DC Women’s March – 2020 (Today!)

I am glad that my wife and I took part in today’s march. It was inspiring to us to talk with so many fine young folks (some men, too) along the march route; some of them told us that we veteran activists from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s inspired them, which was nice to hear. It was fun swapped some ideas and stories with new folks and veterans of, say, marches and demonstrations in Los Angeles and the Bay Area of California…

Some of the signs were brilliant!

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It was quite cold, and sometimes sleeting and raining; my wife and I both found our cell phone batteries dying because of the low temperatures, so I don’t have nearly as many photos as I would have liked. Fortunately w both had dressed properly – long acrylic thermal underwear, woolen sweater and socks, monk’s hood, parka hood, and umbrella for me; my wife looked a bit like an Inuit.

IMG_5996      IMG_5980

A couple of comments:

  • It didn’t look like organizers had really agreed on a common platform for chants, songs, or whatever. I persuaded someone with a bullhorn to lead a chant concerning immigration (see my last post).
  • We probably represented hundreds, if not thousands, of different organizations, but most of us only had the most tenuous links to said organizations — we had signed something online somewhere, or donated something, or maybe been to a meeting or two.
  • Definitely mostly white and middle-class, though latinxes, african-americans, and asians were definitely represented.
  • It was great that mostly young women had organized this, and I was just along an ally.
  • I didn’t hear people talking about the impeachment process, probably because we all know that there is between zip and nada percent chance that the Senate will actually convict and remove lying sack of shit #45 from office.
  • We need to acknowledge that the attacks by Arne Duncan and the Obama Administration on teachers during the 8 years they were in office — despite all their flowery, progressive rhetoric — were worse even than what Trump and Betsy Devos have been capable of doing, and were also worse than what we suffered under GWBush 2. That’s saying a lot. I think the demoralization of teachers definitely led to the election of Mango Mussolini, because so many Democratic party activists all across the country were teachers. In fact, during those 8 years, the local precinct, county, and state Democratic organizations were shredded to pieces or collapsed. The Tea Party and future Trumpsters were extremely energized and got their people out to vote at every election, and caused thousands of seats to turn Fascist Red.
  • We need to be much, much better organized. The Nazi Party in Germany before 1932 (Ie before Hitler was appointed Chancellor)had uniformed, armed, militias (Brownshirts and Blackshirts) that were equipped, trained, and funded by the German (especially Prussian) military General Staff. We don’t have that here, yet, in the USA, but we do know that neo-Nazis, Kluxers, and the like do send their young aficionados to enlist in the military, to get weapons training, and to try to incite and recruit other violent racists. Knowing that the racists are in fact emboldened, and have been in fact arming themselves and organizing, we need to be better organized and to take them seriously. When Trump and his acolytes are [I hope] thrown out in a landslide on November 3, the neo-Nazis he has emboldened may cause serious trouble. We can’t predict the future.
  • All the people I talked to agreed with me that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is one of the smartest politicians we had ever seen, and the most inspiring and honest. We were uniformly in awe of her ability to run a House hearing and to skewer the bad guys with their own words and with facts. I hope nothing bad happens to her and that she can run for higher office and help organize a good, progressive movement.
  • I have no faith in any organization that I am aware of. I furthermore am going to state that what the Soviet Union did to its own citizens under Stalin’s watch (in particular) was absolutely inexcusable, betraying just about every single humanitarian principle that socialists, progressives, anarchists, or communists of any stripe have fought for — except for the principle of killing (mostly) imagined enemies of the people, working class, or proletariat. Think about it: though we will never know the final toll, I estimate that on the average several hundreds of people were executed or died of mistreatment or starvation every single day in the USSR during the roughly 30-year period 1923-1953. Long story.
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    My estimate of the crowd at this march is probably pretty low, since I could never see the entire march at once and don’t own a helicopter. Neither am I privy to overhead photos of the event. However, when I was at the south end of the Ellipse, I stood up on a park bench and could see a lot of it; perhaps the panorama picture I took, above, will make some sense. (As I said, my phone did NOT like the cold; in the future I’m going to need to take chemical hand-warmers to put around it)

  • That location was a fine one for giving Mr Maralago a single=fingered salute. A number of people joined me.
  • It seemed to me that in every seven-foot (or 2-meter) longitudinal section of the march, there were somewhere between 20 and 60 people (so 3 to 9 people per longitudinal foot) – we filled the streets including the sidewalks as well. (My wife and I bailed out at the intersection of 16th and H, at the north side of Lafayette Park and went to warm up with a delicious late brunch at Fiola da Mare, which was quite a nice little luxury we’d never experienced.)
  • At one point, I could see people still marching on Constitution Avenue all the way to the corner of 15th and Constitution, on the latter heading west, and then all the way up 17th street up to Lafayette Square. How many marchers there were further towards either the head or tail of the march, I could not see. It was definitely smaller than a couple of the other women’s marches I attended, if I remember correctly.
  • Using the scale on the map I’m showing you below,  I think that I myself could see about 4,000 feet worth of people marching, which would mean somewhere between 11,000 to 35,000 people. There were clearly many more, but how many, I have no idea. (I’m making this estimate because Park Service no longer provides estimates.)

women's march 2020

Anybody have a better estimate? As I said, I’m sure mine is low. The comment button below is really hard to find.

PISA shows great US education progress under Common Core, charter proliferation, reforms. (JUST KIDDING!)

If there is anything that the recent PISA results show, it’s that the promises by David Coleman, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Betsy Devos, Arne Duncan, Barack Obama, and others of tremendous achievement increases and closing socioeconomic gaps with their ‘reforms’ were completely unfilled. I am copying and pasting here how American students have done on the PISA, a test given in many, many countries, since 2006. There have been tiny changes over the past dozen years in the scores of American students in reading, math, and science, but virtually none have been statistically significant, according to the statisticians who compiled and published the data.

Then again, nearly any classroom teacher you talked to over the past decade or two of educational ‘reforms’ in American classrooms could have told you why and how it was bound to fail.

Look for yourself:

PISA results through 2018

 

Source: https://www.oecd.org/pisa/publications/PISA2018_CN_USA.pdf

 

EDIT: I meant David Coleman the educational reform huckster, not Gary Coleman the actor!

 

How old is your dog in human years? The answer is as natural as falling off a log!

Or should I say a natural logarithm…

Some scientists studying mammalian genetics and methylation have concluded that it’s simply incorrect to multiply the actual age of a dog by seven to arrive at its human age: the relationship is not linear at all. Dogs mature much faster than humans, being fully able to have puppies of their own when they are one or two — which shows that the seven-to-one rule makes little sense there, even though that simple linear formula does more-or-less work when considering total life expectancies of us humans and our best friends.

They arrived at their conclusions, which were reported in Science, by drawing blood samples from over a hundred Labrador retrievers and comparing variations in markers on the DNA genomes thereof. I present a graph from the Arxiv preprint here, comparing a Labrador retriever with a well-known actor:

dog years

One of the formulas they came up with is the following

dog year eqwuation

which simply means that you take the natural logarithm (the one with base e, or about 2.718, which you may have studied in high school or college math classes, and which the calculator you have on your cell phone can do for you) of the dog’s age (D), multiply that by 16, and then add 31, to get the human age (D). That’s just about impossible to do in your head, so the Science writer provided a little calculator, which they warn is only valid for dog ages of 1 year or more.

I decided to play with the formula and make some tables so you can compare more easily a theoretical dog age to a theoretical human age, and decide for yourself if you think the study makes sense. I also calculated the inverse function (to go from human years to dog years directly, and got the following:

inverse exponential dog years

Here they are:

dog age table

Keep in mind that in the yellow part, the dog’s age is measured in months. (Yeah, I disregarded the warning about only using dogs aged 1 year or more!) And in the green part, a dog’s age is measured in years. Obviously, a one-month old puppy is not equivalent to a human baby that will only be born nine years in the future, but a lot of the rest does make sense.

Here is a pretty graph I made from the table on the left:

dog to human age converter graph

And from the one on the right:

human to dog age converter graph

Sharp eyed folks may have noticed that the equations produced by Excel don’t look like the ones I wrote. In the first case, the difference just comes from rounding. If you remember the rules of exponentiation, you may be able to figure out why mine looks almost completely different from the one Excel produced!

Published in: on November 18, 2019 at 10:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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More Educational Miracles (Not!)

I have prepared charts and graphs for 8th grade NAEP average scale scores for black, hispanic, and white students in various jurisdictions: the entire nation; all large cities; Washington DC; Florida, Michigan; and Mississippi.

You will see that there was a general upwards trend in math from about 1992 to roughly 2007 or 2009, but the scores have mostly leveled off during the last decade. I included Michigan, since that is the state where current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has had the mo$t per$sonal influence, but that influence doesn’t look to be positive.

While it’s good that DC’s black students no longer score the lowest in the nation (that would be Michigan – see the first graph), there is another feature of my fair city: very high-performing white students (generally with affluent, well-educated parents) in its unfortunately rather segregated public schools, as you can see in the last graph. Naep 8th grade math, black students, various placesnaep math, hispanic, 8th grade, various places

naep 8th grade math, white students, various places

Can You See The Educational Miracles in DC, Florida, Michigan, and Mississippi?

No?

Even though the Common Core curriculum is now essentially the law of the land (though well disguised), and nearly every school system devotes an enormous amount of its time to testing, and many states and cities (such as DC, Florida, and Michigan) are hammering away at public schools and opening often-unregulated charter schools and subsidizing voucher schemes?

You don’t see the miracles that MUST have flowed from those ‘reforms’?

naep reading 8th grade, black, nation, fl, dc, mi, ms, large cities

Neither can I.

I present to you average scale scores for black students on the 8th grade NAEP reading tests, copied and pasted by from the NAEP website for the past 27 years, and graphed by me using Excel. You will notice that any changes have been small — after all, these scores can go up to 500 if a student gets everything right, and unlike on the SAT, the lowest possible score is zero.

DC’s black 8th graders are scoring slightly lower than in 2013 or 2015, even though a speaker assured us that DC was an outstanding performer. Black Florida students are scoring lower than they did 2, 4, 6, or 10 years ago, even though Betsy DeVos assured us that they were setting a wonderful example for the nation. Michigan is the state where DeVos and her family has had the most influence, and it consistently scores lower than the national average. Mississippi was held up for us as a wonderful example of growth, but their score is exactly one point higher than it was in 2003.

Some miracles.

 

EDIT: Here are the corresponding charts and graphs for hispanic and white students:

naep, 8th grade reading, hispanic, various places

 

naep 8th grade reading, white students, various places

Not So Fast, Betsy DeVos!

I attended the official roll-out of the results of the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) a couple of days ago at the National Press Club here in DC on 14th Street NW, and listened to the current education secretary, Betsy Devos, slam public schools and their administrators as having accomplished nothing while spending tons of money. She and other speakers held up DC, Mississippi, and Florida as examples to follow. Devos basically advocated abandoning public schools altogether, in favor of giving each parent a “backpack full of cash” to do whatever they want with.

Some other education activists I know here in DC shared their thoughts with me, and I decided to look at the results for DC’s white, black, and Hispanic students over time as reported on the NAEP’s official site. (You can find them here, but be prepared to do quite a bit of work to get them and make sense out of them!)

I found that it is true that DC’s recent increases in scores on the NAEP for all students, and for black and Hispanic students, are higher than in other jurisdictions.

However, I also found that those increases were happening at a HIGHER rate BEFORE DC’s mayor was given total control of DC’s public schools; BEFORE the appointment of Michelle Rhee; and BEFORE the massive DC expansion of charter schools.

Here are two graphs (which I think show a lot more than a table does) which give ‘average scale scores’ for black students in math at grades 4 and 8 in DC, in all large US cities, and in the nation as a whole. I have drawn a vertical red line at the year 2008, separating the era before mayoral control of schools (when we had an elected school board) and the era afterwards (starting with appointed chancellor Michelle Rhee and including a massive expansion of the charter school sector). These results include both regular DC Public School students and the charter school sector, but not the private schools.

I asked Excel to produce linear correlations of the average scale scores for black students in DC starting in 1996 through 2007, and also for 2009 through 2019. It wasn’t obvious to my naked eye, but the improvement rates, or slopes of those lines, were TWICE AS HIGH before mayoral control. At the 4th grade level, the improvement rate was 2.69 points per year BEFORE mayoral control, but only 1.34 points per year afterwards.

Yes, that is a two-to-one ratio AGAINST mayoral control & massive charter expansion.

At the 8th grade level, same time span, the slope was 1.53 points per year before mayoral control, but 0.77 points per year afterwards.

Again, just about exactly a two-to-one ratio AGAINST the status quo that we have today.

pre and post Rhee, 4th grade NAEP, black students in DC, nation, large cities

pre and post Rhee, 8th grade NAEP, black students in DC, large cities, and nation

Charter schools do NOT get better NAEP test results than regular public schools

It is not easy to find comparisons between charter schools and regular public schools, partly because the charter schools are not required to be nearly as transparent or accountable as regular public schools. (Not in their finances, nor in requests for public records, nor for student or teacher disciplinary data, and much more.) At the state or district level, it has in the past been hard or impossible to find comparative data on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress).

We all have heard the propaganda that charter and voucher schools are so much better than regular public schools, because they supposedly get superior test scores and aren’t under the thumb of  those imaginary ‘teacher union thugs’.

However, NCES has released results where they actually do this comparison. Guess what: there is next to no difference between the scores of all US charter schools on the NAEP in both reading and math at either the 4th grade or 8th grade level! In fact, at the 12th grade, regular public schools seem to outscore the charter schools by a significant margin.

Take a look at the two graphs below, which I copied and pasted from the NCES website. The only change I made was to paint orange for the bar representing the charter schools. Note that there is no data available for private schools as a whole.

public vs charter vs catholic, naep, math

If you aren’t good at reading graphs, the one above says that on a 500-point scale, in 2017 (which was the last year for which we have results), at the 4th grade, regular public school students scored an average of 239 points in math, three points higher than charter school students (probably not a significant difference). At the 8th grade level, the two groups scored identically: 282 points. At the 12th grade, in 2015, regular public school students outscored charter school students by a score of 150 to 133 on a 300-point scale (I suspect that difference IS statistically significant). We have no results from private schools, but Catholic schools do have higher scores than the public or charter schools.

The next graph is for reading. At the 4th grade, charter school students in 2017 outscored regular public school students by a totally-insignificant 1 point (222 to 221 on a 500 point scale) and the same thing happened at the 8th grade level (266 to 265 on a 500 point scale). However, at the 12th grade, the regular public school students outscore their charter school counterparts by a score of 285 to 269, which I bet is significant.

charter vs public vs catholic, naep, reading, 2017

 

 

Teachers Quitting In DC

Valerie Jablow points out that there is an enormous problem with DC public and charter teachers being so harassed that they quit: around 70% of them quit by their 5th year of employment. (She adds that this is probably not a bug, but a feature of the DC teacher evaluation program.) I am reprinting her entire column, but you should subscribe to it yourself.

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Let’s Be Clear: DC Teacher Retention Isn’t Just A Problem. It’s A Crisis.

by Valerie Jablow

This Wednesday evening, October 23, at 5:30 pm, the DC state board of education (SBOE), DC’s only elected body with a direct (if relatively powerless) voice on our schools, will take public testimony on teacher retention in DC’s publicly funded schools. (See more information here.)

While public voice is sorely needed in every conversation about our public schools, in this case it’s a bit akin to choosing wallpaper for a burning building.

But that’s hardly SBOE’s fault.

In the wake of years of testimony about horrific treatment of DC teachers, SBOE last year commissioned a study by DC schools expert Mary Levy, which showed terrible attrition of teachers at our publicly funded schools, dwarfing attrition rates nationally.

An update to that 2018 study was just made available by SBOE and will be discussed at the meeting this week.

The update shows that while DCPS teacher and principal attrition rates have dropped slightly recently, they remain very high, with 70% of teachers leaving entirely by the 5-year mark (p. 32). Retention rates for DC’s charter schools are similar to those at DCPS–with the caveat that not only are they self-reported, but they are also not as complete and likely contain errors.

Perhaps the most stunning data point is that more than half of DCPS teachers leaving after 6 years are highly rated (p. 24). This suggests that the exodus of teachers from DC’s publicly funded schools is not merely a matter of weeding out poor performers (as DCPS’s response after p. 70 of this report suggests). Rather, it gives data credence to the terrifying possibility that good teachers are being relentlessly harassed until they give up and leave.

Sadly, that conclusion is the only one that makes sense to me, given that most of my kids’ teachers in my 14 years as a DCPS parent have left their schools–with only a few retiring after many years of service. Most of my kids’ teachers were both competent and caring. Perhaps not coincidentally, they almost always also lacked basic supplies that they ended up buying with their own money; were pressured to teach to tests that would be the basis of their and their principals’ evaluations; and feared reprisal for saying any of that.

(I’m hardly alone in that observation–read some teacher testimony for the SBOE meeting here, including that of a special education teacher, who notes that overwork with caseloads; lack of supplies; and increased class sizes for kids with disabilities are recurring factors at her school that directly lead to teacher burnout.)

In other words, high teacher attrition in DC’s publicly funded schools isn’t a bug but a feature.

Now the real question is why is SBOE apparently the only school leadership body undertaking this work in this manner?

To be fair, DC’s office of the state superintendent of education (OSSE) recently commissioned a report, which showed even higher rates of attrition in DC’s publicly funded schools.

Yet, despite a situation that resembles a full-blown crisis of longstanding proportions, OSSE’s report was weirdly anodyne.

For instance, only 50 of 68 LEAs participated and then, even after citing horrific retention rates, OSSE’s report noted (boldface mine) that “some evidence suggests that DC teacher retention rates may be slightly lower than other cities across the country.”

The report went on to note that “a study of 16 large urban districts found that 81 percent of teachers remained at their schools after one year, compared to 70 percent in DC. National figures suggest that about 84 percent of public school teachers remained at the same school between 2011-12 and the 2012-13 school year.”

Gotta ask:

Is anyone at OSSE at all given pause by the fact that their own citation shows that DC’s teachers are leaving at annual rates more than 10% higher than in comparable urban areas? Or that DC’s 70% annual retention figure above means that a third of DC’s teachers are leaving every year?

Or how about the fact that OSSE’s collaborator on this study, TNTP (founded by former DCPS chancellor Michelle Rhee), has long been the beneficiary of DCPS contracts on teacher performance and training–as well as one of the cheerleaders for rating schools and teachers with test scores, while a former staffer for TNTP recently co-authored a report on DC teacher retention that happily concluded that high teacher turnover can actually increase test scores?

(Yeah–but only for students with teachers receiving the lowest ratings. Yay for us! Oh, and no worries about those kids with those low-rated teachers! Despite the fact that both recent OSSE and SBOE retention reports show that at risk kids in DC are much more likely to have less effective and less experienced teachers who stay for shorter terms, if churning teachers makes for good test scores, perhaps we shouldn’t worry about the collateral damage of taking away the little stability that these kids might otherwise have in their lives. Outcomes, baby, outcomes!)

In fact, OSSE’s recent report on teacher retention appears to be an outgrowth of its recent collaboration with TNTP, the stated goal of which is to “help LEAs develop effective strategies to attract, develop, and retain great teachers to serve their students through robust analysis of staffing data from across the District.”

Of course, that “robust analysis” is only with “LEAs who opt to participate”–which is a charming way to say that whatever OSSE and TNTP have together done on this subject is all, well, voluntary.

Which is kind of like seeing the burning building that is DC teacher retention and not worrying whether everyone has evacuated because choices!

(Or freedom? Hard sometimes to suss out right-wing talking points.)

Indeed, the charter board’s response to the latest SBOE report echoed this (see response after p. 70), noting that “each school pursues its own approach, including its own human capital strategies. In this context, there is no universal “right” rate of attrition, just as there is no universal rate that is too high or too low. The right attrition rate for each school will depend on that school’s approach, their needs and their situation in any given year.”

Despite such official unconcern with the recurring devastation of human capital in our schools, the SBOE is now undertaking to get the council to legislate standardized reporting for teacher attrition, given that we don’t have any standards.

Think about this for a second:

SBOE is asking the council, another elected body with only indirect oversight of schools, to enact legislation to force OSSE to ensure all schools report teacher attrition and retention in a standardized way because we have an emergency here already and no one is telling OSSE to do this. Come to think of it, given the subject matter and its emergency status, you would THINK all this is already OSSE’s obligation (you know, because of  that whole mayoral control thingy).

And yet, right now, there is literally only one person in DC who is doing any fulsome reporting of this emergency–and she doesn’t work for OSSE, despite being twice hired by SBOE to report an emergency situation that city education leaders outside SBOE seem to regard as, well, the price of doing business.

So, to recap:

–Horrific teacher retention in all publicly funded schools in DC;
–No standardized and/or mandated reporting of teacher retention in all DC publicly funded schools;
–Teacher harassment and blame for student and school success;
–No official connection of that to poor teacher retention in DC;
–At risk kids bearing the brunt of teacher mobility, including less experienced and effective teachers;
–DC education leaders begging to differ with all of that; and
–A dis-empowered SBOE trying to get both the council and OSSE to actually fix all of that while the mayor is . . . .

Uh, where IS the mayor, anyway?

Yeah.

How to Succeed with “Success Academy”

Here is the secret behind having stellar state test scores at Moskowitz’ chain of ‘Success Academy’ schools: discourage families from coming by telling them how much is expected from them (NEVER be tardy, ENORMOUS amounts of homework, etc) and also hold back any student who doesn’t meet very hazy but difficult benchmarks.

Gary Rubinstein provides details, and taped quotes from Success Academy principals:

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Revealing Podcast About Success Academy — Part V

by garyrubinstein

Star Wars fans know that Episode 5 — The Empire Strikes Back, was the best of the Star Wars saga.  And of Beethoven’s nine symphonies, the most famous is surely his fifth.  Likewise, of the seven episodes of Startup’s podcast about Success Academy, the fifth (found here) is the most powerful and the most important.

To say that this episode has the ‘smoking gun’ would be an understatement.  This episode has not just the smoking gun, but a video of the culprit firing that gun.  I’m not sure why this episode hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves.  Maybe because it is so many hours into the podcast and most people don’t listen to all the parts.  Or maybe there are so many Success Academy excuses and talking points weaved into all the other episodes that this episode just seems like a small blemish on a generally favorable portrait of the controversial charter network.  Whatever the reason, I’m hoping that people will take the time to listen to the whole podcast and to share it, along with my summary, widely.

This episode is entitled ‘Expectations’ and it explores whether or not the expectations Success Academy has for it’s students and for the parents of those students are something that the students and parents rise to meet or if they scare away potential families and families who struggle to keep up with those expectations.

They play a tape of Eva Moskowitz speaking to families who have been accepted into Success Academy:

EVA: Hi everyone, I’m Eva Moskowitz the founder and CEO of Success Academies. It’s very nice to meet you in this large auditorium.

LISA: Eva paces across the stage in stilettos, a fitted blue dress and leather bomber jacket, her standard attire. She’s speaking to a couple hundred parents, near Success Academy Union Square. That’s one of 30 Success elementary schools offering spots to new students.

EVA: First of all, congratulations for those of you who have won the lottery.

LISA: This year Success Academy had a little over 3000 spots for about 17000 applicants. That means through a random lottery, only about one out of every six kids got a spot.

Eva tells the audience that she designed Success Academy with the hope that kids would fall in love with school. They have science labs in kindergarten, kids learning chess early on. She touts the school’s high academic standards. But she is also clear about some of the things that parents might not like.

EVA: We believe in homework. A lot of it. So if you feel really strongly that that is not something you like, you probably shouldn’t come to Success. Cause we’re going to be arguing for 12 years about homework and we’re gonna win.

LISA: Want small class sizes? We don’t have that. And, of course…

EVA: Tests. Anyone against tests? Anyone want to be part of the opt-out movement? Great, thank you for your honesty. Success is not the place for you.

LISA: Success is not the place for you. Parents start hearing that line early on. Eva makes it clear at this meeting that they’ll expect a lot of parents.

EVA: We’re very very strict on kids getting to school on time. School starts August 20th and you must be here the first day of school, no exceptions. We expect at a minimum for you to return our phone calls. I had a parent who was refusing to meet with the principal. God forbid. No no no no no.

About half of the families that get into Success Academy after winning ‘the lottery’ choose to not go there, maybe because of messages like this.

The devastating part in this episode follows a 5th grader at Success Academy named Nia.  Nia had been at Success Academy since kindergarten and had passed both sections of the 3rd and 4th grade state tests.  But she was getting about a 70 average in 5th grade so the school said that she was at risk of repeating 5th grade.  According to the podcast, this is something that is said to hundreds of families each year.

Getting ‘left back’ is a big deal.  It has major consequences that can affect the rest of a student’s life.  From then on, that student will be a year older than her classmates, always having to explain why she is a year older, that she was ‘left back.’  The school said she would have to get her grades up, which she did, to about an 80.  But the school said that it wasn’t enough.  It didn’t matter that she was now comfortably passing.  It also didn’t matter that she had passed the state tests the previous years and that she was likely to pass the state test again this year.  They said that when they took it all into consideration they decided not to promote her.  However, they would promote her if she would transfer out of Success Academy.

The amazing hypocrisy here is that Success Academy is saying that the fact that this girl passed the state tests was not enough.  They are actually admitting that passing the state tests — the thing that the entire reputation of Success Academy is based on — is not an accurate measure of achievement.

The parent tried to appeal this decision and she even secretly taped the meeting she had with the administrator:

JO-LAINE: So I guess my question is, so this is a final decision? This is a final decision?

PRINCIPAL: Yes.

JO-LAINE: And I cannot appeal this process at all?

PRINCIPAL: No.

JO-LAINE: I cannot talk to anybody else about this process?

PRINCIPAL: If you would like to talk to someone you can reach out to the network.

JO-LAINE: Who, who in the network?

PRINCIPAL: You can just call the general number.

JO-LAINE: I don’t get anyone when I call that general number. Why are you doing this to my daughter? You know that she is a bright kid, you know she has potential. You know she does.

PRINCIPAL: Of course.

LISA: Of course she has potential, the principal says. And she notes the improvement Nia had made by the second trimester.

PRINCIPAL: She was at a 77 and we said if she continued going in that direction, she continued doing her homework, she continued really applying herself in class, then we could possibly promote her to the sixth grade.

LISA: Nia’s GPA had jumped from 69 to 80, and her grades for participation had trended up too. Jo-Laine asks where Nia would have needed to get.

JO-LAINE: So what is the passing GPA to be promoted?

PRINCIPAL: There is no passing GPA.

JO-LAINE: There isn’t a passing GPA, it’s so much ambiguity. How do I know how my kid is succeeding?

LISA: The principal points out that these decisions are not just about GPA — they consider a lot of factors. She says Nia doesn’t have the work habits to succeed in the sixth grade.

PRINCIPAL: So ultimately the issue is that she does not have independent work habits that she needs to be successful next year in a tougher grade with a more rigorous curriculum. Good habits of working, so like asking questions, trying hard, going back revising your work.

LISA: At some point during the back-and-forth, Jo-Laine gets more frustrated.

JO-LAINE: I have it in text message, ok, and in emails.

PRINCIPAL: Please don’t talk to me like that.

LISA: The principal says the conversation is no longer productive and asks her to leave.

JO-LAINE: I’m not leaving until we finish talking about… I do not agree with your decision.

LISA: Jo-Laine starts to say something to an assistant principal who’s also in the room.

PRINCIPAL: You’re not speaking to my assistant principal, this is my school to be clear.

JO-LAINE: Who are you talking to?

PRINCIPAL: I’m talking to you.

JO-LAINE: I am not speaking to you. You just told me I may not speak, I’m not, no.
PRINCIPAL: I’m done.

JO-LAINE: You cannot tell me I cannot speak to this woman here and that you’re going to call security on me.

PRINCIPAL: I will call security on you.

LISA: The principal calls security, and Jo-Laine is escorted out of the building.
JO-LAINE: and I left and i cried like a baby. I let out this howl when I left the building.

LISA: Jo-Laine said she felt defeated. All the opportunities she thought Nia would have because she won the lottery and got into Success were now disappearing. That’s because, if Nia was going to be held back, Jo-Laine wanted to take her out of Success when the year ended, even though the school had been Nia’s world since she was 5 years old.

what was the conversation with Nia that night?

JO-LAINE: You know Nia, things are going to be different. Same thing, same routine conversation, you got to go to school every day and do your best. Mommy has to be very honest with you. We need to try a new school.  I don’t think Success Academy is healthy for you. And she cried. Silent silent tears. And she’s like, ‘I’m going to miss my friends. This is all I know. I’m a little afraid of public school. But it’s okay Mommy.’ And that changed everything for me. I remember sitting on her bed and she’s like ‘Mommy it’s OK. You know I just want to be happy.’

LISA: While Jo-Laine was fighting to get Success to promote Nia to the next grade, she had also applied to several middle schools, as backups. And Nia had been accepted into a public school. It’s a selective one. Students have to have good marks and test scores from fourth grade to get in.

JO-LAINE: So I have the acceptance letter. And the first paragraph says, congratulations Nia, we want you to know that you were specifically chosen for this school for your academic achievement, thousands of kids applied to star academy and you were one of the 60. She was like ‘me? Oh my god, me mommy?’ and I am like ‘you’, and I could honestly say with all confidence, it wasn’t a lottery, it was like we chose you, we want you.

LISA: In Nia’s final report card, which she got in June, after the decision to hold her back had already been made, her GPA had gone up another few points to an 83. A few months later, she got her state test scores for fifth grade. Top scores again, fours on both.

The principal who defended this decision was, of course, a Teach For America alum.  So if Success Academy is leaving back students who are passing the state tests and getting an 83 average, but not meeting some nebulous metric that relies not on data, but on their gut feelings, what about the kids who are not passing the state tests?  Are we to believe that this same nebulous metric is somehow generous to those students?

Another Success Administrator is interviewed about the schools expectations

LISA: Do you think there’s such a thing as a bar that’s too high?

JAVERIA: For whom?

LISA: For kids at Success.

JAVERIA: Well see I think when people ask that question and I’m not saying you are. So please. I think when people say we’re too hard and we’re too rigorous I always ask is that because we run schools in poor neighborhoods? Do you mean is it too hard for poor neighborhoods? Because rich white kids are doing this all day and they’re paying for it.

LISA: It is a question you have to ask. Where is the bar? It seems like a very legitimate appropriate question to really think through.

JAVERIA: I do often think when that questions comes up… And by the way I wish we can control the bar but the bar often is determined by really elite colleges who get their kids great jobs.

LISA: Javeria tells me that Success Academy is trying to set its academic standards so that all students are on track to complete college in four years. Success says about 10 percent of its students get held back every year.  And half of those students end up leaving Success. When their alternative, their zoned traditional public school, is willing to take them at the next grade, that can seem like the more attractive option for families.

LISA: Do you worry about like the kids who are leaving because they were held over.

JAVERIA: I guess worry about that meaning… I guess that’s a thing, like do we think we’re doing something wrong and that’s why they’re leaving? like do we are we too rigid and too difficult and too painful of a schools so we’re pissing people off and they’re leaving? No I don’t. I mean I think I think…

LISA: Or just even studying like why kids leave? Like you know I’ve spoken to other charter school networks that are studying the kids who leave and really trying to understand that.

JAVERIA: I mean we can’t, we’re not a prison we can not make anyone sign up to do things they don’t want to do. And so that’s why I asked like is the issue should we ease our design in any way to keep more people is like I think where you’re headed in that question, which is no, we don’t want kids to come any later to school. We are going to continue to ask for them to wear a uniform. We are going to be rigorous. We are not going to willy nilly promote kids because it feels good.

LISA: Success doesn’t buy into the practice of social promotion — moving kids up through grades to keep them with their age group. The charter school network believes that promotion should be based on achievement. And in many ways, their position makes sense. You don’t want someone to graduate from high school, not being able to read an elementary school text. And yet by sticking to extremely high standards for kids, Success is, in effect, sending a lot of families to the same schools it says it’s saving them from.

So according to the podcast, with a statistic that surely came from Success Academy themselves, they leave back 5% of students each year and another 5% leave so they can escape being left back.  I think these numbers are way below the actual numbers.  I think this is one of the major reasons that students leave the school and based on their first cohort where 73 1st graders were whittled down to 16 eventual graduates, it is clear that a lot of students leave Success Academy.

Even the parent from the first episode had pulled her son from Success Academy when they threatened to have him repeat second grade.

On the podcast they say

A lot of families who leave Success, whether it’s because they were asked to repeat a grade, or were getting suspended, or just had had enough of Success’ inflexibility … a lot of those families go back into the traditional public school system, a system that Eva Moskowitz says is failing.

Then they compare Success Academy to a ‘failing’ traditional school, as measured by its test scores.  They show that the principal is much warmer in the way he deals with parents than the Success Academy administrators we have heard from in this episode.

Then a surprising thing happens where this principal Jesse Yarbrough goes off on a rant about how one of his biggest problems is that it is too hard to fire tenured teachers because of the teacher’s union contract.  I was disappointed to hear this.  I’ve taught at several ‘failing’ schools in my career and I’ve found mostly very hard working teachers at them.  And the few teachers who were not trying their hardest, well, I don’t think that our test scores would have changed that dramatically if we were to replace those teachers — there just weren’t enough of them to make a tremendous difference.  Somehow, though, on this podcast they found a traditional school where the principal did believe that the students at his school had only 20% passing the state tests because of the teacher’s union.  That is unfortunate since I’m sure that many principals would defend their staff and say that the test scores don’t reflect the commitment and quality of the teachers.

The rest of the part about the traditional school was good and showed how they were more humane to their students.  They also have this principal talk about how they get kids who were booted out of charter schools:

LISA: Jesse says his school regularly gets kids from charter schools, and what he sees are a lot of the feelings that our two families earlier in the episode expressed: feelings of shame and guilt.

JESSE: They tend to come feeling like they were pushed out. Parents have told us that the principal kept calling them in to say that the student wasn’t behaving or the student wasn’t doing their work and that kids are always coming home with infractions, whether it’s for uniform, for attendance, for lateness for homework, and if you’re constantly getting negative feedback about your child, you’re going to think that the school doesn’t want the child there. And a lot of parents come in and they say my son had so and so issues, my son was kicked out, they said that we couldn’t be there anymore. And that’s terrible too because then they have that same perception of the child.

This is where episode 5 ends.  I think any reasonable person listening to the part where they leave back the girl despite her average in the 80s and her passing the state tests, and their treatment of her mother where they call security on them, would have to conclude that there is something seriously wrong with Success Academy.

There are still two more podcasts.  Episode 6 features the ‘rip and redo’ hidden video and episode 7 is about the chaos at their first high school.  I’ll likely write those up as one post.  This one, episode 5, is really the main reason I wanted to write up these summaries, I recommend you listen to the whole thing since there are some things that are conveyed by the vocal intonations of the Success Academy administrators that a transcript can’t fully capture.

The Myth of the Super TFA Teacher is Crushed by TFA’s Own Research

A study conducted in Texas with the cooperation of Teach for America claims to pretend that TFA teachers are more effective than their peers. We’ve all heard this claim before, including from frauds like Michelle Rhee, who made up fables about her mythical and fantastic successes during her three years as a TFA newbie in Baltimore.

However, the facts and tables in the report itself shows exactly the opposite, at least for TFA members who are in their first two years (and for many of them, their only two years) in the classroom.

For example, look at the following tables, which I cut and pasted from the report:

how TFA teachers compare with their peers

Notice what the data is saying in the first four bar graphs above. Dark blue means that the students of that group of TFA teachers were significantly more likely to pass the STAAR test than the students of other, matched, non-TFA teachers. Black means that the students of that group of TFA teachers were NOT more likely to pass, and that this is statistically significant.

Also notice that they do NOT ask the question of whether students of TFA teachers do significantly worse on that test than do students of other teachers. We can only guess.

(1) During the first year that a TFA ‘corps member’ is in the classroom, in 44% to 46% of the cases, their students do NOT do significantly better than their peers on a state-wide standardized test than do the students of non-TFA teachers. We don’t know for a fact that the students actually did WORSE than those taught by non-TFA teachers, but it is certainly a strong possibility. Only in 1/6 to 1/4 of the cases (16% to 26%), do the students of the TFA first-year teachers do significantly better than the students of other, comparable teachers.

(2) Apparently students of second-year TFA teachers in Texas do even worse than those of first-year TFA teachers, especially in reading, because the dark blue sections of the third and fourth bar graphs are significantly smaller than those for the first and second bar graphs, and the black section of bar graph 3 (reading) is much larger than it was in bar graph 1.

Bar graphs 3 and 4 include both first year and second year TFA teachers; since the combined figures for both years 1 and 2 are much worse than for just year 1, that must mean that TFA teachers get worse at preparing their students for the STAAR test during their second year.

(3) However, the relatively few TFA corps members who successfully exit TFA and go on to remain as classroom teachers apparently do much better than the peers that were selected by this study (that’s bar graphs 5 and 6; note the dark blue sections are much larger).

However, let me quote the conclusions written by the authors of this report concerning this graph:

“Students of TFA alumni were significantly more likely to pass STAAR Reading and Math in 77% and 82% of all Reading & Math analyses, respectively. TFA corps members are more effective in Math than Reading. ”

I will let you, the reader, make your own decision as to whether preparing students to pass tests like the PARCC or the STAAR is a worthy goal. But it’s almost all the data that we have.

Thanks to Gary Rubinstein for his blog post, pointing me towards this study.

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