A Concise Primer on Privatization from Marion Brady

This is a concise primer, written by Marion Brady, on how the 1/100 of 1% have been privatizing our schools and getting away with it. -GFB

Advice column for pundits and politicians

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/01/07/a-primer-on-the-damaging-movement-to-privatize-public-schools/

Privatizing public schools: A primer for pundits and politicians

 

When, about thirty years ago, corporate interests began their highly organized, well-funded effort to privatize public education, you wouldn’t have read or heard about it. They didn’t want to trigger the debate that such a radical change in an important institution warranted.

If, like most pundits and politicians, you’ve supported that campaign, it’s likely you’ve been snookered. Here’s a quick overview of the snookering process.

 

The pitch

 

Talking Points: (a) Standardized testing proves America’s schools are poor. (b) Other countries are eating our lunch. (c) Teachers deserve most of the blame. (d) The lazy ones need to be forced out by performance evaluations. (e) The dumb ones need scripts to read or “canned standards” telling them exactly what to teach. (f) The experienced ones are too set in their ways to change and should be replaced by fresh Five-Week-Wonders from Teach for America. (Bonus: Replacing experienced teachers saves a ton of money.) (g) Public (“government”) schools are a step down the slippery slope to socialism.

 

Tactics

 

Education establishment resistance to privatization is inevitable, so (a) avoid it as long as possible by blurring the lines between “public” and “private.” (b) Push school choice, vouchers, tax write-offs, tax credits, school-business partnerships, profit-driven charter chains. (c) When resistance comes, crank up fear with the, “They’re eating our lunch!” message. (d) Contribute generously to all potential resisters—academic publications, professional organizations, unions, and school support groups such as PTA. (e) Create fake “think tanks,” give them impressive names, and have them do “research” supporting privatization. (f) Encourage investment in teacher-replacer technology—internet access, I-pads, virtual schooling, MOOCS, etc. (e) Pressure state legislators to make life easier for profit-seeking charter chains by taking approval decisions away from local boards and giving them to easier-to-lobby state-level bureaucrats. (g) Elect the “right” people at all levels of government. (When they’re campaigning, have them keep their privatizing agenda quiet.)

 

Weapon

 

If you’ll read the fine-print disclaimers on high-stakes standardized tests, you’ll see how grossly they’re being misused, but they’re the key to privatization. The general public, easily impressed by numbers and mathematical razzle-dazzle, believes competition is the key to quality, so want quality quantified even though it can’t be done. Machine-scored tests don’t measure quality. They rank.

It’s hard to rank unlike things so it’s necessary to standardize. That’s what the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) do. To get the job done quickly, Bill Gates picked up the tab, got the CCSS “legitimized” by getting important politicians to sign off on them, then handed them to teachers as a done deal.

The Standards make testing and ranking a cinch. They also make making billions a cinch. Manufacturers can use the same questions for every state that has adopted the Standards or facsimiles thereof.

If challenged, test fans often quote the late Dr. W. Edward Deming, the world-famous quality guru who showed Japanese companies how to build better stuff than anybody else. In his book, The New Economics, Deming wrote, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

Here’s the whole sentence as he wrote it: “It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it—a costly myth.”

 

Operating the weapon

 

What’s turned standardized testing into a privatizing juggernaut are pass-fail “cut scores” set by politicians. Saying kids need to be challenged, they set the cut score high enough to fail many (sometimes most) kids. When the scores are published, they point to the high failure rate to “prove” public schools can’t do the job and should be closed or privatized. Clever, huh?

The privatizing machinery is in place. Left alone, it’ll gradually privatize most, but not all, public schools. Those that serve the poorest, the sickest, the handicapped, the most troubled, the most expensive to educate—those will stay in what’s left of the public schools.

 

Weapon malfunction

 

Look at standardized tests from kids’ perspective. Test items (a) measure recall of secondhand, standardized, delivered information, or (b) require a skill to be demonstrated, or (c) reward an ability to second-guess whoever wrote the test item. Because kids didn’t ask for the information, because the skill they’re being asked to demonstrate rarely has immediate practical use, and because they don’t give a tinker’s dam what the test-item writer thinks, they have zero emotional investment in what’s being tested.

As every real teacher knows, no emotional involvement means no real learning. Period. What makes standardized testslook like they work is learner emotion, but it’s emotion that doesn’t have anything to do with learning. The ovals get penciled in to avoid trouble, to please somebody, to get a grade, or to jump through a bureaucratic hoop to be eligible to jump through another bureaucratic hoop. When the pencil is laid down, what’s tested, having no perceived value, automatically erases from memory.

 

Before you write…

 

If you want to avoid cranking out the usual amateurish drivel about standardized testing that appears in the op-eds, editorials, and syndicated columns of the mainstream media, ask yourself a few questions about the testing craze: (a) Should life-altering decisions hinge on the scores of commercially produced tests not open to public inspection? (b) How wise is it to only teach what machines can measure? (c) How fair is it to base any part of teacher pay on scores from tests that can’t evaluate complex thought? (d) Are tests that have no “success in life” predictive power worth the damage they’re doing?

Here’s a longer list of problems you should think about before you write.

 

Perspective

America’s schools have always struggled—an inevitable consequence, first, of a decision in 1893 to narrow and standardize the high school curriculum and emphasize college prep; second, from a powerful strain of individualism in our national character that eats away support for public institutions; third, from a really sorry system of institutional organization. Politicians, not educators, make education policy, basing it on the simplistic conventional wisdom that educating means “delivering information.”

In fact, educating is the most complex and difficult of all professions. Done right, teaching is an attempt to help the young align their beliefs, values, and assumptions more closely with what’s true and real, escape the bonds of ethnocentrism, explore the wonders and potential of humanness, and become skilled at using thought processes that make it possible to realize those aims.

Historically, out of the institution’s dysfunctional organizational design came schools with lots of problems, but with one redeeming virtue. They were “loose.” Teachers had enough autonomy to do their thing. So they did, and the kids that some of them coached brought America far more than its share of patents, scholarly papers, scientific advances, international awards, and honors.

Notwithstanding their serious problems, America’s public schools were once the envy of the world. Now, educators around that world shake their heads in disbelief (or maybe cheer?) as we spend billions of dollars to standardize what once made America great—un-standardized thought.

A salvage operation is still (barely) possible, but not if politicians, prodded by pundits, continue to do what they’ve thus far steadfastly refused to do—listen to people who’ve actually worked with real students in real classrooms, and did so long enough and thoughtfully enough to know something about teaching.

 

Note: I invite response, especially from those in positions of influence or authority who disagree with me.

Marion Brady mbrady2222@gmail.com

View this on Basecamp

My Panel Discussion: Has Ed Rhee-form in DC Been A Success?

Recently I chaired a televised panel discussion on the legacy of eliminating democratic local control over public education in Washington, DC and turning it over to the mayor and his/her chancellor. We looked at the National Academies report on the results of that major change, and found that the results were rather dismaying.

The other panelists were, in alphabetical order,

  • Thomas Byrd, long time education and civil rights activist and host of We Act Radio Town Hall;
  • Adell Cothorne, former DCPS principal and a current adjunct professor  (see here for a bit of background on her bravery);
  • Elizabeth Davis, veteran and award-winning DCPS teacher, currently head of the Washington Teachers’ Union;
  • Denisha Jones, assistant professor at Howard University’s school of education;
  • Mary Levy, an independent analyst of education finance and policy.

The show aired several times on DC Channel 8 is airing on www.dctv.org or DCTV (Comcast channels 95 & 96, RCN channels 10 & 11, Verizon FiOS 10, 11, & 28).

You can view it on YouTube at the link I gave you above or else here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VyrdXO-1Ev8&feature=youtu.be

Watching the hour-long discussion will give you an opportunity to hear some people who have been laboring in the trenches to try to improve public education in Washington, DC, and who have been ignored, or opposed, or worse by the powers that have run DC public education for a long, long time.

Many thanks to Willie Brewer for organizing this and helping with the filming and production, and to my guests for tolerating my very first attempt at leading this sort of panel discussion. I think all of the panelists did a great job. Let me point out that two of them (Mary Levy and Thomas Byrd) were specifically thanked by the authors of the report (on page ix) for being among the 13 official reviewers thereof. Thus, they know what they are talking about.

If you actually read the text of the National Academies report on the results of what is often called educational Rhee-form in Washington, DC, you will find over and over again language indicating that the data was simply unavailable to the reviewers, which is sad, considering that Michelle Rhee, our first Chancellor, said that she was always driven by data. Also: after many, many millions of dollars were spent on devising new accountability schemes for teachers, driving many of them to retire early, and turning the education of 45% of the students in DC over to charter schools (dozens of which have failed and closed), there has been no improvement in closing the gap between affluent white students and their less-affluent black and brown peers.

PS: (12-25-15) I gave the wrong channel before, and I thank Willie Brewer for notifying me. Also, I was told that the Youtube link for some reason was ‘private’; I hope it has now been fixed. Please let me know if you can or cannot see it.

Valerie Jablow: Waste and Attrition in DC

Valerie Jablow is a parent on Capitol Hill (DC) and has a blog (EducationDC) where she delves into factual stuff – like the actual statistics concerning numbers of children in DC, in DCPS, and in the DC charter schools; as well as wasteful spending by the Mayor and DC City Council.

Here are some recent posts by her that she brought to my attention. I recommend reading them and taking some action. I also add what she wrote:

[Jablow] “posted a follow-up blog yesterday to Suzanne Wells’s great blog post about 4th to 5th grade attrition at Capitol Hill DCPS schools—and how that attrition is related to the recent PARCC scores. 
 .
[Jablow’s] blog post is available here:
 .
 .
Suzanne’s blog post from September is here:
 
Also related to Capitol Hill and education issues are two other recent blog posts:
http://educationdc.net/2015/12/01/parcc-and-the-elsewhere-schools/
 .
http://educationdc.net/2015/11/20/stuff-we-spend-our-city-money-on/

Even the Chancellor Calls the Results ‘Sobering’

The Washington City Paper has an article on the PARCC results with way more graphs and charts than I do, and they quote even Chancellor Kaya Henderson as saying the results were ‘sobering’.

Please remind me why she still has a job?

She and several other speakers said that the PARCC results were more ‘honest’ than the old DC-CAS results, probably because the new ‘passing’ scores are lower than the old ones. I guess that means that it’s more ‘honest’ to say that students are doing worse than we were previously led to believe, under the current regime of all-testing-all-the-time and turn-half-the-students-over-to-unregulated charters?

 

PARCC Results Released in DC

I just got back from watching the public release of the results of the PARCC test that students in Washington DC took about 7 months ago.

(Let that sink in: it took the testing company, and their consultants, and the city’s consultants, over HALF A YEAR to massage the data into a releasable form. So much for having these tests be able to be used to ‘inform instruction’ or help teachers figure out what kind of help their students need. It’s now the last day of November, and the students have been in school since August. What kind of help is that to teachers or parents? And tho I haven’t looked at the released school scores or samples of what the teachers will see, I’m not optimistic. If the past is any guide, the scores themselves will be essentially useless as well…)

(It won’t take so long next time, we were assured…)

I got to see Mayor Bowser, Councilman Grosso, Chancellor Kaya Henderson, [powerless] Superintendent Hanseul Kang, and Deputy Mayor for Education Jenny Niles, and charter honcho Scott Pearson perform and answer some mostly-lame questions from some members of the media.

What we saw were that advanced students in DC (largely white ones) do exceedingly well on this PARCC battery of tests, and that others (blacks; hispanics; SPEDs; students on free or reduced lunch; ELLs; or Students At Risk) do much worse. Which of course is  the very same result we’ve seen on the NAEP for a couple of decades.

In fact, of all the cities and states measured on the NAEP, Washington DC has the very widest gaps in test scores between the Upper Caucasia Haves and the Have-Nots everywhere else, and those gaps are if anything getting wider.

It was interesting to hear Henderson’s defenses of the results, which still showed very low percentages of most students “passing” the PARCC. She said, among other things, that

(1) since students at the lower grades generally scored higher than those at the upper grades, that show’s we are on the right path [seems to me it shows the exact opposite; the longer that students have been exposed to “Reform”, the worse they do… and

(2) It takes a long time, you can’t just expect to turn a switch and have everything be wonderful overnight, we need lots of wrap-around services and a longer school day and school year and support for teachers.

Regarding the latter excuse: isn’t that exactly what teachers were condemned for saying under Chancellor Rhee, whose understudy was none other than Kaya Henderson? Didn’t Rhee imply that the only reason that poor students did poorly in school was that their greedy, lazy teachers, empowered by their evil union, refused to teach them anything? And that anybody who said that it’s a lot harder to teach impoverished students of color with chaotic families (if any) than it is to teach middle-class children with educated parents – why those people were just making excuses for poverty?

 

Revised HS PARCC ‘pass’ rates in English and Math in DC public and charter schools

My original graphs on the ‘pass’ rates for all DC publicly-funded high schools were incomplete, because I was using OSSE data only (Office of the State Superintendent of Education). A reader showed me where the DC charter school board (DC PCSB) posted their PARCC statistics and that gave me the pass rates for a couple of additional schools (Maya Angelou and BASIS IIRC). So here are the revised graphs which you can click on to enlarge:

2015 Math PARCC 'pass' rates, both public and charter schools in DC

2015 Math PARCC ‘pass’ rates, both public and charter schools in DC

2015 'pass' rates, public and charter high school math, PARCC, DC, 2015

2015 ‘pass’ rates, public and charter high school math, PARCC, DC, 2015

Note how many fewer students passed the PARCC math test than the reading test in DC. I haven’t yet seen any of the actual questions on either of the tests. But if these were tests that I had written and was using as a teacher with my students, I would likely conclude that the one with the much-lower scores was simply a much harder test, and I would probably do one of the following:

(A) “scale” the scores so that more students would pass, or else

(B) throw out the test results and try teaching with a different approach altogether, or else

(C) throw out the test and make one that at least a majority of students could pass if they’ve been paying attention.

{At my last school, if f I failed 80 to 90% of my students, I would have gotten an unsatisfactory evaluation and probably have gotten fired.}

Of course, this being the era when multi-billionaires who hate the very idea of public schools are in charge of said public schools, neither A, B or C will happen. In fact, my understanding is that the ‘cut’ scores for each of the categories of grades (meets expectations and so on) were set AFTER the students took the test, not in advance. So it was very much a politico-social decision that the vast majority of students were SUPPOSED to fail the math test.

Let me note strongly that by far the most effective way to have really good test scores for your school is to let in ONLY students who already get strong test scores. That’s how Phillips Exeter or Andover Academies or Riverdale or Sidwell Friends or or the Chicago Lab or Lakeside private schools do it, and that’s how Banneker, School Without Walls, Washington Latin, and BASIS do it. (Partial disclosure: I and some of my immediate family either went to, or worked at, some of those schools.) Teachers who are successful at those elite schools have a MUCH easier time teaching those students than do those who try to teach at school with large numbers of at-risk students, like Washington Metropolitan, Ballou, Cardozo, Maya Angelou, or Options public or charter schools. Idealistic teachers from elite schools who do transfer to tough inner-city public schools generally crash and burn, and I would predict that one of the easiest ways to lose your teaching job these days is to volunteer to teach at any one of the five latter schools.

Where DC is #1 on the NAEP

Of all the states and territories tested on the 2015 NAEP, there is one place where DC is Number ONE!

Unfortunately, it’s not a good #1.

We have, by far, the largest gaps between percentages of white and black students who are deemed ‘proficient’ or better. On every single test (8th grade, 4th grade, reading and math).

DC also the largest gaps between percentages of white and hispanic students – on every single test.

Our DC gaps are at least double the national gaps. And that’s not good. In fact, the gaps are anywhere between double and two-and-a-half times as large as the gaps nationally or the median of all states, as you see here:

gaps b-w and w-h

Kaya Henderson and Michelle Rhee really have some tremendous accomplishments, don’t they?

————

These scores, by the way, are for a carefully-selected sample of ALL students in Washington, DC – public, charters, private, and parochial. Rhee and Henderson and the various DC mayors have been in total control of all public and charter schools since 2007, with a school board that has exactly zero power and a teachers’ union that has lost almost any power to do anything meaningful to support teachers. And we have a teaching and supervisory force that is either brand-new (hired by Rhee or Henderson or by the heads of the many charter schools) or has passed all of the extremely difficult evaluations not once, but many times.

Trends on the NAEP give a clue as to why Arne Duncan quit

Seeing the rather large drop on the NAEP scores for students across the nation – results released at midnight last night – gives me the idea that Arne Duncan (secretary of education for the past 7 years) quit rather than face the blame for his failed policies. After all, he (and the rest of the billionaire deformer class) have been promising that if you open tons of unregulated charter schools, use numerology to fire many of the remaining veteran teachers, and make education into little more than test prep for all students of color or those who come from poor families, then the test results will improve.

Well, they didn’t improve.

I will let you see for yourself how the percentages of students deemed ‘proficient’ in 4th grade and 8th grade on the NAEP at the national level generally dropped. I include DC (where I come from), and in five other states – two that are high-performing (NH and Massachusetts) and three that are low-performing (CA, AL and NM).

The one bright spot for District residents is that DC is no longer the last in the nation in every category! DC students now have slightly higher percentages proficient in certain categories than two other impoverished states – New Mexico and Alabama, as you can see in the graphs below. (The graph for the District of Columbia is the light blue one at the bottom,)

On the other hand, the increases in percentages of students ‘proficient’ in DC since 2008, the first year after mayoral control was imposed and the elected school board was neutralized, are nothing but a continuation of previous trends.

As usual, if you want to take a closer look, click on the graphs.

% Proficient in 4th Grade Math: DC, Nation, MA, CA, NH, NM, AL through 2015

% Proficient in 4th Grade Math: DC, Nation, MA, CA, NH, NM, AL through 2015

Percentage 'Proficient' or Above on 4th grade NAEP reading through 2015, DC, Nation, AL, CA, MA, NH, NM

Percentage ‘Proficient’ or Above on 4th grade NAEP reading through 2015, DC, Nation, AL, CA, MA, NH, NM

8th grade math NAEP

8th grade math NAEP

8th grade reading

8th grade reading

How the various DC publicly-funded high schools (charter and regular public) did on the PARCC in reading/ELA and Geometry

I present a couple of graphs so that interested DC locals can see how the students at the various public and charter schools did on the PARCC test this past spring in reading/ELA and in Geometry.

Not all schools are listed, because quite a few did not have enough students taking the test. At least 25 student were needed for their scores to be reported. If the school does not have a bar next to the name, that means that nobody at that school got a 4 or a 5. As usual, you can click on the graph to make it larger. I color-coded the bars: blue for regular DCPS and orangey-yellow for the charter schools.

ELA pass rates - all DC public and charter schools

Geometry Pass rates - all DC public and charter high schools

For the sake of completeness, the following schools did not have at least 25 students taking the ELA test, so no score was reported:

  • Ballou STAY
  • Basis DC PCS
  • Incarcerated Youth Program, Correctional Detention Facility
  • Luke Moore Alternative HS
  • Maya Angelou Academy at New Beginnings (formerly Oak Hill)
  • Options PCS*
  • Roosevelt STAY at MacFarland
  • SEED PCS of Washington DC
  • Washington Metropolitan HS

And the following schools had less than 25 students taking the math test, so no score was reported for the school:

  • Ballou STAY
  • BASIS DC PCS
  • Cesar Chavez PCS for Public Policy-Chavez Prep
  • Incarcerated Youth Program, Correctional Detention Facility
  • Maya Angelou Academy at New Beginnings (formerly Oak Hill)
  • Options PCS*
  • Roosevelt STAY at MacFarland
  • Washington Metropolitan HS

Surprising Comparison of Charter and Regular Public School ‘Pass’ Rates on the HS PARCC

I was actually rather surprised to see that significantly larger percentages of regular DC public school students ‘passed’ the PARCC in both math and in reading than did DC charter school students.

If you don’t believe me, look for yourself at the OSSE press release.

What it says is that in the DC charter schools, 23% of the students ‘passed’ (got a 4 or a 5) on the English portion, whereas in the regular DC public schools, 27% ‘passed’.

And in math, they claim that only 7% of the charter school students ‘passed’, but 12% of the regular DC public school students passed.

Are you surprised, too?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 463 other followers

%d bloggers like this: