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.

24 Excellent Questions That Mostly Are NOT Being Asked By the Media 

But are posed by Andrew Bacevich…

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/05/andrew-bacevich-obsessing-trump-causes-us-miss.html

Thanks to Steven Ruis for pointing this out.

BTW, here are a few of those questions:

2. American military supremacy: The United States military is undoubtedly the world’s finest.  It’s also far and away the most generously funded, with policymakers offering U.S. troops no shortage of opportunities to practice their craft.  So why doesn’t this great military ever win anything?  Or put another way, why in recent decades have those forces been unable to accomplish Washington’s stated wartime objectives?  Why has the now 15-year-old war on terror failed to result in even a single real success anywhere in the Greater Middle East?  Could it be that we’ve taken the wrong approach?  What should we be doing differently?

3. America’s empire of bases: The U.S. military today garrisons the planet in a fashion without historical precedent.  Successive administrations, regardless of party, justify and perpetuate this policy by insisting that positioning U.S. forces in distant lands fosters peace, stability, and security.  In the present century, however, perpetuating this practice has visibly had the opposite effect.  In the eyes of many of those called upon to “host” American bases, the permanent presence of such forces smacks of occupation.  They resist.  Why should U.S. policymakers expect otherwise?

4. Supporting the troops: In present-day America, expressing reverence for those who serve in uniform is something akin to a religious obligation.  Everyone professes to cherish America’s “warriors.”  Yet such bountiful, if superficial, expressions of regard camouflage a growing gap between those who serve and those who applaud from the sidelines. Our present-day military system, based on the misnamed All-Volunteer Force, is neither democratic nor effective.  Why has discussion and debate about its deficiencies not found a place among the nation’s political priorities? 

5. Prerogatives of the commander-in-chief: Are there any military actions that the president of the United States may not order on his own authority?  If so, what are they?  Bit by bit, decade by decade, Congress has abdicated its assigned role in authorizing war. Today, it merely rubberstamps what presidents decide to do (or simply stays mum).  Who does this deference to an imperial presidency benefit?  Have U.S. policies thereby become more prudent, enlightened, and successful?

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’.

US Cruise Missiles Hit Syrian Air Base

Conclusion of a NYT information article on last night’s strikes: “The decision to launch an attack was a major reversal for Mr. Trump, who criticized former President Barack Obama in 2013 for considering strikes against Syria after a previous chemical attack.” 
There is no side with clean hands there that I know of – not even the far-left Kurdish groups. (I understand that the latter groups are quite happy with the American support that they receive. Who knows how long that will last?)
An engineer I know from Lebanon said that she didn’t really understand why groups were fighting to overthrow Assad in the first place — after all, education and medical care in Syria (up to the start of the civil war) were free and quite good.
No American newspaper or media agency of any sort that I know of has reporters on all sides of the various front lines; most don’t have a single reporter anywhere inside Iraq. We know from the first and second Gulf wars against Iraq that embedding reporters with any one side necessarily means that the information that comes out from those reporters will be slanted towards that side — or else the reporter is declared persona non grata or worse (arrested, tortured, deported, or even murdered). Let us remember that being an honest reporter can be very, very dangerous. If correspondent tells the truth and it hurts somebody, repercussions can be quite severe. To be called an ‘enemy of the people’ and ‘the most dishonest people ever’ by the politician who has told more bald-faced lies than any other figure I can think of in American history, is threatening.
One thing I like about this map – from IS Janes  via the NYT – is that the colors are much better than usual, so you can see who controls what territory.
syria

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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How ‘Zero-Tolerance’ Policies Harm All Students

See:

Image result

The author, Derek Black told Jennifer Berkshire that “…some of the charter schools you’re referencing actually take it to one more level. They say ‘you don’t think we can? Just watch us. We’re going to have suspension and expulsion rates higher than anything you’ve ever seen before.’

“I think the difference between the charter system and the public system, which is really what my book is about, is that the public system doesn’t really get rid of its students; they come back. The charter school doesn’t have the responsibility of serving the community and all of its children, so that what it’s trying to do is sort of slash and burn.

“I suppose that one can slash and burn all of the low achievers and the troublemakers until there is no one left. It’s not that they’ve made the students who are left perform better, but that they’ve lopped off their low performers.”

What have those godless anti-American libtards done for me anyway?

(Copied from elsewhere; author unknown but reprinted with thanks to whoever it was. Also thanks to my friend Kathryn Wadsworth who put this out on FB!)

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF JOE REPUBLICAN AMERICAN

Joe gets up at 6 a.m. and fills his coffeepot with water to prepare his morning coffee. The water is clean and good because some tree-hugging liberal fought for minimum water-quality standards. With his first swallow of coffee, he takes his daily medication. His medications are safe to take because some stupid commie liberal fought to insure their safety and that they work as advertised.

All but $10 of his medications are paid for by his employer’s medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance – now Joe gets it too. He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs. Joe’s bacon is safe to eat because some girly-man liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.

In the morning shower, Joe reaches for his shampoo. His bottle is properly labeled with each ingredient and its amount in the total contents because some crybaby liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and how much it contained. Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some environmentalist wacko liberal fought for laws to stop industries from polluting our air. He walks to the subway station for his government-subsidized ride to work. It saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees because some fancy-pants liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor.

Joe begins his work day. He has a good job with excellent pay, medical benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some lazy liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joes employer pays these standards because Joe’s employer doesn’t want his employees to call the union.

If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed, he’ll get a worker compensation or unemployment check because some stupid liberal didn’t think he should lose his home because of his temporary misfortune.

It’s noontime and Joe needs to make a bank deposit so he can pay some bills. Joe’s deposit is federally insured by the FSLIC because some godless liberal wanted to protect Joe’s money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system before the Great Depression.

Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae-underwritten mortgage and his below-market federal student loan because some elitist liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his lifetime.

Joe is home from work. He plans to visit his father this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive. His car is among the safest in the world because some America-hating liberal fought for car safety standards. He arrives at his boyhood home. His was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmers’ Home Administration because bankers didn’t want to make rural loans. The house didn’t have electricity until some big-government liberal stuck his nose where it didn’t belong and demanded rural electrification.

He is happy to see his father, who is now retired. His father lives on Social Security and a union pension because some wine-drinking, cheese-eating liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn’t have to.

Joe gets back in his car for the ride home, and turns on a radio talk show. The radio host keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. He doesn’t mention that the beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day.

Joe agrees: “We don’t need those big-government liberals ruining our lives! After all, I’m a self-made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have.”

Gleanings from the Alternative Fact-World of Betsy ‘Checkbook’ DeVos

Your first installment from the pearls of wisdom from the perennial purchaser of politicians, Betsy ‘Checkbook’ DeVos:

devos-on-alpha-beta-schools

(source: Washington Post, the Parent-Herald and several of my Facebook friends and former colleagues)

Maybe we should look at the actual graduation rates for DC public and charter schools, courtesy of the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education, or OSSE:

Here are the official 4-year graduation rates for 2016:

hs-graduation-rates

hs-graduation-rates-part-2

 

I highlighted some of the schools. The pink ones are the five DC charter high schools where the graduation rate is decidedly BELOW 70%. The orange ones are the ten (10) regular DCPS high schools where the graduation rate is decidedly ABOVE 70%.

(This is not counting two DC charter schools that closed for extremely low performance or for wide-spread theft by their founders.)

(Full disclosure: my own children graduated from Banneker and School Without Walls some years ago. Notice what the graduation rates are from those two schools.)

Also, notice that the overall graduation rates from the regular public high schools in DC (69.0%) and from the DC charter school sector (72.9%) are not all that different. And that’s even though the charter schools can and do push out students to the regular public schools. This is also despite the fact that to get into a charter school, students have to have parents or guardians who can navigate the application process — and we have a lot of students here in DC where the parents are ‘MIA’.

I will also let you look at the official four-year graduation rates by the various subgroups (by gender, ethnicity, and so on). Once again, you will not see the huge disparities claimed by Billionaire Betsy between graduation rates in the regular DC public schools and in the charter schools. [There is one large disparity: the number of white, Asian, or multi-racial students in the DC charter high schools is tiny; they are almost all in the regular DC public schools!]

grad-rates-dc-pub-and-charters-by-subgroups

 

So, I guess we can expect lots more ‘alternative facts’ from Billionaire Betsy, just like we have gotten used to seeing them coming from Marmalade Mussolini, aka #45.

 

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