I received an apology

Week before last I tried to attend the Data Quality Campaign’s National Summit here at a hotel in DC, but was made to leave by hotel security. (I had literature on the quality of educational data, and gave some out to other registered guests.)

I later wrote to the leadership of DQC asking them either to apologize or to clarify that indeed I deserved to be put out.

They wrote back saying it was a mistake in communication between the DQC, the conference vendor itself, and hotel security; they assured me that I am always welcome at DQC events.

I will let you read the exchange of email letters between myself and Elizabeth Laird.

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My letter first:

Dear DQC Staffers, 

I am writing to ask you for either a clarification or an apology about an incident last week that involved me and some subset of your organization, the Data Quality Campaign.

As you may know, on 1-18-2012 I was ejected from DC hotel where the DQC was holding a summit on educational data quality. If you were unaware of this, it was reported by Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/retired-dc-teacher-says-he-was-thrown-out-of-ed-data-summit/2012/01/18/gIQAldgY9P_blog.html (or http://wapo.st/yfit25 ) and by myself on my own blog at https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/so-much-for-freedom-of-speech/ and https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/read-the-leaflet-that-the-data-quality-campaign-funded-by-gates-got-thrown-out-of-a-hotel-for/
( or at http://bit.ly/xm32q4 and http://bit.ly/xA2ZwD ) .

Here is my question: was this was a local DQC conference staffer being overzealous and committing a mistake, or is it indeed DQC policy that Guy Brandenburg is persona non grata at any of its events, no matter what he does?

I was told quite clearly by hotel security that the DQC conference leadership had specifically stated that I not be permitted to enter the Summit conference hall outside which I was quietly standing and contemplating what to do. They clarified that I could not remain in the hotel unless I rented one of the hotel rooms. It didn’t matter if I got rid of any printed material or leaflets I might have, and it made no difference that I had registered (and pre-registered online)
for the convention.

The topic of this conference was improving data quality regarding education. It is clear from your website and printed materials that you have done a lot of work in creating a national series of data pipelines. Some of the work I see appears to be quite laudable, or it would be if it were part of a well though-out whole. But as a retired 30-year veteran public school mathematics teacher who has administered many a standardized test, I have come across a lot of data. I have yet
to see a standardized test that really gives important information about things that teachers really need to consider: How can we get our children and our students to be more kind, brave, helpful, inquisitive, and inventive? Instead, it seems like the constant emphasis on test prep and test administration and test analysis in the schools is driving out all the good and fun aspects of school, replacing them with the type of dross and slag that I also hated when I was young.

What’s more, I am alarmed by the way that defective data is being used by folks with pre-existing agendas to promote already-agreed-upon but divisive and dubious goals, through needlessly complicated statistical manipulations that may or may not have any relationship to the real world. John Ewing of the American Mathematical Society and Math for
America has called it “mathematical intimidation”. I could point out that classical mathematical studies of voting have shown that there are many instances in which identical data can produce antithetical outcomes, depending on the algorithm that is used to count and weight the data. Remember the 2000 Florida elections? Different counting methods would have produced different outcomes, producing different presidents. We also have seen many publicized,   documented, and wide-spread incidents of flat-out cheating and fraud on NCLB tests, producing illegitimate winners and undeserving losers. Unfortunately, I see no evidence in the DQC literature or website that you guys appear to have any awareness of the dangers of fraud, misrepresentation, cheating, or misuse of statistics. A search of your entire website produced not a single hit for any of these terms: fraud, dishonest, erase, erasure, erasing, forensic [ as in analyzing answer sheets forensically in order to detect cheating or fraud]. 

There was only ONE hit for “cheat’ – and it led to a page discussing the theft of social security numbers, but I saw nothing anywhere acknowledging that there have been widespread erasures of incorrect student answers, leading to promotions and cash bonuses for some and firings for others. Don’t you guys even read books like Freakonomics by Dubner and Levitt, or How To Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff? Since I wasn’t allowed to attend, I don’t know how many of my concerns were addressed by audience members or speakers. I heard that you even screened the questions, not allowing those you didn’t like. 

But back to my request.

It appears to me that you have three logical choices:

(1)     Do you folks want to affirm that no, we don’t want anybody like you (GFB) to raise such concerns about accuracy and honesty in data, as well as concerns about whether these models really represent the real world; we do not want to consider them at all, and shame on you (GFB) for being so disruptive as to even raise the issue on a leaflet or position paper of some sort? And, to be precise, no, you  (GFB) were definitely NOT to be permitted to attend the conference or even remain in the hotel, even if you (GFB) put away the leaflets?

Or

(2)     Or would you prefer to lay the blame for my expulsion at the feet of one of your DQC underlings or security personnel who misunderstood official intentions, so that this is just a simple mix-up; that I (GFB) am perfectly welcome to come to any of our events and help contribute and work on stuff for free, please accept our apologies? 

Or

(3)     Or was I ejected because I had on the wrong color suit, tie, and shoes? (If that’s the case, my feelings will really be hurt.)

I’ll be sending these letters electronically and by registered mail to all the other DQC board members I can find addresses for, and to members of the press and other friends and bloggers. If I don’t get any response at all from anybody on your board, then a logical conclusion is that you are engaging in a silent, passive-aggressive form of answer number one. You hope that I and all the other critics of your RTTT/NCLB/Education-by-numbers movement will disappear and go away.

Sincerely,

Guy F. Brandenburg

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Here is the response that I received:

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Dear Mr. Brandenburg,

Thank you for your email. We are indeed very sorry about what occurred. As I shared in response to the inquiry from the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss last week, here’s what happened:

Although the event management firm with which we contracted to support this event did ask Mr. Brandenburg to stop handing out the pamphlets at the entrance of the meeting room, he was invited to place his materials on the resource table and enter the meeting room.  When he refused to stop distributing his flyers at the entrance of the meeting room, hotel security spoke with him separately. Neither DQC staff nor our event management staff were privy to his conversation with security, and DQC staff never interacted directly with Mr. Brandenburg.  We would have welcomed him to participate in the open dialogue we had during the event like many other participants did during the Q&A sessions. In fact, one of the speakers at the event, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday, mentioned a similar concept to that in Mr. Brandenburg’s flyer when he referenced the problem with data quality of, “Garbage In, Garbage Out.” We welcome open, constructive debate at DQC and regret that Mr. Brandenburg was unable to be a part of that yesterday.

Mr. Brandenburg, you are always welcome at future DQC events.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth

Elizabeth Laird | Director, Communications and External Affairs | Data Quality Campaign
1250 H St., NW| Suite 825 | Washington, DC  20005

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Here’s what I wrote back:

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Dear Ms. Laird,

Thank you for writing back, and for what you wrote.

BTW, the first two requests sounded like well-intentioned but not-obligatory suggestions, like “you must have some of this delicious plum pudding”. By third request, it was clear that you guys were serious (a mistake, in my opinion, but there it is), and I asked for time to ponder what to do. I had only done a very little pondering when the security fellow came over to me. 

In parting, I hope that more folks at DQC begin looking into the corrupting tendencies in high-financial-stakes standardized’ commercial testing, and that more staffers and partners begin exploring the question of whether children are being well-served by having every single minute of a classroom lesson scripted in advance and contrived so that it fits such a multiple-choice test. Maybe a future DQC site search will reveal pages where words like “cheating” won’t just refer to SSNs.

Thanks.

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I added a PS:

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PS, do you mind if I forward our exchange of letters so others can read them?
Guy

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and received this reply:

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Mr. Brandenburg,

Thanks for your reply. You are welcome to share our email exchange.

Sincerely,Elizabeth

Published in: on January 31, 2012 at 4:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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An Apology? And a look at the DQC website, as I should have done earlier

I’m thinking of asking the DQC leadership for an apology for not even allowing me to stay and observe their national summit last week.

Even though I had pre-registered for the conference.

Even if I were to solemnly promise to sit there like a good boy and not bother anybody by giving them a 2-page commentary I had written, I could not remain.

Nor even if I promised to raise my hand politely before either being ignored or called on, at their pleasure…

I guess they seriously consider me a dangerous crank. But you know something? There seem to be a lot of teachers in the classrooms or retired, old or young, as well as parents and students, who make pretty much the same points that I do. Often they make their points much more eloquently and clearly than me on their blogs, in replies to other folks’ comments, on Facebook, and elsewhere. My major (very small, but not without significance) contribution to the debate on NCLB and the future of education has been mostly to supply some data showing that the Educational DEform movement does not seem to be based on real data.

I am still working on the wording of the letter to DQC, and am trying to figure out what to ask for.* I sent out a couple of drafts, got considerable help from those folks who edited the drafts, and now need to somehow combine all the contributions and make my letter to DQC first of all a lot shorter than it is.

Was this official DQC policy that was spelled out that Guy Brandenburg is so special that he can’t come to any of our conferences? Or more broadly, anybody who disagrees with Arne Duncan or Michelle Rhee cannot attend? Or that anybody will be barred who raises the idea that there are serious problems with a lot of the data that is being collected, and that a lot of these mathematical models are built upon an utterly shaky and weak deck of cards, and give wrong results? (I refer to the sudden surge, across the nation, in “Value-added methods”.)

Or was it just someone local who really hates me? Gosh, I didn’t think I was so infamous. Should I be flattered?

Meanwhile, I began looking closer at the DQC site, which I had only glanced at earlier.

A lot of what I saw, or didn’t see, shocked me.

I had no idea that this group has been around for several years and has been busy attempting essentially to federalize/nationalize all data about schools and everything else, in all 50 states and all the counties and school boards and city councils and individual schools and teachers and classrooms. I think it’s kinda scary when anybody at all has that much information about you, AND THAT SO MUCH OF IT IS WRONG!

It’s clear now that there is a lot of fraudulent test data in a lot of schools and school districts across the country, in many cities and states. Some states have gone after the cheating problem with serious investigations that netted scores, or is it hundreds, of confessions, and long lists of chargees. A lot of folks who understand a little bit about human nature said, “I told you so. When people are put under pressure to keep their jobs by meeting impossible goals, then they cheat. People cheat to achieve large bonuses, as many bankers, politicans, and businessmen bear witness.” (Some do a little time in jail, but generally they get away with their riches with merely some bad headlines in the press for a week or so.) They also point out, “When you dangle rewards in front of people, you get lousy results. People do their best work because they really want to, deep down, not for a paycheck.” (Confirmed in many studies of learning and human response, and once again by Dr. Roland Fryer of Harvard, as I’ve mentioned earlier. Search this blog, top right of this page.)

And this fraud has sometimes devastating effects for honest teachers, and doesn’t help the kids at all. For example, suppose that teacher T has an average-achieving class as scored onthe NCLB test. The kids are promoted to the next grade, where they have teacher U. Teacher U, with or without the knowledge of anybody else, cheats, somehow or other, and raises the kids’ scores significantly above where they would have without the cheating. [there are many ways of doing it, I realized by doing some brainstorming with some other folks a while ago. Don’t think I’m going to list them, at least not here. Never tried any of them!!!!!]

So, Teacher U earns a big fat bonus check, her name on certificates and programs, perhaps other benefits as well, like a promotion to master educator so she can get out of the classroom… Who knows?

Next year, those kids go to teacher V. Teacher V receives kids, and V eventually notices an enormous discrepancy between the kids’ achievements on tests made by the school district’s own publisher, given in the second week of school, way before teacher V had learned all of their mothers’ last names by heart or had had much time to have much of an impact on the kids at all. I mean, how could all of those kids go from “Advanced” or “Proficient” to “Basic” and “Below Basic” in the time from June 20 to about August 25? That sort of thing happens only in the magical world of high-stakes, corruptible testing as we have now.

Kids in V’s class who should have had an extra class in math or reading or whatever because they are so far behind, don’t receive those services, because they are supposedly well above average. Sometimes those extra classes really help, too.

So there is teacher V with a class of kids with contradictory data: last year’s data which showed wonderful scores, and all of this year’s data, starting with the very first official, district-wide standardized, multiple-choice, machine-scored commercially-produced and -marketed test; a test supposed to “inform” the instructor what he/she should instruct. Teacher V doesn’t cheat; instead he/she works his/her but off trying to use all that data to determine what to teach, how and when. But V still does not perform miracles. (We know that miracles are, at best, and by definition, rather rare.) In other words, V’s students score much lower on the NCLB test than they had done the previous year’s test would supposedly predict by the incomprehensibly complex mathematical data algorithm that the school district is using. There are many such models; they are not all the same.)

Teacher V is notified in late July that he/she is terminated because of those bad test scores.

Remember teacher U, who cheated? He or she might be the teacher leader for that grade level next year. And might show the others just how it’s done…

But there seems to be no awareness of this by our ‘friends’ at DQC.

We all know people who have lied to us. And we’ve all told lies before. All of us do it from time to time. We only disagree about exactly how much, and when we tell those lies, and whether they are justifiable or not. Why doesn’t DQC seem to emphasize the riskiness in all of this?

Curious, and knowing that there was no time to search through the enormous DQC website by mouse, I used their “search” engine to look for a few terms, to see if they even consider the concepts of fraud and cheating.

Here are the number of hits I got on their website:

Fraud – 0 hits. Zero.

Cheat – 1 hit; the reference pointed to a page on theft of social security numbers.

dishonest – 0 hits.

data – 750 hits on their website (that was just to make sure the search engine was working!)

erasure – 0.

erase – 0.

form – 400 (yup, it’s still working. They are very much into forms and other paperwork…)

erasing – 0 {I didn’t know if it would consider erasure, erase, and erasing differently. I still don’t, but none of them turned up anything}.

jeopardy – 0.

risk – 9 .

This last one is quite instructive. When I got those 9 hits from the word “risk”, one of the hits was the following, and I swear that I am not making this up:

“Guide to Protecting the Confidentiality of Personally Identifiable Information (PII).”

Not that that’s a bad thing, of course. Had you come across the acronym PII before? Wow. They’ve really been at this for a while, haven’t they? An entirely new set of acronyms…

The entire bureaucratic mind-set is stunning. Reminds me of nothing more than the US military and federal government bureaucracies, and I don’t know about you, but they scare me. I want as little as possible to do with them; and with that, my sympathies definitely lie with the people who rose up and fought a revolutionary war in this country for about 7 years and defeated the greatest naval and military power in the world at that time.  They didn’t want something like Big Brother watching over them. Not just the right-wingers want some privacy! I mean, I think everybody has a right to their own private life, and unless you’re the type of weirdo that likes everybody to know everything about you, there’s a lot that I, and just about all of you as well, want to keep private.

After all, for one thing, medical conditions can sometimes cause really enormous financial problems (like going bankrupt) if the wrong people find out about them — namely insurance companies. (Irony of ironies!)

Now some of the stuff on the DQC website seems very reasonable and logical, and I find no objection to at all. Individually.

But it seems to me that they really think that putting all of the quantifiable data on every person into a single database will immediately produce policy conclusions that must be promptly put into effect.

Not so fast.

What if the data you are using is utterly fraudulent in the fist place?

Wouldn’t that then be like the phony data described in various books and stories by Gulag prisoners and others in the USSR or in Kafka stories – perverse incentives to do useless things to survive by cheating. (I don’t think Kafka ever quite figured out how some people can prosper and live quite beautiful lives of luxury by cheating others.)

Are those formulas really valid? After all, you aren’t using all of that data in those conclusions you just drew. You cherry-picked the numbers you wanted to get the result you wanted using a formula of your own choosing, producing the result in a clearly visible way, or a way that appeals to certain decision-makers.

What if we use different data, different formulas, and throw out stuff that we think is invalid? Well, we’d probably get different results. And what about all of those internal TFA survey documents that apparently show no positive results, or else they would have been trumpeted in the national media?

Instead, you could use this as a data base for social “scientists” to examine and try a number of different models, and see whether stuff works. But unlike with drug or medical companies, we need to publicize the results of experiments with NEGATIVE results as well. (BTW: it’s not only companies like Glaxo or Pfizer that do this sort of selective data blackout.  I remember looking at the NIH alternative medicine website a few years ago to see what the results were for the various experiments that NIH had paid good money to fund – you know, on acupuncture and other stuff like that. I did this search many years after the studies had started. But NONE of them had any published results.

Does that mean that they were all incompetent and couldn’t finish their studies?

In that case, they should pay us (i.e., the public in the form of NIH) back with interest or penalties or something.

Or does it mean that the results weren’t published because they did not show what the authors WANTED them to show?

I suspect the latter.

It also really began to bother me that so many person-years of highly skilled, highly-paid labor had been poured into this project, linking up pretty much all of the data on every single person in every state, county, city, and every single teacher and school and every student, just about completely out of the limelight. For lots and lots of money, in other words, some of it privately raised, but I’ll bet there is a lot of taxpayer money in there as well in one way or another.

Keep in mind that a relative handful of testing-and-data companies will earn enormous revenues from processing all of this enormous database of data .

While none of us citizens have had a say on this at all.

And while so much of the data is flat out WRONG.

Which seems to be utterly ignored.

Be for real: In the entire Data Quality Campaign, is there no written acknowledgment that there is cheating and erasures on high-stakes tests? No procedures to discount and correct for that? No calls for additional forensic studies of cheating patterns?

Answer: No. The word “forensic” returned no hits at all on their website.

That’s pretty disturbing.

Or did I miss something?

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* no, not for money! I think that the views of teachers, parents and students in the trenches, so to speak, should be heard, and the problems with fraud and misrepresentation in test data are very serious and must be discussed. Roland Fryer’s conclusions also need to be aired. {and I speak as someone who has disagreed with him, in print, in the past.}

Published in: on January 25, 2012 at 10:53 am  Comments (1)  
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“Michelle Rhee” is to “Data” as “Counterfeiter” is to “Dollar Bill”

There are very few public figures who have a looser connection with the truth, with facts, and with data, than Michelle Rhee.

(In plain English: I think she is a major liar and distorter. There is not an educational statistic that she won’t twist.)

But she’s coming to DC next week as a featured panel member of something called the Data Quality Campaign, along with Arne Duncan, another educational DEformer who is unfortunately head of the US Education Department. The event details are here: it takes place 1:30 to 5pm at the Renaissance Washington Hotel next Wednesday 1-18-2012 on the south edge of Mount Vernon Square here in DC. It appears that the panel will advocate national, multiple-choice testing for all students in all grade levels and for all subjects in all months of the year and firing and paying teachers and making all educational policy based on those results.

A dumber idea than that is hard to imagine. It also is a huge waste of many billions of dollars — money that will go to just a handful of enormous testing-and-publishing companies. These funds will be lost forever to local schools and school districts, parents, teachers, and students, and will instead go to enrich some of the 1% who run this country.

I think it would be a great thing if some folks went there and showed the public that there are a number of people who think that Rhee is a propagandist for untruth, and that there are few things less useful for teachers and students than making educational policy based on stupid, nationally-composed multiple-choice tests and being locked into a national curriculum. (Don’t laugh: they even just now came out with national standards for sex education. I am not making that up.)

Registration is free: use this link.

Rhee has an amazingly long history of distortions; where I first found my jaw dropping was when I read her resume, where she claimed to have been in the Wall Street Journal and on TV during the mid-1990’s when she was a TFA temporary teacher in a for-profit charter school experiment that failed in Baltimore. When she claimed that she took an entire elementary school class from below the 20th percentile to above the 90th percentile on a nationally-normed test, I simply could not believe it. Nobody in history has ever accomplished anything like that without some sort of fakery.

Sure enough, when I later found a careful study on that failed educational experiment, my suspicions were confirmed. No such miracle happened at all at Rhee’s school (Harlem Park ES) or in her grade. What happened instead was that Rhee’s grade instead had an inordinate number of kids who scored at a “1” level, meaning that their scores were so low that they simply weren’t counted. As a consequence, I conclude, the average of the scores of the remaining students had a modest increase. The lead analyst for the UMBC study agreed with the conclusions I drew. Rick Hess of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, a personal friend of Rhee, predictably disagreed.

As you also may have heard, Rhee promoted Wayne Ryan, the principal of Noyes, based on what proved to be utterly fallacious, doctored increases in student scores at that school. (Ryan was allowed or “encouraged” to quietly resign after the news of the cheating came out, but that was after Rhee quit when her patron, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty, lost an election because she earned the hatred of most of the electorate in Washington, DC. You can see a good summary of much of Rhee’s record at RheeFirst. I uncovered a fair amount of her lies and distortions in the pages of this blog. (BTW thanks to WordPress, this blog has a pretty good search engine if you want to look stuff up; it’s at the upper right-hand corner of this page.)

Anybody interested in making a stink at this conference? Anybody else interested in pointing out that there is another way (or many other ways) of improving education in America?

Published in: on January 12, 2012 at 10:35 am  Comments (1)  
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