the writer never told us the elapsed time on the sleeping or on the breathing.

So the question is utterly bogus.

We could talk about the PROBABILITY that the seal was in one of those four categories, but only if we knew a whole lot of information. Any child who has ever observed animals knows that they will not keep up the exact same pattern for a full hour measurable to the exact second, no matter what. Not even if they are imprisoned in a cage or a zoo and go all insane and repetitive will they repeat to the exact second.


Published in: on April 9, 2014 at 1:09 am  Leave a Comment  

One Explanation of the Monopolistic Logic Behind the “Common”(sic) “Core”(sic) “Curriculum” (sic)

This is a brilliant analysis of what’s behind the so-called Common Core Curriculum – a brilliant plan to monopolize and monetize education for the benefit of a few. What do you think?


How educational publishers PLAYED and PWNED a nation’s educrats and politicians

 by Robert Shepherd

(A term from the gaming world, pwned, from owned, is a neologism meaning “achieved total control and/or domination over.” If an opponent uses you, against your better interests, to achieve his or her own objectives, or if you are obliterated within seconds of the beginning of game play, then you have been pwned.)


The last state has now pulled out of the proposed national database of student responses and scores. Those who were horrified at the prospect of such a privately held, Orwellian Total Information Awareness system for K-12 public school education, one that would have served as a de facto checkpoint and censor librorum for curricula, are cheering.


But don’t think for a moment that Big Data has been beaten. I am going to explain why. I hope that you will take the effort to follow the connections in the story below. The story is a bit complicated, and some of it hinges on matters of business and economics that make for dull reading. I think, however, that you’ll find the story as a whole both shocking and extraordinarily consequential and so worth the effort. The tale I am going to tell is a birth narrative. It’s the story of a monstrous birth, like that of the monsters that sprang from the primordial ocean in ancient Mesopotamian mythology. But this is a true story, and the monstrous birth was engineered. This is the story, as I understand it, of the birth of the Common [sic] Core [sic].


And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


The emergence of the Internet presented a challenge to the business model of the big educational publishers. It presented the very real possibility that they might go the way of the Dodo and the Passenger Pigeon. Why? With a bit of effort, you will be able to find, right now, if you choose to look, some 80 or so complete, high-quality, absolutely FREE open-source textbooks on the Internet–textbooks written by various professors–textbooks in geology, biology, astronomy, physics, law, grammar, foreign languages, every conceivable topic in mathematics, and other subjects.


The development of the possibility of publishing via the Internet, combined with the wiring of all public schools for broadband access, removed an important barrier to entry to the educational publishing business–paper, printing, binding, sampling, warehousing, and shipping costs. Pixels are cheap. Objects made of dead trees aren’t. In the Internet Age, small publishers with alternative texts could easily flourish. Some of those—academic self publishers interested not in making money but in spreading knowledge of their subjects—would even do substantive work for free. Many have, already. There are a dozen great intro statistics texts , some with complete answer keys and practice books and teachers’ guides, available for FREE on the Web today.


Think of what Wikipedia did to the Encyclopedia Britannica. That’s what open-source textbooks were poised to do to the K-12 educational materials monopolists. The process had already begun in college textbook publishing. The big publishers were starting to lose sales to free, open-source competitors. The number of open-source alternatives would grow exponentially, and the phenomenon would spread down through the grade levels. Soon. . . .


How were the purveyors of textbooks going to compete with FREE?


What’s a monopolist to do in such a situation?


Answer: Create a computer-adaptive ed tech revolution. The monopolists figured out that they could create computer-adaptive software keyed to student responses in databases that they, and they alone, could get access to. No open-source providers admitted. They could also team up with tablet providers and sell districts tablets with their curricula preloaded, tablets locked to prevent access to other publishers’ materials.

Added benefit: By switching to computerized delivery of their materials, the educational publishing monopolists would dramatically reduce their costs and increase their profits, for the biggest items on the textbook P&L, after the profits, are costs related to the physical nature of their products–costs for paper, printing, binding, sampling, warehousing, and shipping.


By engineering the computer-adaptive ed tech revolution and having that ed tech keyed to responses in proprietary databases that only they had access to, the ed book publishers could kill open source in its cradle and keep themselves from going the way of typewriter and telephone booth manufacturers.

The Big Data model for educational publishing would prevent the REAL DISRUPTIVE REVOLUTION in education that the educational publishers saw looming–the disruption of THEIR BUSINESS MODEL posed by OPEN-SOURCE TEXTBOOKS.


A little history:


2007 was the fiftieth anniversary of the Standard and Poors Index. On the day the S&P turned fifty, 70 percent of the companies that were originally on the Index no longer existed. They had been killed by disruptions that they didn’t see coming.


The educational materials monopolists were smarter. They saw coming at them the threat to their business model that open-source textbooks presented. And so they cooked up computer-adaptive ed tech keyed to standards, with responses in proprietary databases that they would control, to prevent that. The adaptive ed tech/big data/big database transition would maintain and even strengthen their monopoly position.

But to make that computer-adaptive ed tech revolution happen and so prevent open-source textbooks from killing their business model, the publishers would first need ONE SET OF NATIONAL STANDARDS. And that’s why they, and their new tech partners, paid to have the Common [sic] Core [sic] created. That one set of national standards would provide the tags for their computer-adaptive software. That set of standards would be the list of skills that the software would keep track of in the databases that open-source providers could not get access to. Only they would have access to the BIG DATA.


In other words, the Common [sic] Core [sic] was the first step in A BUSINESS PLAN.


A certain extraordinarily wealthy computer mogul described that business plan DECADES ago–the coming disruptive programmed learning model in education, the model now commonly referred to as computer-adaptive learning based on Big Data.


So, that’s the story, in a nutshell. And it’s not an education story. It’s a business story.


And a WHOLE LOTTA EDUCRATS haven’t figured that out and have been totally PLAYED. They are dutifully working for PARCC or SBAC and dutifully attending conferences on implementing the “new, higher standards” and are basically unaware that they have been USED to implement a business plan. They don’t understand that the national standards were simply a necessary part of that plan.


And here’s the kicker: The folks behind this plan also see it is a way to reduce, dramatically, the cost of U.S. education. How? Well, the biggest cost, by far, in education is teachers’ salaries and benefits. But, imagine 300 students in a room, all using software, with a single “teacher” walking around to make sure that the tablets are working and to assist when necessary. Good-enough training for the children of the proles. Fewer teacher salaries. More money for data systems and software. Ironically, the publishers and their high-tech Plutocratic partners were able to enlist both major teachers’ unions to serve as propaganda ministries for their new national bullet list of standards, even though the game plan for those standards is to reduce the number of teachers’ salaries that have to be paid. Thus the education deform mantra: “Class size doesn’t matter.”


Think of the money to be saved.


And the money to be made.


The wrinkle in the publishers’ plan, of course, is that people don’t like the idea of a single, Orwellian national database. From the point of view of the monopolists, that’s a BIG problem. The database is, after all, the part of the plan that keeps the real disruption, open-source textbooks, from happening–the disruption that would end the traditional textbook business as surely as MP3 downloads ended the music CD business and video killed the radio star.


So, with the national database dead, for now, the education deformers have to go to plan B.


What will they do? Here’s something that’s VERY likely: They will sell database systems state by state, to state education departments, or district by district. Those database systems will simply be each state’s or district’s system (who could object to that?), and only approved vendors (guess who?) will flow through each. Which vendors? Well, the ones with the lobbying bucks and with the money to navigate whatever arcane procedures are created by the states and districts implementing them, with the monopolists’ help, of course. So, the new state and district database systems will work basically as the old textbook adoption system did, as an educational materials monopoly protection plan.


So, to recap: to hold onto their monopolies in the age of the Internet, the publishers would use the Big Data ed tech model, which would shut out competitors, and for that, they would need a single set of national standards.


In business, such thinking as I have outlined above is called Strategic Planning.


The plan that a certain computer mogul had long had for ed tech proved to be just what the monopolist educational publishers needed. That plan and the publishers’ need to disrupt the open-source disruption before it happened proved to be a perfect confluence of interest–a confluence that would become a great river of green.


The educational publishing monopolists would not only survive but thrive. There would be billions to be made in the switch from textbooks to Big Data and computer-adaptive ed tech. Billions and billions and billions.


And that’s why you have the Common [sic] Core [sic].




And here’s something from the far left (Progressive Labor Party) which I also quote mostly with approval:

Capitalist Schools Fail Working-Class Youth

Schools should be wondrous centers of discovery and learning. They should be places where students develop life-long interests and abilities, where they gain confidence and knowledge, where they find cherished friends and mentors, and where they feel protected and cared for.
But public schools under capitalism fail on every count. First, they sort students into racist tiers to determine who will obtain the better-paying jobs at the top, and who will be left with the least desirable, lowest-paying jobs at the bottom. Put simply, schools define who will occupy the corporate executive suites and who will clean them! They also decide who will be the unemployed pittied against other workers; who will be the soldiers to kill workers around the world.

Of course, there are still plenty of people in the middle, including teachers. But the number of good-paying jobs in the U.S. is dwindling, while low-paying jobs (many with few or no benefits) are on the rise. According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 30 occupations with the most projected job growth between 2012 and 2022, only five require a four-year college degree.

Jobs requiring master’s degrees are not exempt from these cuts. More than 75 percent of college teachers are on non-tenure (non-permanent) tracks. Many adjunct professors earn poverty-level wages with no healthcare benefits.

Starving the Schools

For the capitalists, it makes no sense to fund a school system generating lots of college-ready graduates when fewer and fewer jobs call for a college education. In fact, the bosses are understandably nervous at the prospect of millions of college graduates who are frustrated and angry about their limited future.

Since it costs more than $600 billion a year to operate K-12 public schools, and money is needed for war preparations with its imperialist rivals, the U.S. ruling class can kill two birds with one stone. By cutting spending on public schools, it will turn out more workers for the low-paying jobs that U.S. capitalism is creating. To deflect the anger of young workers, they need to sell the racist myth that people have disappointing careers because they weren’t capable of “higher-level” thinking — or because they didn’t work hard enough in school.

Across the country, public schools employ about 250,000 fewer people than before the recession, according to figures from the Labor Department. Enrollment in public schools, meanwhile, has increased by more than 800,000 students. To maintain pre-recession staffing ratios, public school employment should have actually grown by about 132,000 jobs in the past four years, in addition to replacing those that were lost, said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

The New York Times (12/22/13) goes on to describe what the loss of school positions has meant for students: larger class sizes, reduced services, fewer guidance counselors and reading and math specialists.

The decay in public school conditions — on top of the higher fail rate in the Common Core exams — means that most students will be labeled unprepared for college. In New York City, for example, only 22.2 percent of 2013 graduates were considered “college-ready” by Department of Education standards. But it gets worse: In the bottom half of New York’s high schools — that’s 170 schools — only 4.5 percent of the graduates were college-ready.

Most students in these low-performing schools are black and Latino. The public school sorting machine is racist at its core. This continues the growing stream of black, Latino, and immigrant workers who suffer the racist super-exploitation that nets U.S. capitalists hundreds of billions of dollars in super-profits. Meanwhile, this deterioration of the entire school system drags down the conditions for white working-class students as well.

The Game is Rigged

U.S. bosses like to pretend that schools offer “equal opportunity” for all. In reality, affluent families gain a huge advantage by sending their children to expensive private schools or public schools in wealthy suburbs. Because most of public school funding comes from local property taxes, the result is stunning inequality. In New York State, the wealthiest 10 percent of school districts spent an average of $35,690 per student in 2012-2013, nearly double the average spending ($19,823) for the poorest 10 percent of districts.

Tests such as the SAT and ACT and standardized exams play a central role in sorting students for the top colleges and the best jobs. When students do poorly, they are told it’s because they are dumb or lazy and therefore deserve a future of low-wage and precarious labor.

The politicians, at the bidding of their corporate masters, recently added a new wrinkle. They have convinced large sections of the public that teachers — and not the big capitalists — are responsible for their children’s lack of success on the exams. Therefore, the bosses’ argument goes, teachers are undeserving of tenure, seniority rights, decent pensions or wage increases.

Teaching Obedience and Patriotism

The second crucial aspect of schools under capitalism is ideological indoctrination. Schools say they teach critical thinking; if students were really taught “critical thinking,” they would rebel against a social order in which 400 U.S. households have as much wealth as the bottom half of the population. They’d refuse to accept a “global war on terror” based on lies, a war that masks inter-imperialist rivalry to control valuable resources, markets and investment opportunities. They’d organize against a political system where Big Money calls the shots, and where the richest companies get what they want and the rest of us endure wage freezes, lower benefits and high permanent unemployment.

Instead of critical thinking, students are taught passivity from an early age. They are taught to follow orders and be patriotic and support the U.S. military, no matter how many countries it invades or how many workers it displaces or kills. Students are told they are responsible for their own success or failure, which is the rulers’ strategy to build individualism and hide the system’s failure to provide meaningful, rewarding jobs for all. Finally, students are taught the anti-communist myth that only capitalism works and any attempt to build an egalitarian society must fail.

This last bit of instruction is particularly important as more and more people are beginning to question capitalism. According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, 49 percent of young adults (ages 18 – 29) have a positive view of “socialism,” while only 43 percent had a negative opinion. In this age group, more people support anti-capitalist ideas. This is an indication that youth are open to communism. Let’s take this oppurtunity to build a movement for communism and explain to our friends the differences between socialism (state capitalism) and communism (see Our Fight on page 2).
Teachers in Progressive Labor Party tell students the truth: that they are bright and capable of tremendous learning. In fact, they can learn how to run society, not for the profit of a few but for the benefit of the entire working class. A critical part of that understanding lies in anti-racism and multi-racial unity. When students and workers grasp the fundamental truth that our class can transform society into one that runs by the communist principle of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs,” we will have aced the most important test of all.


Comment: those are interesting stats, so I wish they would give the source so one could look them up to check them for acccuracy and context. It certainly does seem like those in charge of education in the US today simply ignore the enormous number of jobs that we see being done all around us that require not even a fifth-grade education, and are being done very well be many folks who probably didn’t really graduate from the fifth grade, because their schools were in El Salvador or Guatemala or Mexico. Or else they have an actual BA or MA or a PhD (from here OR abroad) and are waiting tables, bartending, driving cabs, parking cars, or picking fruit or cutting lawns and painting houses. 

We should remember that a lot of the youth revolting in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East were highly educated, but with no jobs. One big difference: overseas, the degree was gratis to the student. Here, a student can end up with a debt as high as $100K when finished, depending where. And many people rack up tens of thousands in debt and at the end, have no certificate at all, especially at the online “universities”. Debt that they can never discharge, even by going into the Army or even by declaring bankruptcy. A business can write off huge amounts of its debt by going through bankruptcy, cut its workers’ wages, slash their health care or pension benefits, and weasel out of all sorts of other contractual debt and emer5ge at the  end with NO hit whatsoever to the bank accounts of its officers. But not a person. Corporations are not only people today, they have way more rights than you or me.

I never thought I would reprint, approvingly, something from the Cato Institute. But here one is.

MARCH 5, 2014 4:43PM

Common Core End Game

For far too long a big part of the Common Core debate has been about establishing simple fact: the federal government provided serious coercion to get states to adopt the Core, and the Core’s creators asked for such arm twisting. Indeed, just yesterday, Andy Smarick at the Core-supporting Thomas B. Fordham Institute lamented that the write-up for President Obama’s education budget proposal gives the administration credit for widespread Core adoption. Wrote Smarick: “The anti-Common Core forces will likely use this language as evidence that Common Core was federally driven.” Of course it was federally driven, by Race to the Top (RTTT) and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers! But the budget proposal tells us far more than that.

The big story in the proposal is – or, at least, should be – that the president almost certainly wants to make the Core permanent by attaching annual federal funding to its use, and to performance on related tests. Just as the administration called for in its 2010 NCLBreauthorization proposal, POTUS wants to employ more than a one-time program, or temporary waivers, to impose “college and career-ready standards,” which–thanks to RTTT and waivers–is essentially synonymous with Common Core. In fact, President Obama proposes changing Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – of which NCLB is just the most recent reauthorization – to a program called “College- and Career-Ready Students,” with an annual appropriation of over $14 billion.

This was utterly predictable. Core opponents, who are so often smeared as conspiracy mongers, know full well both what the President has proposed in the past, and how government accumulates power over time. RTTT was the foot in the door, and once most states were using the same standards and tests, there was little question what Washington would eventually say: “Since everyone’s using the same tests and standards anyway, might as well make federal policy based on that.” Perhaps given the scorching heat the Common Core has been taking lately, most people didn’t expect the administration to make the move so soon, but rational people knew it would eventually come. Indeed, the “tripod” of standards, tests, and accountability that many Core-ites believe is needed to make “standards-based reform” function, logically demands federal control. After all, a major lesson of NCLB is that states will not hold themselves accountable for setting and clearing high academic bars.

While it’s a crucial fact, the full story on the Common Core isn’t that the feds coerced adoption. It is that the end game is almost certainly complete federal control by connecting national standards and tests to annual federal funding. And that, it is now quite clear, is no conspiracy theory.


My comments: I can imagine some circumstances in which a US national curriculum might be a good idea. This rollout, however, definitely is NOT.

Unfortunately, one terrible thing about using the law to fight against wrongs is that in order to win your case, you often have to use various technicalities to trip up the opposition and embarrass them into giving up or justify a judge or jury to rule in our favor. You seldom win on the real merits of the case. In this case, the model of education they are foisting on to our students and onto the teachers and other staff who try to educate them, is a creepy nightmare and is going well backwards on integration and equality.

Mercedes Schneider Takes Down Sol Stern, A Defender of Common Core

I don’t know how Deutch29 (Mercedes Schneider) does it.

She regularly writes well-written, well-researched, trenchant commentaries on topics dear to me, much better than I have ever been able to do.

This time, she figuratively eviscerates one Sol Stern, who defends the Common Core curriculum. It’s a long post, but like her other ones, it’s worth it.

Charter School Segregation in New Jersey – information courtesy of Jersey Jazzman

Here’s the link:

The attrition rates for students in the ‘highly-rated’ Camden charter schools look just like what I found here in Washington, DC.

Parental Involvement in Schools, and a discursion on DC ‘racial’ history

A reader commented:

“I really worry about this in DCPS from a consumer and community perspective.

“People who have a chance to have their kids go to DCPS often don’t look past test scores to see that the teaching in classrooms can be really good, i.e., something that would benefit their children.

“Our child is at a school with much poorer children and we’re blessed not to be, but the teachers and administration and program are just great.

“I really wish families would be able get past test scores of other children to evaluate what good programs are (and what good teaching should look like) and have some confidence that their child can go to the neighborhood or another DCPS school.

“Because they are building blocks of community having other children struggle there, though unfortunate, should not cause families to disengage, look elsewhere, or even leave the community.


Here was my reply, FWIW:


There’s been a herd mentality for a long time. When I was a youngster growing up in around DC in the 1950s and 1960s, there were lots of white folks who decided to flee to the suburbs and sell their houses for less than they were really worth, because they couldn’t bear the idea of living with any black families in their midst. Instead of burning the black families out, they left, so many parts of Washington DC that we think of as all-black neighborhoods used to be all-white.

(Heck, my wife’s grandfather (white) grew up on a farm in Anacostia and delivered milk there… one of my barbers (white) tells me he grew up in Anacostia during the time that the neighborhood was changing from all white to all black; there were fights galore after school pretty much every day between the white kids and the black kids…)

Economists have even written papers measuring exactly what percentage of black families need to live in a neighborhood for whites to depart, and vice versa… I’m sure that these ratios are not fixed in time, but evolve, just like bacteria and hominids and other social memes… white urban gentrifiers and pioneers and black intellectuals and professionals, and working-class members of both ‘races’ have different mathematical threshholds — if one wants to pursue the sociology in this; it’s more complicated than appears to the initial glance or to NPR or Fox “news”…

It definitely helps any school when there are involved parents. I’m not the only person who has found that there is a very, very close correlation between family income and involvement in school. Of course, part of that is because the parents in wealthier families probably did fairly well in school and have good memories, whereas poorer kids are more likely to have done badly in school themselves and don’t have good memories of their teachers and classes…

Just sayin’...

Published in: on April 6, 2014 at 12:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Effectiveness of SAT?

Important study on the usefulness of the SAT, but first, a little background.

Today’s SAT is the direct descendant of the very first IQ tests such as the Stanford-Binet test and the Army Alpha and Beta tests devised by Binet, Terman and others about a century ago. (The “A” used to stand for “aptitude”, which is essentially a synonym for “intelligence”, which is what the “I” in “IQ” stood for. Eventually they changed the names a bit and the “A” just means “A”, or so they say.)

All of that means that the SAT has a history that is frankly, not very nice.

From the very beginning, the test results were very much aligned with the amount of family wealth of the person taking the test, and were also hailed for allegedly showing that certain races of people were inferior. The Army IQ tests found that poor Jewish and Italian immigrant draftees in World War 1 who spoke very little English did about almost as poorly as poor Mexican-American or Negro inductees. On the basis of that, various forces “preached the doctrine of Nordic supremacy and agitated to curtail the immigration of Jews and southern Europeans to America.” (Mismeasure of Man, p. 144)

(We should remember that in 1917 and 1918, most of those young Black male draftees had parents and/or grandparents who were held as slaves up until Emancipation during the Civil War, and that it was ILLEGALTO TEACH those slaves TO READ OR WRITE. Not surprising that the children of slaves might not be the best readers in the nation! Let us also remember that about 25 years before World War 1, strict new Jim Crow regulations were enacted and enforced, partly by lynching, to ensure that southern Blacks were essentially forced into slavery by another name.

Nonetheless, the results of those early IQ tests were used to justify the forcible sterilization of many poor people, especially if they were black, hispanic, or American Indians, although there were a lot of very poor southern whites who were also sterilized by court order — again, justified by the results of those racist, classist “mental exams”. (see War Against the Weak )

Let me remind you that it took Binet and Terman and others quite a lot of trial and error to get the results of their tests to come out the way they wanted, with the ‘nice’ kids of wealthy families getting good scores and the poor kids that were universally looked down upon, getting low scores. Many tasks and questions had to be thrown out because the poor kids would do as well as, or better than, the more-advantaged kids on the item or task. (Check out Mismeasure of Man by the late Steven Jay Gould for a fairly readable and not too technical account- and it’s 100% freely available, by permission, online!)

Also as a result of those early IQ tests, the US passed racist and anti-semitic immigration laws that restricted  immigration by Jews, blacks, Asians, and even Europeans who didn’t come from non-”Nordic” countries.

[One forgets that racists tend to change their definitions of the favored groups from era to era - a century ago, European and North American racists would write serious articles about how the ratios of the length and width of the average skull of a nation or group would tell you whether they were going to be of a superior race or not. And believe it or not, being more susceptible to malaria was seen as a sign of SUPERiority rather than the reverse -- but only because the European colonizers and imperialists going to tropical areas to exploit the natives tended to get very sick and die from malaria whereas the locals were much more likely to have a blood type that gave them resistance to malaria (complicated story, by the way, which you can read about in Epidemic of Absence by Moises Velasquez Manoff. I highly recommend both of these books!]

How many Jews would have survived Hitler’s extermination camps if there hadn’t been those minuscule quotas on Jews immigrating to the US to escape the Nazis? How many MILLIONS of people would NOT have died in the horrors of World War 2 if Adolf Hitler hadn’t been able to build up his Nazi Stormtroopers both with funds and propaganda from Henry Ford and other American racists and anti-semites? (I’m not exaggerating; Nazis acclaimed Ford as a “mainstay…in their efforts to destroy the Jew”. See here for the quote. page 300)

Fast forward to today.

As I said, the SAT and all of these other NCLB and RTTT and PARCC tests are direct descendants of the original IQ tests, with changes and modifications every so often over the past century.

My claim is that they are used to attack the schools of the poor by closing them down and re-segregating them even more than before into single-ethnicity charter schools, and making it so that no unified, common voice of the poor can arise to fight for improved conditions. Because of the t

Everywhere I or anybody else look(s), we see the same very close correlation between the scores on those tests and the wealth of the families whose children take the tests. I posted some graphs from Westchester County, NY last week, and the R-squared value was about 0.88 — in ordinary language, we can say the two variables of average home price and average test scores were 88% connected — about as strong a connection between two variables as you will ever see in the social sciences.

So, what do the powers-that-be do about this? Do they try to ameliorate the gross disparities between the rich and the poor, by, say, providing universal pre-care and other so-called “wrap-around” services to alleviate some of the demoralizing and dispiriting effects of poverty? Or pushing for unionization of service workers and raising the minimum wage? Or putting actual medical and dental and optical clinics into schools so that kids don’t have to miss entire days of school to fill a cavity, get their immunization shoots, or get glasses or contact lenses? Add after-school programs and meals so that kids can play sports or learn skills or play instruments or enact dramas and musicals or whatever…

No, none of that. That would be socialism, you know.

The educational DEformers of today have a MUCH better idea. (not)

Blame the schools! Blame the teachers! Fire the staff at schools that enroll poor kids (white or black or brown or whatever, but starting off in the inner cities), close those schools down, and turn them over to private corporations with no checks and balances and accountable to nobody, least of all the parents of the kids enrolled there. Deprive the teachers of any voice whatsoever in how the school is run by eliminating the presence of either teachers’ union.  Make the claim that only “excellent” and “highly-qualified” teachers can make a difference by innovating, but then make a practice of hiring totally inexperienced teachers with no training at all, micromanaging their every word, and saddling them with scripted lessons and never-ending busywork in gathering and displaying useless data… That the teachers are in fact no longer able to come with a repertory of lessons that are ‘outside the box’ before they burn out and quit or else get fired for falling afoul of the results of the roulette wheel we call Value Added Measurement (VAM). Claim that teachers shouldn’t teach to the test, but make it so that the entire school year becomes test prep. Pretend that the new group of privatizing chancellors have much better results than before.

Then you actually look at the results and you see that the chancellors have no clothes.

The results are the same before all these reforms as after all these “rhee”forms.

I have documented this numerous times in this blog over the past 55 months. Just enter “NAEP” into the search box at the top of this page – you will get lots and lots of articles with graphs showing how they have been doing in DC and elsewhere.

In my latest posts, I looked at Erich Martel’s data on the erosion of the high school classes in Washington DC in the regular public high schools and in the high schools run by boutique or chain charters. Despite what you may have heard in Washington Post headlines and editorials, the attrition rates in both types of schools are just about identical. And high.

In BOTH cases, about 45% of the students somehow disappear between 9th grade and 12th grade.

(Where they go, you and I have only a general idea but there are no detailed statistics to share. It would take years of work to find out where they went, if OSSE were to cooperate on data requests AND if I had nothing else to do with my life AND if could hire a bunch of assistants — none of which is about to happen.)

But in any case, that data puts the lie to the frequent claim that charter schools somehow achieve 100% graduation rates with the same kids.

(And anyway, these are NOT the same kids — parents of charter school children actually have to decide to apply to the school and then follow all of the steps required to enroll (sometimes very difficult steps, sometimes not so hard, but there are some steps) and we know that there are many fewer ESL students and special education students. I’ve shown that the charter schools in DC routinely shed about 6% of their population from September to April, despite their protestations to the contrary, enough to weed out enough various types of trouble-makers and to make an impression on the other students. Public schools are increasingly prohibited from taking virtually any disciplinary measures against students, whereas DC’s charter schools have suspension and expulsion rates roughly ten times as high as do the regular public schools. All documented, not made up.)

So, in essence, after all that turmoil, all that dismantlement of the public schools, all those teachers fired, and education in most schools, charter and private, being turned into boring, scripted test-prep and a confusing Common Core curriculum, with fewer enrichment activities and more time taken for test preparation, has produced bupkis (באָבקעס in Yiddish) and which comes from Slavic words meaning “goat droppings” — very appropriate.

Many parents – including relatively low-income families living in Anacostia and my neighborhood (Brookland) —  get on the lottery to enroll in charter schools if they think that their local public school has too many poor kids who are going to act poorly in class and score poorly on tests, because they see it as impossible to improve the resources at their local school. In wealthier regions families often raise large sums so that the local PTA can supplement the school budget to hire staff or improve facilities and fund after-school activities that are impossible in poor neighborhoods.

(My wife and I made the decision to send our kids to DC public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. Going to schools as a minority white kid wasn’t the worst thing that could happen! When he was younger, my son would tell me stories of how the kids he knew who went to the private schools simply knew nothing about life in the inner cities. He now runs a small business as a gym owner in Georgetown called The Body You Want, and his sister works in the film industry behind the scenes and lives with her husband in the SF Bay Area. I even have a wonderful 8-month old grand-daughter courtesy of my daughter-in-law…)

When we look at the NAEP scores in DC and other cities, we see that they pretty much lie on a straight line from the mid-1990s to the present. A line that slants upwards to the right. In other words, the scores were increasing for black and hispanic students in DC starting about 10 years before Michelle Rhee was anointed Chancellor*.

(Thanks to good reporting at USA today, we also know that some of those bonuses were won by out-and-out cheating, most famously at Noyes elementary not too far from my house, but in hundreds of other schools as well.)

We know that the statistics on Advanced Placement scores in DC’s public and charter schools are still dismal.

We have seen charter schools run nearly like private banks for some of their founders — a chance for a well-connected few to raid the public treasury and deprive their students

All of that mean-spirited and hypoocritical activity on the part of the billionaires and their educational foundations does not come in the overt and mean-spirited language of a century ago


Finally: how useful is the SAT in predicting how well a person will do? Well, it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you have very high scores, you’ll be more likely to get into a higher-ranked college and to be offered scholarships rather than loans, and you are also more likely to have parents who can pay the rest of your college bill, so you aren’t saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt upon graduation. Your classmates’ parents are more likely to have connections through which you can get hired at a good job that actually pays good money (rather than having to do a few years of unpaid internships to land an entry-level job at low pay and no advancement).

There is a big difference between having very high test scores and having other skills that end up being more important in the real world. (I mean, I like math and calculus, but how many jobs out there really require the constant use of differential or integral calculus? Some, but not very many!) Much more important are personal qualities like steadfastness, determination, ability to get along with other people and to motivate them to do well at a common task, independence, and problem-solving ability.

A study has shown this by looking at life results of students who did, or did not, submit SAT scores to the colleges and universities they were applying to from high school. We can assume that those students who did NOT submit their scores had, in fact, seen their scores and thought that those scores were going to hurt their chances of being admitted. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that they had, or would have had, lower SAT scores than the applicants who DID submit their SAT scores.

Results? Basically, no difference in life results between the high-scorers and the low-scorers. To Quote from the abstract:

Non-submitters are more likely to be first-generation-to-college students, minorities, Pell Grant recipients, women and students with Learning Differences …

Few significant differences between submitters and non-submitters of testing were observed in Cumulative GPAs and graduation rates, despite significant differences in SAT/ACT scores.




* She was anointed by Adrian Fenty on the advice of  Joel Klein, despite her obviously faked resume claims of achieving miracles (that she later admitted were made up, too) and her utter lack of experience running a school. Most of the principals she hired are gone, though she claimed to the press that she was able to divine the inner traits of every interviewee in just a few minutes. She fires hundreds of veteran teachers using a completely phony budget crisis to make an end-run around any contractual provisions, and then suddenly “found” money to hire a bunch of lower-paid, less-experienced teachers just a couple of months later. She even managed to corrupt the head of the teachers’ union into going over to the other side and signing away any contractual protections for teachers from arbitrary firings in exchange for phantom bonuses.


What the DC Mayoral Candidates Said about Schools

Question #1 Mayoral control and Charter Schools

Do you consider the reform in governance of DC schools to have been a success or a failure?

a. with Mayoral control and the DC Reform Act of 2007, and

b. when Congress created the charter board

and it has proceeded to greatly expand the number of charter schools. What evidence would you support

for your answer?

Andy Shallal –

Mayoral control allows for relatively unaccountable decision making, but its proponents promised dramatic results. No dramatic results have been forthcoming. So we’re left with a lack of transparency and accountability and highly concentrated and centralized decision-making power in the Mayor. Both Mayors Fenty and Gray have completely deferred to Chancellors who had never run school systems, never even run a school.

The only unequivocal thing that the Fenty/Rhee/Gray/Henderson approach has done is to disenfranchise parents and the voters. We get to elect a mayor every 4 years, but we have very little say about the decision-making that goes on in between elections. As Mayor, I would use mayoral control to bring parents and the public back into the decision-making process.

A Republican Congress forced DC to begin a charter schools program. I believe that we must subject any program forced onto to the city by Congress to a very high level of scrutiny. My concern with the almost completely unplanned growth of charter schools is that we may be unintentionally making the system of public schools worse. In order to sustain our existing neighborhood schools, we must have an overall plan about how we want to educate all of the city’s children, whether in DCPS or charters. For example, we should not allow a new charter school to open close by an existing neighborhood school, in order to avoid a debilitating competition between the two for neighborhood kids. We also need to deal with the problems that have appeared around how we handle per pupil allocations when a child moves from a charter school to a public school. Right now, that child’s money does not follow the child, a process that creates undesirable inequities.

Jack Evans –

Under the current system of Mayoral control, the Mayor appoints the DCPS Chancellor, the head of OSSE and the Director of DOH, as well as other agencies. A strong leader can provide an atmosphere of collaboration and cooperation to ensure we are providing everything a child needs to learn. Yes, I will maintain the current system of Mayoral control over public schools, and as your mayor, I will provide the leadership the school system needs to ensure all of our public schools educate our children.

Washington D.C. spends more money per capita on its students than any other major city in America, yet we lag behind in academic achievement. This is unacceptable. While charter schools should continue operate with autonomy, I believe that if we are going to hold public schools accountable for things like increased performance and parental involvement, charter schools should also have similar accountability standards. This is why I sponsored The Parental Involvement in Children’s Education School Participation, which would establish obligations for parents whose children attend charter schools without subjecting charter schools to regulation.

Muriel E Bowser

– The 2007 mayoral control of DCPS laid the groundwork for improvements we have seen by streamlining and clarifying accountability. In the old system there was too much finger- pointing and much less productivity. We have come a long way and should not go back.

As with any reform, constant re-evaluation is needed. Since 2007, we have invested in fixing school buildings, which can give schools a renewed life and chance at moving in the right direction. It also can create a more settled and safe neighborhood that can have a positive impact on education.

For DCPS schools, tying teacher evaluation and salaries to test scores may not be the best way to foster learning and trust, but teachers must be accountable and so we must work together to find the right balance. Too much standardized testing can be disruptive and we must examine how many tests per year a student should take before the cost outweighs the benefit.

For charter schools, transparency, a rigorous approval and oversight process, and open and fair admissions, given the coming need for neighborhood preference, are my top concerns. Charter schools’ right to expel students to return to a traditional school must be considered.

Tommy Wells

– I will be the first mayor to exercise mayoral authority as envisioned by the reform act. I will use my authority to ensure every child has a quality elementary school within walking distance of their home—and they don’t have to win a lottery to attend. I will move quickly to establish attractive, predictable middle and high school feeder schools, knitting together DCPS and charter schools, aligning grade ranges and strategically filling gaps to provide all students with great options at the middle and high levels. I will raise graduation rates by creating incentives to stay in school and meeting the needs of high-risk students.

As mayor, I will ensure that the charter board makes their processes more visible and explain with how a proposed charter school meets some need or desire expressed by the public. I intend to work with, negotiate with and reason with the charter schools and charter board to make sense of the checkered charter/DCPS offerings. I will not lose focus on our need to radically increase performance across the board, to erase the racial and economic gap and to ensure that all our kids graduate and are prepared to successfully live, work and raise a family.

Published in: on March 30, 2014 at 6:33 pm  Comments (1)  

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