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.

Daily Howler on how the editors and reporters at the NYTimes get education right – or wrong

Two articles this past week by Bob Somerby on how at least one reporter (Motoko Rich) does a good job reporting on what is right and what isn’t right with education in America, and how the NYT editorial staff doesn’t get it right at all. But then again, the editors all went to cushy private schools and elite colleges and have mansions in the Hamptons, so they don’t have a clue as to how the other half lives.

First daily howler article here.

Second daily howler article here.

Published in: on March 29, 2014 at 3:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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What I actually had time to say …

Since I had to abbreviate my remarks, here is what I actually said:

I am Guy Brandenburg, retired DCPS mathematics teacher.

To depart from my text, I want to start by proposing a solution: look hard at the collaborative assessment model being used a few miles away in Montgomery County [MD] and follow the advice of Edwards Deming.

Even though I personally retired before [the establishment of the] IMPACT [teacher evaluation system], I want to use statistics and graphs to show that the Value-Added measurements that are used to evaluate teachers are unreliable, invalid, and do not help teachers improve instruction. To the contrary: IVA measurements are driving a number of excellent, veteran teachers to resign or be fired from DCPS to go elsewhere.

Celebrated mathematician John Ewing says that VAM is “mathematical intimidation” and a “modern, mathematical version of the Emperor’s New Clothes.”

I agree.

One of my colleagues was able to pry the value-added formula [used in DC] from [DC data honcho] Jason Kamras after SIX MONTHS of back-and-forth emails. [Here it is:]

value added formula for dcps - in mathtype format

One problem with that formula is that nobody outside a small group of highly-paid consultants has any idea what are the values of any of those variables.

In not a single case has the [DCPS] Office of Data and Accountability sat down with a teacher and explained, in detail, exactly how a teacher’s score is calculated, student by student and class by class.

Nor has that office shared that data with the Washington Teachers’ Union.

I would ask you, Mr. Catania, to ask the Office of Data and Accountability to share with the WTU all IMPACT scores for every single teacher, including all the sub-scores, for every single class a teacher has.

Now let’s look at some statistics.

My first graph is completely random data points that I had Excel make up for me [and plot as x-y pairs].

pic 3 - completely random points

Notice that even though these are completely random, Excel still found a small correlation: r-squared was about 0.08 and r was about 29%.

Now let’s look at a very strong case of negative correlation in the real world: poverty rates and student achievement in Nebraska:

pic  4 - nebraska poverty vs achievement

The next graph is for the same sort of thing in Wisconsin:

pic 5 - wisconsin poverty vs achievement

Again, quite a strong correlation, just as we see here in Washington, DC:

pic 6 - poverty vs proficiency in DC

Now, how about those Value-Added scores? Do they correlate with classroom observations?

Mostly, we don’t know, because the data is kept secret. However, someone leaked to me the IVA and classroom observation scores for [DCPS in] SY 2009-10, and I plotted them [as you can see below].

pic 7 - VAM versus TLF in DC IMPACT 2009-10

I would say this looks pretty much no correlation at all. It certainly gives teachers no assistance on what to improve in order to help their students learn better.

And how stable are Value-Added measurements [in DCPS] over time? Unfortunately, since DCPS keeps all the data hidden, we don’t know how stable these scores are here. However, the New York Times leaked the value-added data for NYC teachers for several years, and we can look at those scores to [find out]. Here is one such graph [showing how the same teachers, in the same schools, scored in 2008-9 versus 2009-10]:

pic 8 - value added for 2 successive years Rubenstein NYC

That is very close to random.

How about teachers who teach the same subject to two different grade levels, say, fourth-grade math and fifth-grade math? Again, random points:

pic 9 - VAM for same subject different grades NYC rubenstein

One last point:

Mayor Gray and chancellors Henderson and Rhee all claim that education in DC only started improving after mayoral control of the schools, starting in 2007. Look for yourself [in the next two graphs].

pic 11 - naep 8th grade math avge scale scores since 1990 many states incl dc


pic 12 naep 4th grade reading scale scores since 1993 many states incl dc

Notice that gains began almost 20 years ago, long before mayoral control or chancellors Rhee and Henderson, long before IMPACT.

To repeat, I suggest that we throw out IMPACT and look hard at the ideas of Edwards Deming and the assessment models used in Montgomery County.

Charter Schools Have Failed to Close the ‘Achievement Gap’ their Backers Claim they would Crush.

I am reposting an article that Diane Ravitch brought to my attention, but I’m deleting the crappy and incorrect headline. I am emphasizing a few parts that I think are key, since I think the Levines “buried the Lede” as a reporter would say.

They also could have used a few graphs to illustrate what they meant.

By Adeline Levine and Murray Levine


on October 13, 2013 – 12:01 AM

Charter schools are hailed by the U.S. Department of Education, by major foundations, and by corporate and philanthropic organizations as the prime solution to the alleged failures of traditional public schools to educate children, failures underscored by the poor performance of their minority and disadvantaged students.

Four large-scale studies by two respected research institutes, CREDO and Mathematica, comparing charter schools with traditional public schools were reported in 2013. Major newspapers, apparently relying on the press releases, trumpeted that charter schools had shown astonishing results in closing the achievement gap between disadvantaged and not-disadvantaged students.

Achievement tests are the major yardstick used to assess schools. CREDO conducted three national evaluation studies comparing the achievement test performance of students in charter schools with matched students in traditional public schools. Mathematica studied middle schools in the well-regarded KIPP charter school chain. All four studies compared the amount of “gain” or “growth” in achievement test scores over a school year, not the actual levels of achievement. Even with gains, the achievement level may still be well below norms for the test.

Buried deep in its report, one CREDO study states, “Only when the annual learning gain of these student [minority/poverty] subgroups exceeds that of white or non-poverty students can progress on closing the achievement gap be made.” Charter school minority and economically disadvantaged students made some very small gains in reading and math when compared to matched controls in public schools. However, the difference in achievement growth between white non-poverty students in traditional public schools and minority/poverty students in charter schools is the most relevant comparison.

The average gain, in standard deviation units, for minority or poverty students in charter schools when compared to their counterparts in traditional public schools, was about 0.03. However, the average gain for non-minority, non-poverty traditional public school white students was 0.80. The gain was up to 27 times the gain for poverty or minority students in charter schools. The Mathematica study of KIPP middle schools showed similar large gaps in gains.

The CREDO Institute states: “For many charter school supporters, improving education outcomes for historically disadvantaged is the paramount goal.” While all of the groups in both kinds of schools show gains over the years, the achievement gap remains, as it always has when students from homes in poverty are compared to non-poor ones, in this country and internationally. The “paramount goal” to level the field is not being met by charter schools.

Charter school advocates attribute the educational difficulties of disadvantaged students in traditional public schools to ineffective, uncaring teachers, their unions and bureaucratic restrictions. They insist that having a great teacher in every classroom will overcome every limitation. They claim that low expectations for disadvantaged children are the major problem, not the complex negative effects of poverty.

Charter schools are not hindered in their selection of teachers by bureaucratic restrictions, nor are charter school teachers prevented by union restrictions from pursuing the charter school programs. Allegedly, charter schools have great teachers in every classroom. If there are “no excuses” when disadvantaged students do less well than non-disadvantaged students in traditional public schools, the same rules should apply to charter schools.

What excuse do charters have for the persistent achievement test gap between disadvantaged students in charter schools compared to non-disadvantaged students in the public schools? And why continue down a path where the numbers show that the national policy favoring charter schools will make the majority-minority gap worse?

Charter schools are protected by powerful, wealthy individuals and foundations that profess free-market choice and hold anti-union sentiments and pro-privatization beliefs; some advocates are pursuing profit motives. The advocates seem not to be influenced by data despite their insistence they are data-driven.

The reality is that problems associated with a history of discrimination and the complex negative effects of poverty are not easily solved. The solutions require an enormous, long-term societal commitment. The current reforms, however, threaten the very existence of our public schools, which have long been the envy of the entire world.

Adeline Levine, Ph.D., is professor emeritas (sociology) at the University at Buffalo. A former chairwoman of the department, she is the author of “Love Canal: Science, Politics and People,” and other books and articles on educational subjects. Murray Levine, J.D., Ph.D., is distinguished service professor (psychology) emeritus at UB. He has published extensively on educational subjects.

Published in: on October 19, 2013 at 7:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Spreadsheet for DC scores (poverty, segregation, public vs. charter)

If you want to see the spreadsheet I made and used from the District of Columbia’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education showing the links between poverty, segregation, and test scores in 2013m, you can look at it on Google Drive by employing this URL:



Please let me know if the link doesn’t work.

More on Poverty and Segregation in DC Publicly-Funded Schools

According to the educational DEformers who have seldom (or ever) tried to teach in an inner-city or rural poverty-stricken, segregated school, all one needs to do in order to ‘smash’ the ‘achievement gap’ is to fire all the veteran, unionized teachers and hire new and inexperienced but somehow ‘excellent’ college grads, close the old ‘failing’ schools, and all will be peaches and cream and light and wonderfulness.

In DC, nearly half of all students now attend charter schools.

Many of those schools remain completely segregated both by class and by race, as I have shown, just as many of the regular public schools were (and are).

Well, how do these new charter schools do?

Actually, not very much better. Certainly the millennium has not come.

I present to you three graphs that I made using the stats released by DC’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education. On the x-axis, I added the rate of poverty and the rate of segregation to produce an index that goes from 0% (impossibly un-segregated with 100 or more equally-represented ethnic groups and no kids on free and reduced-price lunch) to 200% (which means 100% black and/or hispanic and 100% eligible for free or reduced-price lunch).

On the y-axis I graphed the average of the ‘pass’ rates in math and reading.

You will see that an enormous number of schools line up on the far right-hand edge of the graph. Those are the high-poverty, highly segregated schools. Only a very small fraction of schools (both regular public and charter) are anything else.

This graph is for ALL publicly-funded schools, both regular and charter:

poverty segregation and average dc-cas proficiency rate - 2013


Notice that the linear correlation between segregation & poverty on the one hand, and average achievement on the other, is fairly strong and negative. R-squared is 0.49, which means that the correlation coefficient R is about 0.7.

Next, let’s look at just the DC public schools:

poverty seg + avge dccas prof - regular dc public schools only


You will notice that the correlation is a bit higher: R-squared is 0.62, which means that R itself is nearly 0.8. Most of the high-poverty and high-segregation schools have proficiency rates between 10% and 55%.

And now let’s look at the same graph for the DC charter schools:

poverty seg + avge dccas prof - charter schools only


To their credit, the charter schools do appear to have a weaker correlation between my poverty&segregation index and test scores. R-squared is about 0.29, which means that R is a bit more than 0.5.

Do the charter schools seem to have some magic bullet, so that all of the schools with segregation & poverty indices of 190% or more are all scoring at the top of the charts? No way. The cluster of schools at the far right-hand end of this graph still score fairly low: between 18% and 65%, instead of between 10% and 55%.

Of course, we don’t exactly know how that happens. A difference that small can easily be obtained by rejecting incomplete applications and pushing out certain students.

You also can see that there are essentially NO charter schools with average proficiency rates over 85%, but there are ten such regular public schools.

If there are any requests to see my spreadsheet, I’ll post it as a Google Doc. Just post a comment. (Sorry, the comments button is really tiny and hard to see, but it’s under this text on your screen.)


Poverty, Segregation, and Test Scores in DC

While looking at the latest released NCLB test scores in Washington, DC, I was struck by the enormous number of students who are stuck in completely segregated schools, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for civil rights and justice.

100% black student body and 100% of them on free or reduced-price lunches (i.e., poor) is the most obvious group of schools.

Followed by another very large group of schools that are 90-99% black & hispanic and 100% poor.

Very, very few schools have an actual mix of white, hispanic, black, and asian students.

This is true for both the regular public schools in DC and for the publicly-funded but privately-run charter schools.

Out of a  total of 181 DC schools for which I have data, 23 have ‘perfectly’ segregated student bodies — that is, every single kid is black and/or hispanic,  AND every single kid is eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

Here is the list:

  1. Aiton Elementary
  2. Arts + Technology Public Charter
  3. Beers Elementary
  4. Burrville Elementary
  5. C. W.  Harris Elementary
  6. Center City (Congress Heights campus) Public  Charter
  7. Center City (Shaw campus) Public Charter
  8. Ferebee-Hope Elementary
  9. Garfield Elementary
  10. Howard  Road (MLK campus) Public Charter
  11. Howard Road (main campus) Public Charter
  12. Integrated Design Electronics Academy (IDEA) Public Charter
  13. Johnson Middle
  14. Martin Luther King Elementary
  15. Ludlow-Taylor Elementary
  16. Malcolm X Elementary
  17. Maya Angelou (Evans campus) Public Charter
  18. Meridian Public Charter
  19. Options Public Charter
  20. Randle Highlands Elementary
  21. Septima Clark Public Charter
  22. Simon Elementary
  23. Stanton Elementary

Teacher and Administrative Churn — It’s Not A Bug, It’s A Feature of Education Deform in DC and Elsewhere

Continuing to look at the report to the DC auditor’s department from EdCORE, let’s focus on what has happened to DCPS staff, both teachers and administrators. I lifted the following graphs from the report and added my own notations (mostly in red).

principal churn in dcpsAccording to the report, nearly two-thirds of all principals in DCPS have only one, two, or three years of experience in our system. Less than 16% of all DCPS principals had more than 6 years of experience in DCPS.

principal churn by poverty level

And it’s also clear that this principal churn hits high-poverty schools the hardest. As you can see above, in high-poverty schools, 71% of the principals are new, compared to only about 43% in the low-poverty schools. Constant churn of staff and administrators and teachers in high-poverty schools is profoundly demoralizing: teachers with connections to the community are able to relate to students because they know the parents well, often live in the community, belong to churches, coach sporting or other events, and have a profound, stabilizing impact. When a principal or teacher comes to a school and then leaves after a year or two (or less), and this pattern repeats over and over, then human connections are lost.

Interesting chart here shows that contrary to the anti-veteran-teacher propaganda, first- and second-year teachers get lower ratings on IMPACT than more seasoned teachers:

ratings for new and returning teachers - dcps - 2010-2011

This next graph shows that if you want to keep your job, it’s best not to teach in a high-poverty school. Teachers in low-poverty DC public schools are four times more likely to get a “Highly Effective” rating than teachers in a high-poverty school. And teachers in the high-poverty schools are three times more likely to get a “Minimally Effective” score than teachers in the low-poverty schools.

teacher ratings by school poverty 2010-2011

This next graph shows that as a consequence,  there is a much higher ‘churn’ rate in the high-poverty schools. 32% of the teachers leave the system EACH YEAR in the high-poverty schools, versus 13% in the low-poverty schools. movers leavers stayers in teachers by school poverty levelHow does this constant churn affect the students? It’s not good. See for yourself:

percent of students at or above prof in math by student ethnic and povertyAfter the uptick in scores resulting from teachers learning how to teach the test after SY 2006-7, there has not been the ‘smashing of the achievement gap’ that was predicted by the EduDeformers. Kids who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches still score the lowest; black students as a whole continue to score almost as low as them, and DC’s white students still continue to score at phenomenal levels.

(Note: Washington DC has essentially no white working class component. Almost all non-hispanic whites living in DC have either considerable wealth or a lot of education, or both. We don’t have uneducated white truck drivers or welders or white single moms who are high-school-dropouts working two crappy jobs. Clearly, we do have white waiters and bartenders and such, but they often have college degrees… and no kids… White DC students have the highest NAEP scores in every subject, year after year, than any other subgroup in any other state or city in the US. Don’t believe me? Look at the NAEP yourself.)

percent students at or above prof in reading by ethnicity and FRL eligibilityThe previous graph shows pretty much the same thing except I left “FRPL” as it was originally, instead of spelling it out; it means “Eligible for Free and Reduced Price Lunch” — if you are indeed eligible, then your family is poor. And, this is a graph for reading, instead of math.

percentage of students at or above prof in math by poverty decileThis is my last graph for today. I used their data and tried to make it clearer. It shows how students do by poverty decile of the student body as a whole. ‘First-decile’ schools means the 10% of schools — like Mann, Key, Janney, Lafayette and so on — that have the smallest fraction of FRPL students, i.e., poor kids. The tenth-decile schools are the schools with the highest fraction of kids in poverty — I’m willing to bet they found a lot of schools where the entire student body is eligible for free or reduced price lunches.

I did find it interesting that the kids in the tenth (last) decile actually outscored the students in the seventh decile. Not sure why that is.

Poverty Isn’t Destiny?

Quite a few Ed Deformers say that Poverty Isn’t Destiny. They say that it doesn’t matter if a child has been subjected to lead poisoning, separation from parents, violent or otherwise cruel child abuse, inadequate nutrition, and has lacked dental or health care and the love and care of a family during the first, crucial years. All it takes is for a Bright Young Thing fresh out of college to work her butt off for two years before she goes to work for a bank — and all of those handicaps will be overcome, with no extra dollars invested, and maybe even less!

Or maybe not.

Lots of teachers have been working their butts off for many decades, doing their best, believe it or not (for the most part).

Here are two three graphs from Wisconsin that show how close the connection between the poverty rates and student achievement levels, at all of their schools for which they provide data. My data come from here and are for SY 2011-2012. In fact, you can download the entire spreadsheet for the state of Wisconsin if you click on this link:

In both all three graphs, the percentage of students at the schools is along the horizontal (X) axis. In the first two, the average achievement score at the school is along the vertical (Y) axis.

In this first graph, Wisconsin uses a 100-point scale for overall student achievement.

wisconsin school overall student ach score by pct of poor kids

That is an incredibly strong correlation between poverty levels and student achievement. The fewer the proportion of poor students at a school, the better the achievement scores at that school.

I had Excel compute two correlation “trend” lines – one straight, in black, and one curved, in red following a third-degree polynomial, since it looks like we have a serious “Matthew effect” going on here. In either case, the R-squared and R values are very elevated, showing that, in fact, poverty is in fact destiny for a lot of kids.

The next graph is for reading only, but it shows essentially the same trend. School reading scores go from 0 to 50.

Wisconsin school READING scores by pct of poor kids

There are very few real-life correlations between two entities stronger than what you see in these two graphs.

This next graph is a little different, for two reasons: the y-axis is math, and it’s the percent of students deemed ‘proficient’ on whatever test Wisconsin is using. It also shows a very strong correlation.

wisconsin school poverty rate versus percent of students proficient in MATH

Widening US Educational Achievement Gap Between Rich and Poor?

A Stanford professor has analyzed data for the past 50 years, concluding that the gap in educational achievement between the wealthy and the poor has become considerably wider since about 1960; it’s now roughly twice as large as the black-white gap, when it used to be roughly the reverse!

A quote from his article,

The widening academic achievement gap between the rich and the poor: New evidence and possible explanations

In this chapter I examine whether and how the relationship between family socioeconomic characteristics and academic achievement has changed during the last fifty years. In particular, I investigate the extent to which the rising income inequality of the last four decades has been paralleled by a similar increase in the income achievement gradient. As the income gap between high- and low-income families has widened, has the achievement gap between children in high- and low-income families also widened?

The answer, in brief, is yes. The achievement gap between children from high- and low-income families is roughly 30 to 40 percent larger among children born in 2001 than among those born twenty-five years earlier. In fact, it appears that the income achievement gap has been growing for at least fifty years, though the data are less certain for cohorts of children born before 1970. In this chapter, I describe and discuss these trends in some detail. In addition to the key finding that the income achievement gap appears to have widened substantially, there are a number of other important findings.

First, the income achievement gap (defined here as the income difference between a child from a family at the 90th percentile of the family income distribution and a child from a family at the 10th percentile) is now nearly twice as large as the black-white achievement gap. Fifty years ago, in contrast, the black-white gap was one and a half to two times as large as the income gap.

Published in: on December 23, 2012 at 11:56 am  Comments (1)  
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