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.

The Only Worse Possible Candidate for U.S. EdSec than Michelle Rhee was Betsy Devos. So, Devos it is.

Two really bad pieces of news:

  1. Betsy DeVos, a billionaire who pushes vouchers so that she can dismantle all public schools, has been named by His Orange Fraudulency to be the next US Secretary of Education. Because the only worse possible candidate for US EdSec would be Michelle Rhee, and apparently she was busy shining her coffin. The DeVos family got their billions by bilking thousands (millions?) of people who didn’t realize that Amway is really just a pyramid (or Ponzi) scheme. It makes perfect sense that a fraud like Trump would appoint someone like DeVos, who got her billions from fraud, as well. Teachers and public school students can look forward to very grim times. Read this the indefatigable and inimitable Peter Greene for more details.
  2. Apparently somewhere between 20% and 33% of American teachers actually voted for the fellow who will shaft them even worse than they have been shafted under Arne Duncan and Barack Obama.

An Immodest Proposal

If you look at the lingo used to justify all the horrendous crap being imposed by “Ed reform”, you’ll see that it’s all couched in lefty-liberal civil rights language. But its results are anything but. Very strange.

Q: Can you cite some examples?

GFB: Yes. From the TFA website:

“Everyone has a right to learn. But in our country today, the education you receive depends on where you live, what your parents earn, and the color of your skin.

“That’s a serious injustice. And in the national movement to right  our contribution is the leadership of remarkable people.

“Our people—diverse and passionate—start in low-income classrooms, where the stakes are highest. We help them become teachers who can dramatically expand students’ opportunities. But our teachers don’t just teach their students, they learn from them.

“They gain a better understanding of the problems and the opportunities in our education system and use those lessons to define their path forward. Many stay in the classroom. Others leave. Both paths matter because to set things right, we need leaders in all areas of education and social justice united in a vision that one day, all kids will have access to an excellent education.”

GFB: However, the way TFA works in practice is that the kids who need the most experienced, skillful teachers, instead get total newbies straight out of college with no teaching experience, no mentoring, and courses on how to teach whatever subject they are they are assigned to. Their five weeks of summer training are mostly rah-rah cheerleading and browbeating. Their only classroom experiences during that summer are a dozen or so hours teaching a handful of kids, **in a subject or grade level totally different from whatever they will be randomly assigned to**.

What underprivileged students do NOT need is an untrained newbie who won’t stick with them. If anything, this policy INCREASES the ‘achievement gap’.

Q: I’m sorry Guy, but none of this poses a solution. Paying the teachers more is not the answer. I know this because I would quit my engineering job in a heartbeat to teach. I honestly would. And I would do it for 1/4 the pay. But not under these  conditions. Not with “father education” telling me how to use fancy calculators to educate kids. Not when you take what I love about math and turn it into garbage. The paradigm sucks, independent of the lousy pay.

GFB: That’s yet another reason to oppose Michelle Rhee. She and her allies have figured out how to micromanage teaching down to the minute and to the very sentences teachers are required to read — from a script. Yes, she and Jason Kamras and Raj Chetty and the other billionaires friends have made it that teachers have no say whatsoever on content or methodology.

If they are not on the same page exactly, down to the minute, they can get marked down, harassed, suspended and fired.

Want to teach under those conditions for twice the pay? Me neither.

It’s not “Teach Like A Champion” as Doug Lemov puts it: it’s teach like a robot.

Q: Plus, their answer to teaching is to integrate technology. They think that if they use technology, everybody will be prepared for the “real world”. Unfortunately, the technology they use isn’t utilized in the real world. So…useless. Somebody needs to tell them this!

GFB:  That’s often true. However I think the teacher should be the one to judge how much technology to use and when. Occasionally we should show them really OLD technology like carving quill pens from turkey feathers, or making their own batteries from copper pennies and galvanized iron…

But you can’t do that with Value Added Measurements and rubrics testing whether you are on the Commin Core Crapiculum to the minute.

I wasn’t really giving THE or even A solution. I was objecting to the solution we are having imposed on us right now. If you want proposed solutions, here goes:

  1. Get people who don’t have actual, extensive teaching or research experience out of the command and control centers of education except as advisors.so, no Michelle Rhee, Andre Agassi, Arne Duncan, Billionaire Broad at the helm.
  2. For our poorer kids, make sure they have free, high quality wraparound services of every kind from the moment their mother notices she’s pregnant.
  3. So for example good well-qualified dentists, ophthalmologists, psychologists, general practitioners, and other doctors should come to each school and check eyes ears nose throat etc and give immunizations to every kid, no more than a single hour of class needs to be missed. If they get hurt on the playground or suddenly vomit in class, it’s really taken care of, right away.
  4. There should be all sorts of remedial help available for kids AS SOON AS help appears to be needed: eyesight, hearing, balance, coordination, mental math, memory improvement, spelling, reading, writing, walking, emotional difficulties, etc. (Right now, the provisions of ADA and IDEA are not funded, so school districts have an incentive to NOT diagnose those with deficiences or learning disabilities, because then they would have to take care of them. Charter schools for the most part just pretend that there are no IEPs.)
  5. Every kid gets a lot of ‘gross motor’ outdoor activities – not just team sports but also things like wilderness hikes, camping, horse care and riding, farming, boating. And music and drama and arts of all sorts – not just for the talented few, but everybody. Lots of after-school activities of these sorts.
  6. Teachers (and parents) should select their principals from among the ranks of the teachers. The principal should also teach, part-time.
  7. Teachers should have at least two years of education theory (and human psychology) and a full year and a half of student teaching, and at least a college major in their area, under experienced mentors. Teachers should be given help o0n how to defuse tense situations and child psychology, and should be chosen from the ranks of those showing
    1. academic promise and
    2. the ability to empathize and
    3. the ability to explain patiently and clearly.
  8. Classes should be much, much smaller. If 12:1 is good enough at Phillips Exeter Academy with their Harkness Tables, why not at Malcolm X ES in far Southeast Washington DC? And if it’s a hands on activity like a chemistry lab or using compasses & straightedges or making birdhouses, get an assistant or two so that it’s more like 3:1.
  9. Let the teachers wrangle over curriculum. State level is fine. County level is fine. School level is fine. To hell with these state-wide standardized tests and curricula, be they bubble type or click and drag.
  10. Actual hands-on vocational training that leads to actual jobs should be available to all who want it, and corporations must engage to hire those grads at decent rates of pay and with promises of additional training.
  11. State-college or  state-university higher education needs to be much, much cheaper. Student debt, like all other debt, should be dischargeable upon bankruptcy, and should be payoff able by many kinds of national service. (Exact provisions TBD, but teaching should definitely be one of those forms of national service. Payments and interest in limbo for the first X years, paid off at Y percent per year, fully paid off after Z years. Exact values of X, Y, Z are TBD.)
  12. Teachers should be paid well enough that they don’t need to get second jobs. Pay in DCPS is not the problem. Working conditions are the problem.
  13. I think that 3-4 hours of personal contact time with kids per day is enough. Planning for each class and heading papers can easily take 2x the amount of class time. So each paper turned in by a student should be returned the next day, marked intelligently.
  14. Since the bosses have their own organizations (NAM, Chamber of Commerce, ALEC, the Koch Brothers network, Council on Foreign Relations, the Cosmos Club, etc) so should the employees. Teachers’ unions should continue to exist but should be more democratic.
  15. Students should, in fact, be held responsible for their success or failure. It’s not all on the teacher, as it is now. Social promotion for a number of years is OK, many countries do it without bad effects, but there should be some sort of a test, I think, of all sorts: practical (eg drawing something, playing a musical piece, climbing a wall, drilling a hole, writing an essay, doing a proof, viewing something under the microscope, etc) as well as a pencil-and-paper or mouse-and-screen test of some sort. Not just arcane reading and math.
  16.  Those who don’t meet the mark should obviously be advised as to what their options are, and those options should be available and well-funded, whatever they might be.
  17. We should strike a balance between having kids go to their walk-to neighborhood schools and having truly integrated schools where each school has a mix of kids of all ethnic groups and incomes. How to do that, exactly , under our current mega-segregated urban patterns, is beyond me. The superhighways and redlinings of the last 80 years are not going to be overcome overnight, but having kids ride for hours to charter schools where there is no neighborhood connection – that’s not the answer.
  18. Anything I left out?

What A Joke DC Education Chancellor Kaya Henderson Was – City Paper

Very detailed article in the Washington City Paper showing how our recently-resigned Chancellor, Kaya Henderson, failed to do much of anything to narrow DC’s extremely-high gap between high-achieving and low-achieving students, even though she had oodles of money, complete control over resources, and the ability to fire teachers and administrators almost at will.

As I have shown repeatedly (see here, here, here, here, and here for starters. Or else here) DC has the widest gap of the entire USA between the scores of poor kids vs the non-poor, between white kids and black or hispanic kids, and between those in Special Ed and those who are not. This article shows how the Henderson and Rhee administrations failed to do pretty much anything to improve conditions at schools where there were large concentrations of ‘at risk’ kids, other than saying that by some miracle, they would improve scores by 40 percentage points at all of the schools where 40% of the kids were ‘at risk’.

(A quote from the article: ‘ “No school in the history of time has achieved such goals,” counters a D.C. Council staffer familiar with DCPS school reform. “On its face, the concept of this as a reachable goal was ridiculous.” ‘)

And of course, it never happened. No extra resources, and no miraculous gains.

But according to the article, Kaya has an excuse – just the sort of thing that she and Michelle Rhee used to berate actual, um, educators for saying:

‘ when Payne persisted with a question about Henderson’s “personal goal of closing achievement gaps,” the chancellor explained: “I am not exactly convinced that schools alone can close the achievement gap. I think about the fact that in Washington, D.C., we have the greatest income inequality in the country. That gap is only growing, and the fact that our achievement gap is growing in a similar way shouldn’t be baffling. But I think what we’ve learned is that equity is really more appropriate, giving different people different kinds of support…And for different groups and different kids that means different things.”

My friends and colleagues Elizabeth Davis and Mary Levy are quoted. It’s a long article, but well worth reading.

Judge in NY State Throws Out ‘Value-Added Model’ Ratings

I am pleased that in an important, precedent-setting case, a judge in New York State has ruled that using Value-Added measurements to judge the effectiveness of teachers is ‘arbitrary’ and ‘capricious’.

The case involved teacher Sheri Lederman, and was argued by her husband.

“New York Supreme Court Judge Roger McDonough said in his decision that he could not rule beyond the individual case of fourth-grade teacher Sheri G. Lederman because regulations around the evaluation system have been changed, but he said she had proved that the controversial method that King developed and administered in New York had provided her with an unfair evaluation. It is thought to be the first time a judge has made such a decision in a teacher evaluation case.”

In case you were unaware of it, VAM is a statistical black box used to predict how a hypothetical student is supposed to score on a Big Standardized Test one year based on the scores of every other student that year and in previous years. Any deviation (up or down) of that score is attributed to the teacher.

Gary Rubinstein and I have looked into how stable those VAM scores are in New York City, where we had actual scores to work with (leaked by the NYTimes and other newspapers). We found that they were inconsistent and unstable in the extreme! When you graph one year’s score versus next year’s score, we found that there was essentially no correlation at all, meaning that a teacher who is assigned the exact same grade level, in the same school, with very similar  students, can score high one year, low the next, and middling the third, or any combination of those. Very, very few teachers got scores that were consistent from year to year. Even teachers who taught two or more grade levels of the same subject (say, 7th and 8th grade math) had no consistency from one subject to the next. See my blog  (not all on NY City) herehere, here,  here, herehere, here, here,  herehere, and here. See Gary R’s six part series on his blog here, here, here, here, here, and here. As well as a less technical explanation here.

Mercedes Schneider has done similar research on teachers’ VAM scores in Louisiana and came up with the same sorts of results that Rubinstein and I did.

Which led all three of us to conclude that the entire VAM machinery was invalid.

And which is why the case of Ms. Lederman is so important. Similar cases have been filed in numerous states, but this is apparently the first one where a judgement has been reached.

(Also read this. and this.)

Billionaires and AstroTurf education groups

From quite a while ago (a draft that somehow never made it out into the world):

Mercedes Schneider has a long and detailed analysis of how billionaires fund fake AstroTurf organizations to promote their education agenda. Definitely worth reading. Thanks, Mercedes!
http://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/education-post-a-sorry-attempt-to-repackage-privatization-as-conversation/

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.

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?

 

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.

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