Assessment of Rhee/Henderson/Mayoral control in DC public schools

Here is a very long article on the legacy of the mayoral takeover of DC public schools back in 2007, which brought in Chancellors Rhee and Henderson, among other things. Having been a teacher, a mentor, and a volunteer in and visiting DC public schools for that period of time, I’m not particularly impressed with the changes I’ve seen. The article, which I still haven’t finished reading, has criticism of what hasn’t worked, by Mary Levy and  John Merrow, and also features a reply by Thomas Toch (who is very much a cheerleader for the “reforms”).

Here’s the link. Please read the article and comment, and take some action as well.

http://washingtonmonthly.com/people/john-merrow-and-mary-levy-with-a-reply-by-tom-toch/

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How NOT to save money: operate two (or a hundred) different school systems in the same district

I would like to reprint the entirety of Valerie Jablow’s recent blog post on how the District of Columbia manages to waste enormous amounts of taxpayer money by opening and closing schools at random. (If you haven’t been keeping score, the total number of publicly-funded schools in Washington DC is at an all time high, while the number of students is NOT.)

The DC Education Costs That Shall Not Be Named

by Valerie Jablow

Testifying the other week during the council’s budget oversight hearing for the DC public charter school board, education advocate and DCPS parent Suzanne Wells called for a study by the DC auditor to compare the costs to run DCPS schools versus charter schools. Wells asked that the study look at administrative in addition to facilities costs in each sector.

Right now, city leaders are consumed by the percentage increase in the funding formula for public school students in the FY18 budget. The mayor’s original proposal for FY18 gave a 1.5% increase–an historic low. Last week (perhaps sensing blood in the water), the mayor proposed raising the increase to 2% . Plenty of others—including a group convened by the state superintendent of education (OSSE)—have recommended a 3.5% increase, and a petition to the council advocating a 3.5% increase has now garnered more than 1000 signatures.

But amid this legitimate concern over funding, there is dead silence about costs.

Imagine, for a moment, anyone in DC leadership going on the record with this statement:

“If there are 32 students in a class and two go to charters, you still have to have a teacher for the 30 [remaining] students.”

That’s what Philadelphia’s chief financial officer recently said after a study commissioned by that city determined that Philadelphia pays nearly $5000 per student in stranded costs each time a student leaves a by right school to attend a charter school. Those stranded costs include staffing, utilities and building maintenance for the schools that such students no longer attend, but that need to keep operating nonetheless because those schools are the guarantors of the right–not chance or choice–to an equitable public education.

Judging from the silence and averted eyes when I asked the council (during the DCPS budget hearing) if DC has a black budget for creating new schools, I’d have to say that discussing stranded costs and associated fiscal drains of opening and closing schools is not exactly, um, popular in these parts.

But such costs are a real issue in DC for tens of thousands of kids and their schools—no matter how little political will there is in DC to account for (much less name!) those costs.

For instance, right now as the deputy mayor for education gets down to updating the master facilities plan, the closure rate of DC charter schools ranges from a low of 33% to a high of 40%.

The closure rate at DCPS is even higher: The deputy mayor for education’s February 2017 report on DCPS closures notes that since 1997 (a year after charter schools started here), 76 DCPS schools have closed—a closure rate of 41%.

Now, if you add those closed DCPS schools to the 38 charter schools closed since 1996, you get a total of 114 DC public schools closed, for an eye-popping closure rate of 57 public schools per decade–or 5 public schools closed every year on average in the last 20 years.

And here’s the kicker: we know school closures cost a lot of money.

So, in addition to not acknowledging those costs of school closures, no one in DC leadership readily acknowledges the emotional cost to children, parents, and staff of school closures. Particularly with neighborhood schools, those buildings are often the core of their communities, sources of pride, civic engagement, as well as shelter in distress.

And that’s not even talking about the longer, sometimes dangerous, commutes for children to avail themselves of the right–not chance or choice–to an equitable education in the wake of DCPS closures. Who is accounting for that cost to our kids and our neighborhoods?

And yet, even while closing a breathtaking 5 schools every year for two decades, DC’s creation of choice-only schools and seats outpaces our growth in living, breathing students to fill them.

That is, even as more than 10,000 public school seats are currently unfilled, more seats are created every year by the charter board. The current crop of proposed new charter schools would, if approved next week, add about 3000 new seats. And that is not counting the (thus far) sidelined proposals of DC Prep and KIPP DC to create almost 4000 other new seats. (See here on both from the April charter board meeting.)

Sadly, the costs entailed by such growth go well beyond unfilled seats:

In school year 1999-2000, DC had 185 public schools serving 74,800 students. In school year 2014-15, DC had 223 public schools serving 85,400 students.

Thus, over a decade and a half, with a gain of 10,600 public school students (14% growth), DC had 38 more public schools (20% growth). Each school created requires infrastructure and staffing, raising costs overall. The mismeasure between those numbers adds to those costs–and increases them further when stranded costs are taken into account.

(All data in my analysis here is from the DME’s 2017 report; the 21st Century School Fund; the NRC report on PERAA (also available here); and a report from the Progressive Policy Institute, in addition to the charter school applications.)

Right now, however, such growth is completely uncoupled from any notional idea of coordination and planning—even with the master facilities plan in the balance and the cross sector task force dedicating a working group to school facilities.

Instead, we as a city pretend that there is an unseen budget that covers all new schools such that we do not tie the approval, location, size, or function of those new schools to any budgetary considerations whatsoever—much less to the best fit for both our students’ needs as well as preserving their right to equitable public education in every neighborhood.

(Come to think of it: Maybe I should have asked the council how our city got so rich that it could be uncaring about where its money goes–and how my kids’ schools can get some of that apparently endless cash?)

So, while the city gears up for oral arguments in the lawsuit filed against the city by charter advocates for supposedly unfair charter school payments, our city leaders remain unwilling to even acknowledge the huge cost implications of school closures and openings—all the while making political hay (and more) about the increase (or lack thereof) in the per pupil funding formula.

All I want to know is:

Can we catch up to Philly, DC auditor Kathy Patterson, and do a study of the costs between our public school sectors?

The cash saved might ensure we won’t have to fight over a 2% increase ever again–something that all city leaders can get behind without fear.

Texas Decision Slams Value Added Measurements

And it does so for many of the reasons that I have been advocating. I am going to quote the entirety of Diane Ravitch’s column on this:


Audrey Amrein-Beardsley of Arizona State University is one of the nation’s most prominent scholars of teacher evaluation. She is especially critical of VAM (value-added measurement); she has studied TVAAS, EVAAS, and other similar metrics and found them deeply flawed. She has testified frequently in court cases as an expert witness.

In this post, she analyzes the court decision that blocks the use of VAM to evaluate teachers in Houston. The misuse of VAM was especially egregious in Houston, which terminated 221 teachers in one year, based on their VAM scores.

This is a very important article. Amrein-Beardsley and Jesse Rothstein of the University of California testified on behalf of the teachers; Tom Kane (who led the Gates’ Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Study) and John Friedman (of the notorious Chetty-Friedman-Rockoff study) testified on behalf of the district.

Amrein-Beardsley writes:

Of primary issue will be the following (as taken from Judge Smith’s Summary Judgment released yesterday): “Plaintiffs [will continue to] challenge the use of EVAAS under various aspects of the Fourteenth Amendment, including: (1) procedural due process, due to lack of sufficient information to meaningfully challenge terminations based on low EVAAS scores,” and given “due process is designed to foster government decision-making that is both fair and accurate.”

Related, and of most importance, as also taken directly from Judge Smith’s Summary, he wrote:

HISD’s value-added appraisal system poses a realistic threat to deprive plaintiffs of constitutionally protected property interests in employment.

HISD does not itself calculate the EVAAS score for any of its teachers. Instead, that task is delegated to its third party vendor, SAS. The scores are generated by complex algorithms, employing “sophisticated software and many layers of calculations.” SAS treats these algorithms and software as trade secrets, refusing to divulge them to either HISD or the teachers themselves. HISD has admitted that it does not itself verify or audit the EVAAS scores received from SAS, nor does it engage any contractor to do so. HISD further concedes that any effort by teachers to replicate their own scores, with the limited information available to them, will necessarily fail. This has been confirmed by plaintiffs’ expert, who was unable to replicate the scores despite being given far greater access to the underlying computer codes than is available to an individual teacher [emphasis added, as also related to a prior post about how SAS claimed that plaintiffs violated SAS’s protective order (protecting its trade secrets), that the court overruled, see here].

The EVAAS score might be erroneously calculated for any number of reasons, ranging from data-entry mistakes to glitches in the computer code itself. Algorithms are human creations, and subject to error like any other human endeavor. HISD has acknowledged that mistakes can occur in calculating a teacher’s EVAAS score; moreover, even when a mistake is found in a particular teacher’s score, it will not be promptly corrected. As HISD candidly explained in response to a frequently asked question, “Why can’t my value-added analysis be recalculated?”:

Once completed, any re-analysis can only occur at the system level. What this means is that if we change information for one teacher, we would have to re- run the analysis for the entire district, which has two effects: one, this would be very costly for the district, as the analysis itself would have to be paid for again; and two, this re-analysis has the potential to change all other teachers’ reports.

The remarkable thing about this passage is not simply that cost considerations trump accuracy in teacher evaluations, troubling as that might be. Of greater concern is the house-of-cards fragility of the EVAAS system, where the wrong score of a single teacher could alter the scores of every other teacher in the district. This interconnectivity means that the accuracy of one score hinges upon the accuracy of all. Thus, without access to data supporting all teacher scores, any teacher facing discharge for a low value-added score will necessarily be unable to verify that her own score is error-free.

HISD’s own discovery responses and witnesses concede that an HISD teacher is unable to verify or replicate his EVAAS score based on the limited information provided by HISD.

According to the unrebutted testimony of plaintiffs’ expert, without access to SAS’s proprietary information – the value-added equations, computer source codes, decision rules, and assumptions – EVAAS scores will remain a mysterious “black box,” impervious to challenge.

While conceding that a teacher’s EVAAS score cannot be independently verified, HISD argues that the Constitution does not require the ability to replicate EVAAS scores “down to the last decimal point.” But EVAAS scores are calculated to the second decimal place, so an error as small as one hundredth of a point could spell the difference between a positive or negative EVAAS effectiveness rating, with serious consequences for the affected teacher.

Hence, “When a public agency adopts a policy of making high stakes employment decisions based on secret algorithms incompatible with minimum due process, the proper remedy is to overturn the policy.”

Kleptocratic, Kakistocratic President Proposes to Enrich Himself and His Class With Targeted Tax Cuts

Supposedly, ‘everybody’ would get tax relief. Today’s NYT article says,

But the vast majority of benefits would accrue to the highest earners and largest holders of wealth, according to economists and analysts, accounting for a lopsided portion of the proposal’s costs.

“The only Americans who are very clear winners under the new system are the wealthiest,” said Edward D. Kleinbard, a law professor at the University of Southern California and former chief of staff of Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation, which estimates the revenue effects of tax proposals.

Repealing the estate tax, for example, would affect just 5,300 or so fortunes a year. For 2017, couples can shield up to $11 million of their estates from any taxation, leaving only the largest inheritances subject to taxation. Repealing the estate tax alone would cost an estimated $174.2 billion over a decade, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center said.

Reducing the rate on capital gains, noncorporate business taxes and those in the highest bracket, as well as repealing the alternative minimum tax, would also ease the burden on wealthier Americans. So would the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s 3.8 percent surtax on the investment income of high earners, put in place to subsidize health coverage for low-income Americans.

“These are all afflictions of the affluent,” Mr. Kleinbard said.

There is no way to know how the mathematics of the proposal would work, since the White House offered no cost estimates, no detail about which incomes would be taxed at what levels and no information about tax deductions or other breaks that might be eliminated to make up for the lost revenue.

You may recall that without the Alternative Minimum Tax, Trump would have paid no taxes at all during the one year for which his IRS Form 1099 was leaked.

By the way, a Kleptocracy is ‘government by the thieves’ and Kakistocracy is ‘government by the very worst elements’ or ‘government by the shitheads’.

Comparing Texas Charter and Public Schools

I am copying the entirety of this article. No comments needed from me. How about you? — GFB

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Game, Set, and Match—Texas SBOE Member Looks at the Numbers Comparing Charter and Traditional Schools

State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, has taken a look at the performance data of Texas charter schools and traditional public schools operated by independent school districts, and his findings give cold comfort to charter proponents. Here’s Ratliff’s report on those findings and his conclusions published July 13:

Every year the Texas Education Agency releases the “snapshot” of the prior school year’s academic and financial performance for ISD’s and charter schools. These are the facts from the 2012-13 school year (the most recently released report – released last week). Check them for yourself here: http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/snapshot.

Thomas Ratliff

I offer the following key comparisons between ISDs and charter schools:

Dropout and Graduation Rates:

  • ISDs had a dropout rate of 1.5%, charters had a 5.5% dropout rate
  • ISDs had a 4-year graduation rate of 91%, charters had a 60.6% rate
  • ISDs had a 5-year graduation rate of 92.9%, charters had a 70% rate

Academic Performance:

  • ISDs outperformed charters on 3 out of 5 STAAR tests (Math, Science, Social Studies)
  • ISDs matched charters on the other 2 out of 5 STAAR tests(Reading and Writing)
  • ISDs tested 64.5% for college admissions, charters tested 44.2%
  • ISDs average SAT score was 1422, charters average was 1412
  • ISDs average ACT score was 20.6, charters average was 19.7

Staff expenditures & allocation:

  • ISDs spent 57.4% on instructional expenses, charters spent 50.9%
  • ISDs spent 6% [on] central administrative expenses, charters spent 13%
  • ISDs had 3.8% of employees in central or campus administrative roles
  • Charters had 7.6% of employees in central or campus administrative roles

Teacher salary/experience/turnover and class size

  • ISDs average teacher salary was $49,917, charters average was $43,669
  • ISDs had 15.3 students per teacher, charters had 16.8
  • ISDs had 32.1% of teachers with less than 5 years experience
  • Charters had 75.2% of teachers with less than 5 years experience
  • 24% of ISD teachers had advanced degrees, charters had 17.4%
  • ISDs had a teacher turnover rate of 15.6%, charters had 36.7%

Conclusions

Keep in mind these are statewide numbers and admittedly, there are good and bad ISDs and there are good and bad charter schools. But, at the end of the day, we are talking about the state of Texas as a whole and over 5 million kids and their families.

Here are the conclusions I reach after studying the data and talking to experts, educators and people in my district and across Texas.

1) For at least the second year in a row, ISDs outperformed charter schools on dropout rates, state tests, graduation rates, and college entrance exams. If charters are supposed to be competing with ISDs, they are getting beaten in straight sets (to use a tennis analogy).

2) Charter schools spend more on central administrative expenses and less in the classroom, which leads to larger classes being taught by less experienced teachers.

3) Charter schools pay their teachers $6,248 less per year than ISDs. Many refer to competition from charter schools as a key factor to improving education. I do not see this “competition” helping teachers as some try to claim. The fact is, charters hire teachers with less experience and education to save money. This results in a high turnover rate. Over a third of teachers at charter schools leave when they get more experience or more education. Many times, they go work for a nearby ISD.

In conclusion, when you hear the unending and unsubstantiated rhetoric about “failing public schools” from those that support vouchers or other “competitive” school models, it is important to have the facts. ISDs aren’t perfect, but they graduate more kids, keep more kids from dropping out and get more kids career and college ready than their politically connected competitors. Any claims to the contrary just simply are not supported by the facts and at the end of the day facts matter because these lives matter.

Vouchers in Ohio Help Students Who REMAIN in Public School, and Harm Those Who Use the Vouchers to Attend Public Schools!

The Fordham Institute is one of the major backers of ‘choice’, vouchers, and charter schools — and of defunding public schools. So it’s quite a surprise when they publish a major study showing that students who use vouchers actually do WORSE than their peers who remain in the public schools.

You are probably thinking that I am joking or exaggerating.

No.

I will quote from the executive summary:

• EdChoice improved the achievement of the public school students who were eligible for the voucher but did not use it. …

• The students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools. The study finds negative effects that are greater in math than in English language arts. Such impacts also appear to persist over time, suggesting that the results are not driven simply by the setbacks that typically accompany any change of school.

Let us acknowledge that we did not expect—or, frankly, wish—to see these negative effects for voucher participants; but it’s important to report honestly on what the analysis showed and at least speculate on what may be causing these results.

It’s not so much that we have bad teachers (even tho they do exist): It’s an incoherent educational system that is at fault

Very interesting article in Atlantic by E.D. Hirsch on the problems facing American education. Among other things, he finds (as I do) that Value-Added Measurements are utterly unreliable and, indeed, preposterous. But most of all, he finds that the American educational system is extremely poorly run because its principal ideas lack any coherence at all.

Here are a couple of paragraphs:

The “quality” of a teacher doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Within the average American primary school, it is all but impossible for a superb teacher to be as effective as a merely average teacher is in the content-cumulative Japanese elementary school. For one thing, the American teacher has to deal with big discrepancies in student academic preparation while the Japanese teacher does not. In a system with a specific and coherent curriculum, the work of each teacher builds on the work of teachers who came before. The three Cs—cooperation, coherence, and cumulativeness—yield a bigger boost than the most brilliant efforts of teachers working individually against the odds within a system that lacks those qualities. A more coherent system makes teachers better individually and hugely better collectively.

American teachers (along with their students) are, in short, the tragic victims of inadequate theories. They are being blamed for the intellectual inadequacies behind the system in which they find themselves. The real problem is not teacher quality but idea quality. The difficulty lies not with the inherent abilities of teachers but with the theories that have watered down their training and created an intellectually chaotic school environment. The complaint that teachers do not know their subject matter would change almost overnight with a more specific curriculum with less evasion about what the subject matter of that curriculum ought to be. Then teachers could prepare themselves more effectively, and teacher training could ensure that teacher candidates have mastered the content they will be responsible for teaching.”

 

Low College Completion Rates even for students graduating from Charter Schools

I’d like to thank Jerry Becker for bringing this to my attention.
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And not just MesoAmerica!

This is important stuff! The roots of democracy run deep, and wide — ancient history was not all ruled by pharoahs, emperors, and gilded billionaires.

An article describes research I never heard of that shows that there was in fact quite a continuum from pure democracy to pure autarchy in past history — and if we look carefully at clues left behind in the archaelogical record, we can get an idea of how democratic (0r not) various ancient societies actually were.

I quote:

They come up with a scale of popular participation in government that runs from autocratic regimes to more collective or democratic regimes. In their causal model the internal or external origin of state revenues causes or determines the scores on the governance scale (see the diagram). In short, reliance on internal revenue sources leads to greater bureaucratization, greater popular control over rulers, and more provisioning of public goods. Rulers rely on their subjects for taxation, so they must treat them better. External revenue leads to the opposite pattern. Rulers get their revenue from elsewhere, so they have no incentive to treat their subjects well by providing public goods or giving them any say in governance.

Blanton & Fargher 2008: 254

Blanton and Fargher’s scale of rulership, which runs from autocratic to democratic or collective, is a major advance in understanding ancient states. Not all states were the same. Some rulers were despotic and seriously exploited their subjects, but other states had more collective forms of rule, which means that commoner subjects had some say in governance. They analyze the thirty polities in their sample on a host of variables, which are scored in various ways to produce three numerical scales: public goods provision; bureaucratization; and control of the ruler. The scores for these scales are summed to produce their governance scale, which runs from a low of 23.5 (Bakitara; Aceh, Nupe, and 12th century England are near the bottom) to a high of 52 (Classical Athens; also near the top: Republican Rome, Ming China and Lozi in Africa).

How Poorly Distributed Wealth is, is simply Mind-Blowing

I just looked it up: The total amount of wealth (after debts) of all US households, individuals, and non-profits is right now in the neighborhood of $100 TRILLION. (The WSJ said $85 trillion, two years ago). Yes, you read that right, not 100 million, not 100 billion, but a hundred trillion dollars.

Are you impressed? It gets better! — or, at least, it could.

If we could somehow wave a magic wand and divide all that wealth equally among all 125 million US million households (source here for that #) well, after you cross out all those zeroes (or subtract exponents), then each and every single household would NET just about eight hundred thousand dollars.

$800,000 bucks for every single household.

Think about that!

A very large fraction of the population is in fact basically penniless – or they owe way more than they can earn in a year. Or are one or two paychecks away from eviction, foreclosure, bankruptcy, the whole nine yards. And I’m pretty sure this includes the black and brown immigrants who are cleaning and constructing our buildings, fixing our roads, driving our cabs, taking care of gardens and babies, and let’s not forget, picking our vegetables and fruits and slaughtering our meat. Yes, them, too.

I know there are going to be plenty of complaints that the poor and the underserving don’t deserve this, and when you give money to the poor, it’s all spent on booze and drugs. Well, if you let money sit in the hands of the super-rich, they simply cannot spend it all – one of the first things I learned from a very conservative Dartmouth College economics professor nearly 50 years ago. How many houses or yachts or cars can a single hyper-wealthy household actually USE?

Poor folks, on the other hand, spend it all immediately, so it gets transferred to other businesses (car dealers, furniture stores, clothing stores, and grocery stores) almost as soon as it gets into their hands.

Obviously my mental magic trick is never going to happen – but it’s sure fun to think about!

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