Do Some Charter and Title I Schools Use a Pedagogy of Indoctrination

 

"Creative Commons Allensworth Classroom by Joseph Vasquez  CC By 2.0
“Creative Commons Allensworth Classroom” by Joseph Vasquez is Licensed under  CC By 2.0

I might be off my rocker on this post, but I want to get it out there, and ask you if there might be some truth in my claim.  My claim is that the No Child Left Behind Act set in motion a culture of schooling which seeks conformity and an authority to which participants must subscribe, meaning teachers, students and their parents.  Followed by the Race to the Top, we have created in American schools an environment that many have shown to be harmful to the psychological well-being of not only students, but teachers as well.

There is evidence that many charter and Title I schools use an authoritarian and behavioral change system of learning to make one change in student behavior and that is higher test scores. Because of federal and state regulations implicit in NCLB and RT3, a top-down system of accountability has played a role in making authoritarianism the principle of charter schools, and many public Title I schools.

The Strict Family and the Strict Classroom

In previous discussions on this blog I’ve applied the research of George Lakoff.  Dr. Lakoff uses the conceptual metaphor of Nation as Family and applies it to politics, literature, philosophy and mathematics.  Using this idea, ones (political) beliefs tend to be structured by how we think of family, and our early experiences in our own family which contribute to our beliefs. Thinking of a nation as a family is a familiar notion, as in phrases such as Mother Russia, Fatherland, sending sons and daughters off to war, the founders, Big Brother (see Joe Brewer, Rockbridge Institute, discussion here). In Brewer’s thinking, the conceptual metaphor of nation as family organizes our brains in this way: homeland is home, citizens are siblings, the government (or head) is parent, and so forth.

Lakoff would say that a conservative family would be based on authority, and would be represented by the “Strict Father Family”. In the Thinking Points Discussion Series published by Rockbridge, the conservative family can be characterized as follows (from Brewer, Conservative Morality):

  • The Strict Father Family is the traditional family with a father and mother
  • The father is the head of the house
  • The mother is supportive and upholds the authority of the father
  • A hierarchy exists and is never to be questioned
  • Children are weak and lack self-control
  • Parents know what is best
  • Children learn right and wrong when punished by doing wrong
  • When children become self-disciplined, respect authority, and learn right from wrong they are strong enough to succeed in the world.

In my earlier blog post, I wrote about Rocketship Education, a relatively new charter management system with schools in California and Wisconsin.  It appears to me that the Rocketship education model of education is authoritarian and relies on indoctrination for its success. It’s a model of education that fits the description of Lakoff’s conservative family.

Authoritarian Education

In that earlier post, I outlined four principles that characterize a Rocketship School based on the research of Gordon Lafer.  Here are the principles and comments I’ve made about each one. As you read these points, connect these principles to the principles in Lakoff’s theory:

  1. Replacement of teachers with computers for online learning–Digital learning is a way to make the school more economical, and using the schools “Learning Lab” large numbers of students can be accommodated with less staff.
  2. Reliance on a young and inexperienced teachers largely recruited from Teach for America–according to Lafer’s report, Rocketship has a contract with Teach for America to offer a pipeline of new recruits. Rocketship teachers are paid based on how their students score on math and reading tests. The model embraces a young staff and one that has a high-turnover rate. As you will see ahead, Rocketship schools are staffed with teachers who have between 0-5 years experience, where successful comparable public schools have staffs with 10 – 30 years of experience. Teaching staffs that are more experienced are by far more successful with students and their learning. The replacement or turnover rate for the Rocketship schools averages 29% each year.
  3. A narrow curriculum of math and reading–Rocketship Education describes its approach to curriculum as blended learning. Blending digital learning with face to face. However, its curriculum only includes math and reading literacy. You will not find a full curriculum at these schools.
  4. A relentless focus on preparing students for standardized tests—Rocketship teaches to the test–students are involved as full-time test takers at school and home. Students take the test Measuring Academic Progress (MAP) three times per year. This is the same test that teachers in Seattle boycotted. But instruction is totally centered around tests that are aligned to the state standards (the Common Core Standards next year).

The nature of the pedagogy outlined in these four points is a certain example of Lakoff’s conservative “Strict Father Family,” where the entire system is organized underneath an authority figure.  This could be the owner of the charter school management system, the principal of the school, or even the top-down rules and regulations upon which the school’s accountability depends.

But this tenor of authoritarianism is not limited to charter schools.

Indoctrination

What has happened is that accountability has been reduced fundamentally to one cause, measurement or variable, and that is student test scores.  In Georgia, for instance, the state rolled out a new accountability system in which each school in the state is graded (A – F) by adding up the points earned in four categories.  However, each of the categories is dependent on one reason: student test scores.

The state, in Georgia and most other states, is the authority figure that controls the behavior of administrators, teachers and students. The state indoctrinates school staff to follow very strict guidelines to increase student test scores.  These guidelines are defined by standards (either state or Common Core State Standards), and what is known as College & Career Ready Performance, using expressed as an index or simply a number that can be used to compare schools, districts and states.

In Atlanta, all you had to do yesterday to verify this is to read the Atlanta Journal/Constitution newspaper which listed the top and bottom performing schools in school districts around the state.  Winners and losers?

So, the only purpose of teaching in schools that are served by an authoritarian regime is to teach to the test, and to spend as much time possible making students practice for the tests with worksheets, and obsessively stupid homework assignments.  The goal is to score high on the state mandated high-stakes tests, and to get as a high a grade for the school based fundamentally on student test scores.

The Rocketship Schools have taken the conservative model to the extreme.  By reducing the curriculum to essentially two subjects, math and reading, teachers are trained to teach math and reading only in so far as the kids score high on the tests.  In fact, in the Rocketship schools, teacher’s pay is dependent on student scores.  I am not saying that there is a salary scale based on specific scores, but given comments made on a PBS interview with the principal and two teachers at the school, there are targets to be met.

In this kind of school, teachers do not need to be educated, but they need to be indoctrinated and trained to follow the leader. Teach for America’s 5 week training is all that is wanted in schools that cut teaching to test preparation.  Not only does Teach for America supply Rocketship teachers, but TFA and the New Teacher Project have multi-million dollar agreements with several Race to the Top winning states (follow this link to see it work in Georgia).

Child Labor Violations

What is the role of the student in these extreme classroom situations.  The school day begins in the school courtyard or similar space in a kind of ceremony or rally to energize the students, and to instill in them “group think” and the requirement that they must conform to the authority of the school, and especially their teachers.

To some researchers and practicing educators, American obsession with statewide testing has led to an inhumane environment.  Stephanie Jones, a research professor at the University of Georgia has written that the current system of high-stakes testing might be exploiting child labor laws by creating a system in which students spend up to seven hours in school doing things that might be unethical.  As she sees it, children are the producing workers in the school system whose production of test scores will be used to reward the people above them—-their teachers and administrators, and indeed the superintendent of the school system.  Go ask Beverly Hall about this.

As Dr. Jones points out, Child Labor laws were enacted to prevent children from working under conditions of stress and long hours.  Sending them to school was one way to prevent business owners from using children during the day.  Now, schools seem to have taken over.

Psychological Abuse

Joyce Murdock Feilke is a 30 year veteran school counselor in the Austin, Texas independent school district (AISD).  On October 15, 2013 she filed a “Report of Psychological Abuse in an AISD Elementary School,” and sent it to Senator Jane Nelson of Texas, and the Committee for Health & Human Services.  The superintendent of AISD was Dr. Meria Carstarphen, who was hired to begin the superintendency of the Atlanta Public Schools in July, 2014.  According to reports that I have seen, there is evidence that Dr. Carstarpen covered up the abuse, and then after a month simply denied Joyce’s report.

Joyce Murdock Feilke wrote in her report about the psychological abuse of students at an Austin elementary school.  She begins by saying:

During the past 30 years as a school counselor, I have observed a steady decline in the elementary school environment.  This decline has resulted from complex reasons, but primarily from the obsession with statewide testing and corrosive school politics.  Children in most elementary schools of Texas are being forced to function in an environment of chronic stress.  Chronic stress is known to change brain chemistry in children and can lead to mental illness.  Many of these young children with genetic predisposition to autism and other neurological, sensory, and developmental delays are experiencing chronic traumatic stress and will suffer even greater psychological harm.  The demands for high-test performance ratings are causing these children to be exploited and experimented on as if they were caged mice in a science lab.  They are being psychologically abused on a grand scale that will impact the mental health of future generations (emphasis is mine).

The New 3 R’s System of Behavior Control

Feilke has exposed a system of teaching that uses punitive methods of behavior modification (now called Applied Behavior Analysis {ABA}) in Title I schools in Austin, Texas.  According to this veteran educator, a new system of 3 R’s (The Right Resources, The Right People, and the Right Systems) using behavioral engineering was initiated by a former structural engineer who became principal in the AISD.  The 3R’s model is applied in elementary schools with large populations of minority students.  Ms. Feilke provides insight into the 3R’s model.  She says:

The New 3 R’s System of behavioral engineering that AISD is celebrating and perpetuating uses the same methods of punitive classic conditioning that are known to enslave children for child labor and sex trafficking, and for obedience training for dogs and zoo animals.  It is the same dysfunctional system that kept the black culture of the South submissive to oppression for the hundred years after the Civil War.  It is the same dysfunctional system that led to the Nazi Regime in Germany prior to WWII.  The New 3 R’s System has the same sophisticated dysfunctional dynamics and abuse of power that can be observed in every poisonous pedagogy that has ever woven its way through history.  It can be observed in families, cults, and countries.  It is efficient, and it does result in high performance, but at the expense of great psychological damage to its victims.

The 3R’s was effective in raising Title I student test scores, so much so, that the district expanded it into other schools.

But the 3R’s systems, according to Feilke, is punitive.  It creates chronic stress in students, resulting in

desensitization, anxiety, loss of imagination, loss of spontaneity, loss of humor, regression, irritability, self injury, inability to concentrate, and dissociation.  However, the most destructive effects of this psychological abuse will not manifest until the children reach their teenage years, or early adulthood.  At that time, their conditioned emotional repression from victimization of institutional bullying and positive/negative ambivalent role modeling can lead to mental illness and criminality.

Punitive System of Teaching

Using qualitative research, Feilke documents specific examples of the effects of this punitive system on students.  As she points out, the teacher/caregiver dominate the class environment using punitive classical conditioning to “shape” behavior.  She makes the point here, when she expresses what happens to kids in this kind of classroom:

This poisonous pedagogy has been demonstrated throughout history to produce efficiency in human systems and gain desired performance, but at the same time repressing vitality, creativity, and emotions in children.

Imagine your child coming to school and you ask, what did you do today?  Well, at lunch, because I didn’t finish my work, I was told to stand up in front of everyone while the principal said I was bad for not finishing my homework.  I felt awful.  Some of the kids snickered at me, but Shane put her hand on my back, and said “don’t worry.”

Here is how Ms. Feilke describes the effect of this kind of behavior control on children:

Many of the younger children cry when forced to sit in isolation by themselves in front of everyone in the cafeteria.  Some of their peers show signs of sympathy, while others make sarcastic comments or looks, and others fear the same could happen to them.  Most of the children see the injustice, and feel helpless and sad for the victims.  This method of humiliating children causes strong emotions of shame, anger, and resentment for both the victim and the bystanders.  By using this method, teachers are modeling negative behavior of “bullying”, while presenting it to the child as “good discipline”.

There is more to this story, and I’ll follow-up later this week.

For now, I wish to thank Joyce Murdock Feilke for being such a courageous educator to take the risks to expose the dehumanizing pedagogy that was used in elementary schools in Austin.  After her superintendent, Dr. Meria Carstarphen, (who is the new Superintendent designee for the Atlanta Public Schools ) denied her report, Joyce resigned her position in the Austin USD in protest.  She said this in her letter of resignation:

I have attempted to speak up and advocate for children in AISD who are most impacted by this invalidating environment and dysfunctional administration. It is my goal to continue speaking up. I am submitting my resignation as counselor in order to pursue this advocacy without retaliation from an administration that does not recognize or respect the needs of children, or the rights of professionals who work to support and help them.

Joyce’s documentation of the injustices that prevailed in these schools was also published on Julian Vasquez Heilig’s blog (Cloaking Inequities) and Diane Ravitch’s blog.  If you go to Cloaking Inequities you will find 99 comments in response to Joyce’s letter to Senator Nelson and the HHS Committee.

Do Some Charter School Models Use a Pedagogy of indoctrination?  What are your ideas?

Charter School Formula for Financial Success but Educational Failure

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Creative Commons Bathroom, Cosmos Cafe by Allan Ferguson is Licensed under CC By 2.0.
Creative Commons Bathroom, Cosmos Cafe by Allan Ferguson is Licensed under CC By 2.0.

There are some charter schools that are successful. They tend to exist on their own in districts scattered around the country.

There are however, hundreds of charter schools that are not successful. They tend to exist in clusters in some of the nation’s largest cities.

Rocketship Education is a charter organization that has schools in California, and, Wisconsin, and in 2014 in Washington D.C., and Nashville. Rocketship schools are a poster child for what is wrong with the corporate intervention of the American public school system.

Rocketship Education schools may be financial successes (they are profitable), but they are failing the students that enter their schools. In this post, I will explore Rocketship Education, based on recent report by Economic Policy Institute author, Gordon Lafer. The report, Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Education Than Rich Kids? Evaluating School Privatization Proposals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (April 24, 2014).

Dr. Lafer, in his research report, questions why an educational model deemed substandard for more privileged suburban children is being so vigorously promoted—perhaps even forced—on poor children in Milwaukee.

Rocketship Education Formula

A PBS report by John Merrow who interviewed two Rocketship teachers from California describes these charters as a model for mass production of charter schools.  One of the teachers said that yes, it would be nice if we offered art and music, but if you want your kid to have it in their life, deal with it after school.  Now, there’s a curriculum plan.

John Danner, the founder of Rocketship, has plans for his charter schools in fifty cities reaching a million students.  He claims his model works, but the EPI report suggests that it does not.

According to Lafer’s report, and information from the Rocketship Education online website, there are four principles that characterize a Rocketship school. They include the following:

  • Replacement of teachers with computers for online learning–Digital learning is a way to make the school more economical, and using the schools “Learning Lab” large numbers of students can be accommodated with less staff.
  • Reliance on a young and inexperienced teachers largely recruited from Teach for America–according to Lafer’s report, Rocketship has a contract with Teach for America to give a pipeline of new recruits.  Rocketship teachers are paid based on how their students score on math and reading tests.  The model embraces a young staff and one that has a high-turnover rate.  As you will see ahead, Rocketship schools are staffed with teachers who have between 0-5 years experience, where successful comparable public schools have staffs with 10 – 30 years of experience.  Teaching staffs that are more experienced are by far more successful with students and their learning. The replacement or turnover rate for the Rocketship schools averages 29% each year.
  • A narrow curriculum of math and reading–Rocketship Education describes its approach to curriculum as blended learning.  Blending digital learning with face to face.  However, its curriculum only includes math and reading literacy.  You will not find a full curriculum at these schools.
  • A relentless focus on preparing students for standardized tests—Rocketship teaches to the test–students are involved as full-time test takers at school and home.  Students take the test Measuring Academic Progress (MAP) three times per year.  This is the same test that teachers in Seattle boycotted.  But instruction is totally centered around tests that are aligned to the state standards (the Common Core Standards next year).

According to Lafer’s API report, all the California Rocketship schools’ academic progress has decreased over the past two years based on the California Academic Performance Index.  And none of the schools achieved Adequate Yearly Progress, a requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act. Figure 1 from the EPI report compares the academic performance at the California Rocketship schools.

Figure 1. Academic Performance of Rocketship Schools in California Source: Economic Policy Institute

Figure 2 compares the Rocketship Schools’ achievement of Adequate Yearly Progress, 2010 – 2013.  None of the schools met the requirement in 2012-2013, and four of these schools did not reach Adequate Yearly Progress in 2011-2012 meaning that these schools will be subject to regulatory interventions by the state.

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 6.45.31 PM
Figure 2. Rocketship Schools’ Achievement of Adequate Yearly Progress, 2010-2013 Source: Economic Policy Institute

Going Forward

Even with these dismal results, the business plan for Rocketship Education is moving forward. It is implementing a new design plan in its schools. It is also moving forward to open more schools in other cities and states. As shown in Figure 3, Rocketship intends to increase its enrollment from less than 5,000 in 2013 to more than 30,000 in 2018.


Figure 3. Rocketship Business Plan. Source: Economic Policy Institute

In the next post, we’ll continue this discussion of charter schools, but we’ll look at the research and what it says about good schools, and why they work so well for all students.

In the meantime, what do you think of the Rocketship Education Model?

Re-Blog of Twitter Charter Debate with Michelle Rhee & Julian Vasquez Heilig

This “twitter debate” from Julian Vasquez Heilig’s blog appeared in my inbox today. I am working on a post on charters and public schools based on an EPI study of the Rocketship Education charters in Milwaukee.

This twitter debate is a perfect introduction to that forthcoming article.

Julian Vasquez Heilig is now an Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning and African and African Diaspora Studies (by courtesy) at the University of Texas at Austin. He blogs at cloakinginequity.

Michelle Rhee was chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools from 2007 to 2010. In late 2010, she founded StudentsFirst, a non-profit organization which works on education reform issues such as ending teacher tenure, closing public schools and replacing them with charters staffed with Teach for America unlicensed recruits.

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Why Achievement Test Scores are Poor Indicators of Student Learning and Teacher Effectiveness

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has established a single variable as the way to reward and punish schools, teachers, students and their parents.  The fact that I have used the terms “rewards” and punishments” is evidence enough that the ED is stuck in 19th century psychology.

In 2001, the Congress approved the No Child Left Behind Act which mandated the testing of all students in reading and math.  Immediately, this set in motion the most devastating impact on curriculum in the elementary schools by narrowing the curriculum, and putting such emphasis on reading and math.

In 2009, the Congress approved the Race to the Top Fund (RT3), which earmarked about $4.5 billion for a U.S. competition among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.  Of these entities, only 18 were winners.  The rest lost, except for four states which choose not to compete).

The Race to the Top, in my view, is even worse for education than the NCLB.  In the RT3, achievement test scores are given even more importance because those states that got the money were required to tie student test scores to teacher evaluation using the Value Added Modeling (VAM) system.

Many states, even those that did not receive RT3 money now require at least 50% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on the VAM scores generated by a mythical statistical model.  If you think I am kidding, here is the formula for determining a teachers worth as measured by adding value to student learning.

 Figure 2. The statistic value-added model (covariate adjustment model) used to evaluate Florida teachers.

Figure 1. The statistic value-added model (covariate adjustment model) used to evaluate Florida teachers.

Aside from the fact that VAM scores are unreliable, often the scores of very competent teachers end up being at the bottom of the list.  Further, the tests upon which the VAM is calculated measure only a very small aspect of student learning.  In fact, much of what we think is really important in school–communication skills, ability for work collaboratively with others to solve problems, creative thinking, empathy, and ethics–are not measured on achievement tests.

Why does the ED insist on this simple and behavioristic model of teaching?  It does so because it thinks that school is like a factory, and runs much like a machine.  Some call this mechanistic thinking.  Everything can be broken down into components, such as teacher behavior, teacher training, computers in the classroom, number of students in the class, access to technology, standards, academic tests, courses, homework, etc.   Mechanistic thinking leads to a “fix it” mentality.  That is, we can fix the problem of schooling by changing one or more of these variables.

The big problem in the minds of the mechanistic thinkers, who I am also going call the Neo-School Reformers, such as Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Joe Klein, and Arne Duncan, is that they believe that American schools are inferior to schools in other nations, especially countries including Finland, and most of the Asian nations.  Our schools are inferior, and they prove it by citing test scores on PISA and other international tests.  But they don’t tell you the rest of the story.

The Neo-School Reformers solution to what ails our schools is the Global Education Reform Model (GERM).  Although not named by Gates and associates, it was described by one of Finland’s leading educators, Dr. Pasi Sahlberg.

There is a growing body of research that shows that the GERM model is an ineffective model of educational reform.  As Sahlberg points out, GERM is primarily practiced by the North Atlantic Alliance of Schools (primarily the U.S. Europe, and Australia).

Indeed, if you compare the PISA test results of these nations, its difficult to distinguish one from the other.

Thinking In Terms of Systems Theory

The Neo-education reforms are “heads in the sand” reformers.  They fail to look around.  They can’t.  Their necks are stuck in the muck of their own arrogance, and ignorance.  They fail to take their heads out of the box of a classroom or a school, and think about the larger ecosystem in which the school is placed.  They really get mad at teachers or education researchers if they bring up out-of-school factors that might affect student achievement.  They have a code or a motto: No Excuses Education (NEE).

Here is the thing. I’ve learned from a group of scholars, including Ed Johnson, Diane Ravitch, Russell Ackoff, Peter Barnard, W. Edwards Deming, & Lisa Delpit, that there is an other and more humane way to look at schools.

When we try to isolate the effect of teachers on any of the outputs of the school, we are sure to fail.  Think about learning as a system.

Ed Johnson, a scholar and activist in Atlanta has taught me this.  When we try to break the system apart, it loses its essential properties. In this case the output as measured by student test scores is the product of the system, which is due to interactions and interdependencies that the teacher is only one small part.

To ignore the effects of the “system” on student achievement is ignore the large body of research on the effects of poverty on the emotional and social aspects of childhood, acute and chronic stressors, cognitive lags, and health and safety issues.

Just ask any teacher about his or her students.  Ask them how is the achievement of their students affected by inadequate school resources, living in poverty, not having a home, parents who struggle to earn a living, the size of the school and district, the location of the school, students coming to school each day hungry or inadequately fed, school policies, and so on?

Systems of Achievement in Race to the Top States

Take look at Figure 2.  I’ve selected seven winners of the Race to the Top competition, and plotted their math achievement level (at or above proficient) as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).   In addition to the seven winners (Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, District of Columbia) we also have included data for the United States.

The RT3 funding began in 2010, and is now in its fourth year for many of the winning states.  Notice, however, that five of states hover near the U.S. average, but  Massachusetts and the District of Columbia lie above and below the other states, respectively.  Why is this?

 

Now take a look at Figure 3. It’s the same graph but in this case its marked up.  The six states, and DC received from $75 to $700 million to improve education in their respective states.  In all cases, the single variable used to check effectiveness of the system is student achievement scores.  In  figure 3, we examine the results from a system’s point of view, a method that I learned from Ed Johnson.

Figure 2. 8th Grade Math as a System. All states, except for Massachusetts fall within the framework of Upper and Lower Control Limits.  Any variation within this zone is due to system causes, and not special causes.  Source: The Annie E. Casey Foundation, KIDS COUNT Data Center, datacenter.kidscount.org
Figure 2. 8th Grade Math as a System. All states, except for Massachusetts fall within the framework of Upper and Lower Control Limits. Any variation within this zone is due to system causes, and not special causes. Source: The Annie E. Casey Foundation, KIDS COUNT Data Center, datacenter.kidscount.org

In the graph below, most of the state scores fall within expected limits (Upper control limits–UCL and Lower control limits–LCL).  Any variation in scores for North Carolina, New York, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee for the most part was random, but there is evidence that some special causes were at work in Massachusetts, and we might hypothesize that special cause  effects might be at work in DC..

Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, New York and North Carolina are U.S. examples of what Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg calls the Global Education Reform Movement.  In each of these states, GERM has spread across these states, and we see classic GERM conditions, including the adoption of common standards, narrowing of curriculum focusing on math, writing and reading, high-stakes testing, a corporate management model which is data driven, and a system of accountability based on student test scores.

The graph below shows that the GERM model for most states is ineffective in changing math achievement.  I’ve examined reading in the same states during the same period, and the graphs are nearly identical.

The reforms that are in place in Georgia and other Race to the Top states will not affect student achievement in real ways.  The reforms are narrow and they ignore the ecology of learning by not seeing the school as part of a larger system.  For example, I asked in the last post why there was very little mention of poverty in Georgia’s reporting of their new method of grading schools.

Here is one reason.  Here is another graph of the same states, but this time showing poverty.  The graph is almost an inverse of the graphs shown in Figures 1 and 2. Notice that most states level of children living in poverty, except for Massachusetts (15%), has converged to the U.S. average which is about 23%.  What is the effect of poverty on student learning. Until we come look at the effects of the system on learning, we’ll make little progress in learning.

Using achievement scores is a poor indicator of student learning, and an even worse measure of teacher evaluation.

What do you think about the reforms that have been put into place as part of the Race to the Top?

Why No Mention of the Effect of Poverty on Georgia’s College and Career Ready Performance Index?

Georgia released a lot of data about every school in the state which is summarized by a score attained through the College and Career Ready Performance Index.

When the results were released this week by John Barge, State Superintendent of Education, the focus was on the new calculation system used to generate a score for each school.  The second thing was to show that elementary school scores improved from 74.9 to 78.5 (+3.6), middle school increased from 73.9 to 75.0 (+1.1) and high schools decreased from 73.0 to 72.0 (-1.0).

When the media caught hold of the data, they immediately posted lists of the highest and lowest performing schools, and directed Georgians to their website to find the score of schools in their neighborhood.

There were also interviews with principals and superintendents who talked about the new system used to calculate the scores, and to explain that the system is a better way to tell citizens the degree to which students are ready for college and career.

But there were also some who questioned whether this system tells us anything about student’s readiness for college and careers.  “Who knows what they want to do in elementary school?”, one school board member in Cobb asked.

Missing from the announcement and media reports was the effect of poverty on the CCRPIs for the schools.  Six hundred and seventy-two thousand (27.3%) of children under age 18 live in poverty in Georgia, and more than one million (59.7%) of children attending school are eligible for free or reduced meals.

Poverty in Georgia has increased steadily since the provision of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 which mandated annual testing in the content areas of math and reading for all children grades one through eight.  Georgia assumes that the test they use, the Criterion Reference Competency Tests (CRCT), measures college and career readiness.  I don’t think it does.


Figure 1. Map of the Percentage of Students in Poverty by Georgia Counties.

In the graph in Figure 2, I’ve selected the five states in which I’ve lived, and graphed the percentage of children living in poverty, 2008 – 2012. Georgia leads the selected states in the percentage of children living in poverty.

Why is the state reluctant to talk about the possible effect of poverty on student scores on the state’s Criterion Reference Competency Tests? Student CRCT scores contribute 60% of the index that the state uses to rank schools.


Figure 2. Children in Poverty from 2008 – 2012 for Five States

Why no mention of poverty, when in fact, it is well-known what the effect is of poverty on academic achievement (see Figure 3). The state has its own data showing that poverty is inversely related to student achievement on the CRCT. The higher the percentage of children living in poverty, the lower the achievement scores. Take a look at Figure 3, which shows a scatter plot of all Georgia schools vs poverty measure using free and reduced lunch.

Figure 3. Relationship between CRCT scores and percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunches.
Figure 3. Relationship between CRCT scores and percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunches.

The state really does not want to bring poverty into the equation when it calculates the performance index of Georgia schools. Why?

The states thinks that using poverty is an excuse for ineffective teaching and failing schools.

If you read Georgia’s Race to the Top (RT3) proposal or reports, you will find that the burden of helping kids who live in poverty is left to classroom teachers and their colleagues.  Most of the $400 million received from the Federal government for the RT3 is used to write and implement “rigorous” standards, develop data collection systems, develop the technology to measure teacher effectiveness using student tests, and hire inexperienced teachers to turn around “failing” schools, based on the CCRPI.

You can read more details about Georgia’s Race to the Top here, here, and here. If you do, you won’t believe it.

Diane Ravitch has explored this issue in-depth in her recent book, The Reign of Error, and what she has to say about how poverty affects academic performance is relevant here.

Georgia has a poverty rate of about 28%, and this ranks the state among the top five states in the U.S. in terms of childhood poverty. It ranks Georgia very high in international comparisons of childhood poverty. In fact, the rate is more than double the childhood poverty of any other comparable Western nation.

But Ravitch explains how school reformers (she names Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the District of Columbia public schools; Joel Klein, the former chancellor of the New York City public schools; Bill Gates, the head of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Wendy Kopp, the chief executive officer of Teach for America; and Arne Duncan , the Obama administration’s secretary of education of this group) believe that effective teaching can overcome poverty.

These folks believe that schools can be fixed by tweaking with various parts of the system of schooling. The real problem is that they do not see the school as part of a larger system that includes the community around the school, and how the two interact. No. They see the school as separate. And they shun anyone who suggests that teachers alone can not make up for problems that their students bring to school.

They make the premise that if every classroom had a great teacher, and if schools were privatized and put into a free market system, then we would experience changes in learning beyond our wildest dreams.

Nonsense.

Ravitch makes it clear that doing this makes no sense. But it does make sense to recognize the effects of poverty. She says this:

Poverty matters. Poverty affects children’s health and well-being. It affects their emotional lives and their attention spans, their attendance and their academic performance. Poverty affects their motivation and their ability to concentrate on anything other than day-to-day survival. In a society of abundance, poverty is degrading and humiliating. Ravitch, Diane (2013-09-17). Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (Kindle Locations 1933-1935). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

We’ll explore this issue in more detail over the next few posts.

In the meantime, what do you think about the state’s reluctance to deal directly with the issue of poverty and its affects on academic performance?