Seventy-Five Years and Beyond: It Was All About Cooperation

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Right now I am at Fen Farm in the UK for a two week expedition with my wife searching for antiquities for our antiques business.  It’s been  an exciting and exhilarating experience over the past 15 years.

Tomorrow is the start my seventy-fifth year revolving around the sun on this 4.5 billion year old earth.

As strange as it may sound, I’ve wondered whether we and our fellow travelers on planet earth realize how cooperation has played a greater role in natural selection than competition.

Is this surprising?

Nearly everything I’ve done in my life has resulted from cooperative ventures with other people.  Very little was the result of competition  with other people.  Yes, I was engaged in all kinds of sports, playing and as well as coaching.  But the structure of these activities including teaching was a part of something bigger than me.  It was being part of a group or team or a class within a school where mentoring, tutoring and welfare of our brothers and sisters was the mark that made us alive and whole.

I’ull explore the intrinsic and natural laws rooted in cooperation that will be applied to the current mire caused by the neo-reformers who are driving education and learning into a monstrous game of winners and losers who are predetermined by the reformsters by gaming the competitive Olympics-type testing on multible-choice tests each spring.

I will write several article showing how the present model of teaching to the test is unnatural and unsustainable.

Today I’ll spend the day on an English community’s showgrounds shopping for antiques with thousands of others from around the world.  What could better than that?

To those of you who read this blog, I want give you a special thank you and kind regards.


Atlanta Public Schools’ Equity Audit Finds Differences! by Ed Johnson

Guest Letter by Mr. Ed Johnson, Advocate for Education, Atlanta, GA

Creative Commons "I Come In Peace" by JDevaun is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Creative Commons “I Come In Peace” by JDevaun is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Ed Johnson wrote a letter in response to the Atlanta Public Schools Equity Audit which was prepared by researchers at Georgia State University to look at differences in the characteristics across schools in the APS district.  As you will see in Ed Johnson’s letter, he uses a form of thinking that looks at the APS as a whole, and not as separate schools, and applies the work of W. Edwards Deming, Russell Ackoff, and Peter Bernard to investigate equity in the context of systems thinking.

This is an important letter written by a person who for years has explored how to improve education in the Atlanta Public Schools.  It is hoped that the new Atlanta Public Schools superintendent will seek his advice, and in so doing challenge the “turn around” and “urban” mentality that dominates educational reform.

June 26, 2014

Well, of course, Atlanta Public Schools’ equity audit would find differences. Differences always exist. No two of anything are exactly the same. So the discerning question always is, what do differences mean?

In its upfront Executive Summary, the APS Equity Audit Report proclaims:

Equity audits are a relatively new tool for school systems and there are large variations in their thresholds for determining whether or not characteristics are substantially different across schools. Simple percentage difference cutoffs or using standard error calculations to generate confidence intervals of means both avoid complex questions of whether or not differences across schools are practically meaningful. This report finds substantial variations across schools on numerous characteristics, but leaves questions of whether and how to address these differences to the broad group of stakeholders concerned with educational outcomes for the students of APS.

On the one hand, the APS Equity Audit Report responsibly cautions against using “[s]imple percentage difference cutoffs or using standard error calculations to generate confidence intervals of means both [of which] avoid complex questions of whether or not differences across schools are practically meaningful,” and that is fortunate. Such figures are usually presented in business-style financial reports that often prompt reacting to and holding people “accountable” for past performance while typically providing no rational basis for predicting performance and learning into the future.

Equity from the Standpoint of Random Variation v Non-Random Variation

On the other hand, without question, although it “finds substantial variations across schools on numerous characteristics,” the APS Equity Audit Report clearly forgoes addressing “whether or not differences across schools are practically meaningful,” and that is unfortunate.

It other words, the APS Equity Audit Report does not address the very important question of what do differences mean. Do differences with respect to a particular characteristic mean something or mean nothing? To answer the question requires detecting and distinguishing differences that arise from random variation and differences that arise from non-random variation.

Random Variation Means…

Detection of differences that arise from random variation would indicate differences that mean nothing, that are not “practically meaningful.” Such differences would be due to common, ever-present systemic causes, any or all of which may be known, knowable, and unknowable.

Non-Random Variation Means…

On the other hand, detection of differences that arise from non-random variation would indicate differences that mean something, that are “practically meaningful.” In this latter case, for better or worse, such differences would be due to special causes powerful enough to dominate and stand apart from all differences due to common causes. Special causes may occur continually, irregularly, or temporarily and are generally known or knowable.

So, there are differences due to common causes that may be referred to simply as “common cause variation.” And there are differences due to special causes that may be referred to simply as “special cause variation.” Hence, there exist two kinds of variation.

Signals and Noise in the Data

Now, considering any characteristic’s data in the APS Equity Audit Report, can something be done with those data to detect and distinguish the two kinds of variation the data may contain? Asked differently, is there a way to filter the data to separate “signals” the data may contain from the “noise” the data do contain?

To do so is important so as to:

  1. avoid responding to a signal as if it were noise and
  2. avoid responding to noise as if it were a signal

To fail at either 1) or 2) is to drive up costs and generate excessive waste, unnecessarily.

Is there a Way to Detect Signals from Noise?

Indeed there is a way to detect and distinguish common cause variation and special cause variation. And it is a way even some elementary school children have learned to use in the process of continually improving their own learning. The way is to make a “process behavior chart” from the data. (The process behavior chart is much like an EKG (electrocardiogram) made to tell a story about the behavior of a patient’s heart.)

Now, from actually having made a process behavior chart for a fair number of characteristics the APS Equity Audit Report covers, none revealed any special cause variation, save a few where Forest Hill Academy was detected to represent a special cause matter, which is to be expected of APS’ alternative school.

The Inexperienced Teacher Category

For example, the process behavior chart in Figure 1 below takes a district-level look at the characteristic “Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years),” in the category “Teacher Experience by Academically Disadvantaged Students” (APS Equity Audit Report, pages 179-183). The APS Equity Audit Report explains this characteristic means the proportion of students’ time spent with a teacher that has less than three years experience, and that the proportion can be expressed as a percent by multiplying by 100, which the process behavior chart in Figure 1 does.

Figure 1: District-level Teacher Experience by Academically Disadvantaged Students, Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years) ©Ed Johnson


The process behavior chart in Figure 1 detects only differences due to common causes, or common cause variation, or noise. All the variation ranges around the center-line average of 26 percent (26.26%) and between the lower control limit, at zero percent (0.00%), and the upper control limit, at 55 percent (54.55%). No variation exceeds the upper control limit. This means academically disadvantaged students that have a teacher with less than three years experience is a systemic matter among all APS elementary schools and not a matter for any individual schools. It would be top administration’s mistake, and abdication of their leadership responsibility, to single out Centennial Place, or Hutchinson, or M. Agnes Jones so as to hold any people there “accountable” as a special matter.

Again, Figure 1 is district-level, with all APS elementary schools taken as a system. But what about APS Region-level, with each Region taken as a system? What might process behavior charts say about how the North, East, South, and West regions of APS compare on the example characteristic being considered here?

Consider Figure 2, below. The figure comprises four process behavior charts, one for the East Region, North Region, South Region, and West Region of APS. Figure 2 makes it easy to compare the APS Regions holistically and rather straightforwardly and much at a glance. Like the district-level process behavior chart in Figure 1, each Region-level process behavior chart in Figure 2 detects no evidence of special cause variation; all differences are due to common cause variation, to noise. No differences are “practically meaningful.”

It is also quite easy to see in Figure 2 that common cause variation appears the least “spread out” around the North Region center-line average compared to the spread of variation around the other Regions’ center-line averages. Even so, if extended to the right, the North Region lower and upper control limits would cover all West Region schools as well as all South Region schools. And if extended to the left, North Region lower and upper control limits would cover all East Region schools, save Centennial Place. Thus Figure 2, like Figure 1, says differences among all APS elementary schools with respect to the example characteristic are systemic, and equitable.

Moreover, it is also quite easy to see from Figure 2 that each APS Region’s center-line average compares favorably to the district-level center-line average in Figure 1. In Figure 1, the district-level center-line average is 26.26%; in Figure 2, the four Regions’ center-lines average to 26.37%. The difference is a mere 0.11%, or roughly one-tenth of one percent.

The observations made from Figure 2 support and now extend the observation made from Figure 1. Now it can be said that academically disadvantaged students that have a teacher with less than three years experience is a systemic matter for all APS elementary schools, and is not a matter for any individual school or APS Region.

Figure 2: Region-level Teacher Experience by Academically Disadvantaged Students, Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years)
Figure 2: Region-level Teacher Experience by Academically Disadvantaged Students, Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years) ©Ed Johnson

Implication for Administrators, Especially Those at the Top

In addition, and much like already concluded, it would be APS top administration’s mistake, and abdication of their leadership responsibility, to single out any school or Region so as to hold any people there “accountable” as a special matter. Leadership from the top, from both the school board and the superintendency, is required. Only they can be held “accountable” in any rational way. And no manner of “accountability” pushed down from the top can substitute for the requisite leadership needed to foster collaboration with and among affected stakeholders, as a system.

Now, let’s be clear on this point: Both Figure 1 and Figure 2 present process behavior charts that evidence only equity; neither evidences inequity.

Where is the Inequity?

So, if inequity exists, then where does it exist?

Well, actually, knowing where the inequity exists comes through the story the process behavior charts in Figures 1 and 2 tell. The charts tell the story that the teacher characteristic “Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years)” has been optimized among APS elementary schools only about that singular teacher characteristic. It is a story with telltale signs of strictly systematic analytical thinking operating to the exclusion of systemic synthetical thinking. It is a story with telltale signs of believing that the whole is the sum of its parts, and that the whole can do its best only if each part does it individual best, that each part “executes with fidelity.” It is a story where teachers that have less than three years experience have been assigned quite equitably throughout APS elementary schools and to academically disadvantaged students.

And that is the rub, the genesis of the inequity, though it may seem counterintuitive.

Standardized test results have for more than a decade shown APS to be, in effect, “two systems in one,” White-Black, with Black greatly lagging. More recently, standardized test results have begun to show APS’ devolution into becoming “three systems in one,” White-Hispanic-Black, with Black still lagging.

Therefore, the inequity comes not from placing less experienced and unremarkable teachers with especially “Black” students in the APS West Region and South Region. Again, the process behavior charts in Figure 1 and Figure 2 say equity exists among all APS elementary schools with respect to the teacher characteristic “Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years).” Rather, the inequity comes from “Black” students being without greatly experienced and remarkable teachers! For example, five-weeks trained personnel by Teach for America placed with “White” students would constitute equity. However, five-weeks trained personnel by Teach for America placed with “Black” students would constitute inequity. Why? Simply because none can possibly be a greatly experienced and remarkable teacher.

Why the Inequity?

Now, why might this inequity exist? What might be its root?

Consider that the Atlanta Board of Education Policy Manual offers understanding. Specifically, Policy Number BBBC, titled “Board Member Development Opportunities,” states, in part:

The Atlanta Board of Education places a high priority on the importance of a planned and continuing program of professional development of its members. … The board considers participation in the following activities consistent with the professional development of its members: Conferences, workshops, conventions, and training and information sessions held by the state and national school boards associations and other conferences sponsored by local, state, and national educational organizations. … The list shall include, but need not be limited to, the following organizations:

  • National School Boards Association
  • Georgia School Boards Association
  • Council of Great City Schools
  • National Alliance of Black School Educators

This policy has inequity built-in. How? First, it restricts “professional development” (PD), which goes policy-wise undefined, to school board procedural matters vis-à-vis the school board associations listed. Then it more narrowly restricts PD to thinking and treating APS as an “urban” school district in need of “urban school reform” or “transformation” vis-à-vis Council of Great City Schools and similar other organizations. Then more narrowly still, the policy restricts PD to a “racialist ideology” (Fredrick Douglass) vis-à-vis National Alliance of Black School Educators.

Regressive Policy

The policy is regressive, and acts much like a funnel to direct APS into associations with persons and organizations committed to disrupting public education as a common good or who have not the wisdom to understand and value public education as a common good. The aim is the transformation of public education in especially “urban” school districts into a profit-making, free-market commodity all the while opportunistically and unashamedly co-opting Civil Rights struggles. This inequity built into school board policy and steeped in urbanism effectively keeps APS stuck in stasis and incapable of learning to continually improve, unlike the global community that is continually learning to improve.

A consequence of such inequity rooted in Atlanta Board of Education policy is the thinking that “it takes a black educator to educate a black child” made a prominent operational aspect of APS culture, and with it APS never going beyond urbanism’s boundary to seek greatly experienced and remarkable teachers to place with especially “Black” students! The inequity is such a deep, self-imposed operational aspect of APS culture that it goes virtually unspoken and unchallenged among stakeholders until it becomes convenient to use to insinuate, excoriate, or defend against allegations of maltreatment or oppression, or to conduct an equity audit.

Fortunately or unfortunately – take your pick – wisdom teaches that the problem is in here, with us, not out there, with them. But then, wisdom comes from learning, not from achievement and certainly not from merely performing.

So, isn’t it time for Atlanta Public Schools to leapfrog City of Atlanta’s modern day “Atlanta Compromise” and turn to embracing humanness more so than “race?” Isn’t it clear by now that especially “Black” children’s quality of education depend on doing so?

Kind regards,

Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education
O: (404) 691-9656 | C: (404) 505-8176 |

“The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.”
Diogenes of Sinope (c. 412 – c. 323 BCE)

Georgia Teachers Continue to Impress: 2014 CRCT Results in Context

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In this post I am going to show why I think Georgia teachers continue to impress, especially when we look at the 2014 CRCT results in the context of the past decade.

In the wake of the Vergara v California tentative decision in which the plaintiffs claimed that lurking in many California classrooms were “grossly ineffective teachers.,” you have to wonder what is their evidence.  They had NO facts to support this contention.  The data they did present was in the form of opinions, and discredited VAM data in which good and bad teachers are identified using student test scores.

For more than 30 years, I worked with thousands of teachers, not only here in Georgia, but in many other states, and countries.  When I first read the Vergera v California decision, and saw the phrase “grossly ineffective teachers,” I had to admit that I must have lived in another universe.  There may be ineffective teachers in our classrooms, but the court case only reinforced my view that the teaching profession is under assault, and that the assault is being led by what Diane Ravitch calls, The Billionaire’s Boys Club.  In the Vergara case, the club member was David Welch, founder of Students Matter, an organization set up just for the Vergara case.  Welsh was able to use millions of dollars to hire a legal team of who’s who in constitutional law, which was the basis for the Vergara case.

Around the country, state departments of education are releasing the results of standardized tests, many of which are mandated through the No Child Left Behind Law.

In Georgia, we give the Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) to students in grades 1 – 8 in reading, language arts, math, science, and social studies.  At the high school level End of Course Tests (EOCT) are given in math, science, social studies, and English language arts.

On June 13, the Georgia Department of Education released the 2014 CRCT scores for the state, along with scores from last year for comparison (school and district results will be released later this month).

Figure 1 shows the 8th grade CRCT test results for the past seven years in reading, language arts, math, science and social studies.  The line graph clearly shows that scores in all tested subjects have trended up.  Since 2008 (actually, we can go back to 2000, the year the CRCT’s were used) the scores have gone up.  Three linear trend lines are included in the chart for reading, math and science, and all of them show growth, not stagnation, or depreciation.

There are 8 graphs in the chart.  The blue, red, green, purple, & light blue shows the CRCT scores for the five tested subjects that are identified on the right side of the chart.  The other three graphs are straight lines, each trending up, that shows the linear trend for reading (at the top), then science and finally math.  If, like the judge in Vergara Lawsuit claims, that there is a causal link between student scores and teacher ability, then we might conclude that teachers in Georgia are doing a good job “and have caused student scores to go up.”****

Figure 1. CRCT 8th Grade  Scores with Linear Projections for Tested Subjects

Figure 1. CRCT 8th Grade Scores with Linear Projections for Tested Subjects

***However,  I don’t believe that there is a causal link between student test scores and teacher ability.  If there is, it’s very small.  There are simply too many other variables that affect student’s ability to do well on standardized tests.  Very credible research shows that at best, only 30% of student’s academic success is attributable to schools, and that teachers are only a small part of the effect of school.  As noted elsewhere, the most significant factor affecting a student’s academic success is socioeconomic status (See, Berliner and Glass, 50 Myths and Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education.)


Look at Figure 2.  In this chart, we’ve used a control chart using average scores calculated from 8th CRCT scores in reading, language arts, math, science and social studies.  We might think of this as a student’s “CRCT Average” (aka Grade Point Average).   Based on the data for the past seven years, we have calculated the upper and lower control limits for the CRCT Average, and we see a controlled increase in scores over the years.   There are no radical changes from one year to the next, and indeed, over the seven-year period, student scores fall within predicted limits.

We can say, based on this data, that Georgia teachers have done nothing but help students improve their scores on the CRCT standardized tests.  Perhaps we could add that as students work with Georgia teachers, scores go up.

Figure 2. Trend of Average Score on 8th Grade CRCT's in Tested Subjects
Figure 2. Trend of Average Score on 8th Grade CRCT’s in Tested Subjects


When we look at the average scores for Georgia on the 8th grade battery of CRCT tests in reading, language arts, math, science and social studies, we notice that the variation is within the limits we would expect, but more importantly, the variation in scores has decreased over time.

This is important.  Public school education in Georgia, based on these data show a system that is stable, not unstable, nor failing.

Figure 3. Variation of CRCT Scores
Figure 3. Variation of CRCT Scores

Improving education is clearly a goal of teachers.  By and large teachers are dedicated professionals who are interested in helping their students learn, and learn to love the subjects they teach.

Teaching is an art, not a business that some think can be regulated by an accountability system that provides little flexibility for teachers to carry out their work with students.  The so-called reform of education is based on an industrial culture that sees teaching as a mechanical system that can be measured, weighed and evaluated using spreadsheets.  This nonsense.


This is a serious problem, in Georgia and around the country.  Bureaucrats (many of them former teachers) at the Georgia Department of Education have become convinced that teachers and schools can be monitored and evaluated with big data that is pouring into their computers at an ever increasing rate.

This is not what teaching and learning are about.

As long as this blog exists, it will be based on the art of teaching and the wisdom of practice.

It appears to me that the wisdom of practice is alive and well in Georgia.  What do you think?


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,
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,

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.


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?