Should We Close Schools?

The latest push to improve test scores is to close low performing schools. This CREDO study from Stanford University was designed to see what happened to the students. They looked at traditional public schools (TPS) and charters whose students scored at or below the 20th percentile on state tests. Some schools in both sectors were closed and others not. Why? What happened to the children?

Some key findings include:

  1. Charters that closed in Florida had significantly lower performing students than students in closed public schools. Why would this be? One possible explanation is that closure corresponded not only to low performance but also to declining enrollment. Parents of charters students tended to leave failing charters before the school actually shut down. As enrollment dropped, charters could not afford to stay open.

  2. Florida closed 24 TPS over 7 years and 34 charters. While the number of closed charters is higher, 85% of the students affected were in TPS. In Florida, 4,337 students in charters were affected vs. 5,410 TPS. Closure disproportionately impacted schools with high rates of minority students over other low performing schools.

  3. Most, 82% of TPS students, stayed in another TPS after closure while only 40% of charter students stayed in charters. In Florida, there were no differences between achievement gains for closed low performing charter students over time and similar students in charters that were not closed. Over time, children from closed charters did much less well than similar children from closed TPS.

  4. Students from closed schools do better if they are transferred to schools with higher performing students. But, there are too many low performing students able to enroll in higher performing schools. Less than half of the students from closed schools landed in a better performing school.

What is the take away from the data? Closing a school hurts kids unless they enroll in a school that has higher performing students. This becomes a socio-economic integration issue. It is a school culture issue. It is an opportunity issue. Suppose there are an insufficient number of schools with higher performing students to place these children? CREDO suggests innovative new schools are needed. If the old charter did not work, what should this new innovative school be? The answer is in the data. Children learn from children who are learning!

Charter Media Hype Analysis: Inspire or Require?

This is an unusual study. It does not analyze charter schools but rather the hype in the media about charter schools. How are charters and their programs depicted in reputable newspapers like the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times over a ten year period? Published in the Teachers College Record ‘Brilliant, Bored or Badly Behaved’ is illuminating.

The researchers found that media reports indicate that charter and traditional public schools serving middle income students are very similar in their pedagogical approaches. Yet, charters are depicted in a more positive way. The same media hype for charters serving low-income students exists but is more troubling. The charter hype is there, but the instruction is different and perhaps troubling.

The researchers report:

“This is not the first time that researchers have suggested that schools either treat their low- and middle-income students differently, or treat their white students and their students of color differently. As Anyon (1980, p. 90) and many others have explained, schools frequently “emphasize different cognitive and behavioral skills” and facilitate the “development in the children of certain potential relationships to . . . authority” based on students’ class and/or race. However, our study offers two new, and potentially troubling, insights about charter schools.”

  1. First, our findings suggest that charter and alternative schools’ approaches to educating low-income students and/or students of color are neither new nor progressive. Our study suggests that charter schools might very well be operating on outdated assumptions about low-income students and students of color, assumptions that were disproven long ago.

  2. Second, our study suggests that charter schools might be actively “reproduce[ing] racial categories” and class categories “while ostensibly repudiating them” (Winant, 1998, p. 762). This is especially troubling given advocates’ insistence that charter schools have the potential to close the educational achievement gap in the United States.

The study indicate that schools for middle income students emphasize abstract reasoning, critical thinking and writing skills necessary for success in college. In charters, it appears from media reports that rote learning and test prep is prevalent for low-income students. Moreover, these children are taught to defer to authority which promotes feelings of distance, distrust, and constraint.

The alternatives are teaching strategies directed toward intrinsic motivation. In other words, how do you structure activities that make children want to be involved rather than top down strategies that force compliance. The end result, the study posits could be very different.

The study is based on media reports by reliable newspapers. The conclusions raise questions, but cannot be generalized. They can, however, be examined. The issues are legitimate and important to pursue.

Are you more than a test score?


by Duane Swacker

I support the evaluation of the 8th grade N.A.E.P. reading scores for Florida.  It is likely that the Florida ‘miracle’ of sudden large increases in fourth grade reading scores in the early days of school choice has nothing to do with teaching and learning.  It has to do with retention policies and the exodus of low achieving students to voucher supported private schools.  Half of these students then return to public schools in middle school

The scores for public schools go up in fourth grade when poor readers leave or are retained, and come down in eighth grade when they return.  It is the age old problem of the failure to recognize that studies must compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges.

It is important to know whether Florida’s assessment scores are artificial high in fourth grade.  If so, the testing system itself is giving false reports of student progress.  There is a deeper problem, however.  Should we be relying on assessment scores in the first place?  It is past time to be asking this question.

A reader, Duane Swacker, questions the need for more studies.  The invalidity of accountability studies has already been determined, he asserts.  He cites the evidence and questions my statement:  “I welcome an evaluation of Florida’s school accountability approach to improving student learning.”

Actually, that “evaluation” has already been performed, back in 1997 by Noel Wilson.  Any “reforms” (sic) that uses standardized testing as its basis is COMPLETELY INVALID as proven by Wilson.  So that from the start the “reform”, actually educational malpractice, using student standardized test scores suffers all the foundational conceptual (onto-epistemological) errors and falsehoods that render any usage of the results, as Wilson puts it, “vain and illusory” (not to mention the unethical usage of using the results of a test for something other than what the test was designed.
For 15 years I’ve searched, begged and pleaded with testing supporters to show me where Wilson might have gone wrong with his analysis.  Nothing, zilch, zero, more crickets than I hear from my nerve damage hearing loss and tinnitus.  To understand his analysis please read is never refuted nor rebutted “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” found at: http://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/view/577/700
Brief outline of Wilson’s “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” and some comments of mine.
1. A description of a quality can only be partially quantified. Quantity is almost always a very small aspect of quality. It is illogical to judge/assess a whole category only by a part of the whole. The assessment is, by definition, lacking in the sense that “assessments are always of multidimensional qualities. To quantify them as unidimensional quantities (numbers or grades) is to perpetuate a fundamental logical error” (per Wilson). The teaching and learning process falls in the logical realm of aesthetics/qualities of human interactions. In attempting to quantify educational standards and standardized testing the descriptive information about said interactions is inadequate, insufficient and inferior to the point of invalidity and unacceptability.
2. A major epistemological mistake is that we attach, with great importance, the “score” of the student, not only onto the student but also, by extension, the teacher, school and district. Any description of a testing event is only a description of an interaction, that of the student and the testing device at a given time and place. The only correct logical thing that we can attempt to do is to describe that interaction (how accurately or not is a whole other story). That description cannot, by logical thought, be “assigned/attached” to the student as it cannot be a description of the student but the interaction. And this error is probably one of the most egregious “errors” that occur with standardized testing (and even the “grading” of students by a teacher).
3. Wilson identifies four “frames of reference” each with distinct assumptions (epistemological basis) about the assessment process from which the “assessor” views the interactions of the teaching and learning process: the Judge (think college professor who “knows” the students capabilities and grades them accordingly), the General Frame-think standardized testing that claims to have a “scientific” basis, the Specific Frame-think of learning by objective like computer based learning, getting a correct answer before moving on to the next screen, and the Responsive Frame-think of an apprenticeship in a trade or a medical residency program where the learner interacts with the “teacher” with constant feedback. Each category has its own sources of error and more error in the process is caused when the assessor confuses and conflates the categories.
4. Wilson elucidates the notion of “error”: “Error is predicated on a notion of perfection; to allocate error is to imply what is without error; to know error it is necessary to determine what is true. And what is true is determined by what we define as true, theoretically by the assumptions of our epistemology, practically by the events and non-events, the discourses and silences, the world of surfaces and their interactions and interpretations; in short, the practices that permeate the field. . . Error is the uncertainty dimension of the statement; error is the band within which chaos reigns, in which anything can happen. Error comprises all of those eventful circumstances which make the assessment statement less than perfectly precise, the measure less than perfectly accurate, the rank order less than perfectly stable, the standard and its measurement less than absolute, and the communication of its truth less than impeccable.”
In other words all the logical errors involved in the process render any conclusions invalid.
5. The test makers/psychometricians, through all sorts of mathematical machinations attempt to “prove” that these tests (based on standards) are valid-errorless or supposedly at least with minimal error [they aren’t]. Wilson turns the concept of validity on its head and focuses on just how invalid the machinations and the test and results are. He is an advocate for the test taker not the test maker. In doing so he identifies thirteen sources of “error”, any one of which renders the test making/giving/disseminating of results invalid. And a basic logical premise is that once something is shown to be invalid it is just that, invalid, and no amount of “fudging” by the psychometricians/test makers can alleviate that invalidity.
6. Having shown the invalidity, and therefore the unreliability, of the whole process Wilson concludes, rightly so, that any result/information gleaned from the process is “vain and illusory”. In other words start with an invalidity, end with an invalidity (except by sheer chance every once in a while, like a blind and anosmic squirrel who finds the occasional acorn, a result may be “true”) or to put in more mundane terms crap in-crap out.
7. And so what does this all mean? I’ll let Wilson have the second to last word: “So what does a test measure in our world? It measures what the person with the power to pay for the test says it measures. And the person who sets the test will name the test what the person who pays for the test wants the test to be named.”
In other words it attempts to measure “’something’ and we can specify some of the ‘errors’ in that ‘something’ but still don’t know [precisely] what the ‘something’ is.” The whole process harms many students as the social rewards for some are not available to others who “don’t make the grade (sic)” Should American public education have the function of sorting and separating students so that some may receive greater benefits than others, especially considering that the sorting and separating devices, educational standards and standardized testing, are so flawed not only in concept but in execution?
My answer is NO!!!!!
One final note with Wilson channeling Foucault and his concept of subjectivization:
“So the mark [grade/test score] becomes part of the story about yourself and with sufficient repetitions becomes true: true because those who know, those in authority, say it is true; true because the society in which you live legitimates this authority; true because your cultural habitus makes it difficult for you to perceive, conceive and integrate those aspects of your experience that contradict the story; true because in acting out your story, which now includes the mark and its meaning, the social truth that created it is confirmed; true because if your mark is high you are consistently rewarded, so that your voice becomes a voice of authority in the power-knowledge discourses that reproduce the structure that helped to produce you; true because if your mark is low your voice becomes muted and confirms your lower position in the social hierarchy; true finally because that success or failure confirms that mark that implicitly predicted the now self-evident consequences. And so the circle is complete.”

Charter school collapse? What Should Be Done?

As many of you know, the League in Florida has been urging improvements in charter school business practices.  In this report by professors Baker, Green, and Oluwole, you will find a list of specific charter management problems and recommendations to remedy them.  We checked with Professor Green to see if the for-profit charter business practices we find in Florida correlate with those in the report.  Based on our study, he replied that it appears they do.  I am so grateful for their work.  It gives us a framework.

I hope every school district digests this list.  They can help communicate the solutions for the pending threat for a financial collapse.

 

 

Continue reading

Time is Money or Maybe Not!

wrist-watch-941249_640Suppose you are a really good teacher and can prove it.  You notice that a neighboring district has a pay for performance plan where high quality teachers with less experience earn more money than average teachers with more experience.  Would you change districts?  In today‘s Gainesville Sun, a local economist, Dave Denslow, summarized a study by Barbara Biasi, a Stanford graduate student, who compared school districts in Wisconsin that used a ‘pay for performance plan‘ with districts that did not.   The result?

 

 

 

Continue reading

Teachers vote with their feet

teacher-403004_1280 (1)Does eliminating tenure makes any difference in the quality of the teacher workforce (as judged by achievement test score gains)?  The Brookings Institute published an article that sheds some light on the impact prior to 2011.  By comparing the departure rate of teachers with lower gain scores to those with higher gain scores, one would expect more lower rated teachers to leave.

 

 

 

 

Continue reading

Florida Gets an ‘F’ Again

FAILED1Which states get it right?  Not Florida.  It was one of eight states that received an overall grade of ‘F’ when its grades were averaged across the categories studied.   The Network for Public Education rated states based on six criteria.

For each category, I combined the percentages of A, B and C grades received across states.  I was surprised at the results.  Relatively few states (11) use test scores to punish students and teachers, but Florida is one of those that do.  You can see the combined percentages (think of them as passing scores) at the end of each of the criteria.

Continue reading

Equity: For each and every child

board-1065698_1280 (1)Equity means providing resources, not just equally, but adequately for all children to succeed.   There is no ‘one size fits all’ curriculum.  Yet, there is a tension between providing opportunity for all students, regardless of their backgrounds, and the efficient allocation of limited resources.  School choice was supposed to give better options, but too often, the choices are no different and ineffective.

The Citizens for Strong Schools lawsuit in Florida is about equity, but this is also a national issue.  I found a blue ribbon panel report that addresses equity and provides direction for educational policy.

In time, Florida may be required to focus on these six directions.  They give us a vision of what could be.

Continue reading

Making Informed Decisions About Charters: Apples are not oranges

fruit-424182_1280Comparisons between traditional public and charter schools have little meaning.  In an article entitled: Making School Choice Easier in today’s New York Times, charter school operators made concrete proposals to improve charter school achievement data.

Representatives of New Visions for Public Schools offer four ways to help parents make more informed decisions about the effectiveness of charter schools.  New Visions are charter schools located in New York.  They are non-profit.

Continue reading