The Atlanta Cheating Scandal: Suspicions Raised About the AJC Investigative Methods

A Fulton County grand jury indicted former Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall and 34 others — top aides, principals, teachers and a secretary — for racketeering as well as theft by taking for the bonuses they received for good test scores or making false statements or writings, charges that provided the basis for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization count.

The indictment came about 20 months after Governor Deal released the results of an investigation carried out by two attorney’s appointed by former Govern Sonny Perdue and an investigative team of about 50 GBI agents who fanned out into schools and classrooms to interrogate educators who were suspected of involvement in the “Atlanta Cheating Scandal.”

As stated in the Governor’s Investigative Report a “culture of fear” took over the Atlanta School System, and led to a conspiracy of silence which enabled the bubble sheet erasure scandal to happen.

In light of the grand jury indictments I am re-posting a blog article published a year ago on March 26, 2012.  My post was a reaction to an article written by the Atlanta Journal Constitution cheating investigative team which has published 30 articles on the cheating scandal not only in Atlanta, but throughout the country over the past five years.

Although there was cheating happening in some Atlanta schools, the data analysis conducted by the AJC has been questioned by testing experts, and they suggest that the AJC should have been very clear that other reasons could have accounted for wide swings in test results other than cheating.

Here’s the article published last year

Suspicions About the Atlanta Journal’s Investigation into Cheating Across the Nation 

| March 26, 2012 | Filed under: Assessment

On a Sunday in March 2012, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC), a Cox newspaper published the results of its investigation into “cheating” in American schools.  The article was entitled Suspicious Scores Across the Nation, and you can read it by following the link. The article was subtitled “Cheating Our Children.”

I was immediately suspicious of the report that the AJC published.  They have put into place an aggressive team of watchdog reporters, database specialists, and investigative reporters.  In whose interest motivates this team and this newspaper?  After reading the report, I reaffirm my suspicions.  Let me explain.

The data (collection of facts, observations, and measurements) that is available to this team is a database specialists’ fantasy.  Fifty-states provided standardized testing data from 69,000 schools, 14, 743 districts, 13 million students, representing 1.6 million records.  Most states provided the data immediately (public records law), but a few Departments of Education hedged a bit, but eventually sent on their data.

Comparing Average Scores, Not Individual Students

According to the researchers,

For each state, grade, cohort and year, we created a linear regression model, weighted by the number of students in a class, and compared the average score for a class with the score predicted by the model based on the previous year’s average score. We then calculated a p-value — an estimated probability that such a difference would occur by chance — using standardized residuals and the “T” probability distribution, which adjusts the probability upward for classes with fewer students. (Links Mine)

What the researchers looked for was scores rising or falling with probabilities less than 0.05.  These were flagged.  Maybe the bubble sheets were erased and correct answers added?  This would mean that some one cheated.  Wouldn’t it?  Or could there be other explanations?

Is cheating what caused the some scores to change at a probability level that you wouldn’t expect.  According to the Journal-Constitution,

A statistical analysis cannot prove cheating. It can only identify improbable events that can be caused by cheating and should be investigated.

If it smells like cheating, it must be cheating

But if you read the AJC’s initial article, and the one they published today (Cheating our children: AJC’s testing investigation spurs action), the only suggestion that the Journal makes is that the T-scores might indicate cheating.  And indeed, in the latter article, Georgia U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson said that this report is troubling, and if the districts don’t do something about it, then the Governors should.  If they don’t, then “I don’t think Congress should look the other way.” I am sorry Mr. Isakson, but the Congress has looked the other way since the NCLB Act was signed into law ten years ago.

Here is what the Atlanta Journal staff had to say about their research model:

A statistical analysis cannot prove cheating. It can only identify improbable events that can be caused by cheating and should be investigated.

Ideally we would look at how individual student test scores change from year to year, but federal privacy regulations precluded access to that data. The approximate cohorts we used were the only available substitute. It is unlikely that two groups of students in a cohort are perfectly identical. Urban districts in particular have high student mobility.

In the model that the data analysts used, average scores from one year to the next were not necessarily based on the same population of students.  They didn’t have student data.  The only had average data for a school by subject. So it is possible that they are making predictions based on unreliable data.

High student mobility might give us a clue about other possibilities to explain score changes given the demographics of the schools and districts that were highlighted.  For example if you look at the districts that were highlighted in the article (Amarillo, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, East St. Louis, Fresno, Gary, IN, Houston, Los Angeles, & Mobile County, AL), these districts reported that at least 64% of the students were eligible for free or reduced-price meals.  The poverty concentration of these schools averaged 80%.  Mobility is high in these districts.

Critique of Methodology used by the Atlanta Journal Data Analysts 

Gary Miron, professor of education at Western Michigan University was one of four academics or test specialists that advised USA Today and its affiliated Gannett newspapers on a multi-state analysis of irregularities in assessment data.  In his article published on The Answer Sheet, Dr. Miron writes about some of his concerns about the research method used by the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.

My review, however, yielded serious concerns about the data used, the methods of analysis employed, and the conclusions drawn. I shared these concerns with journalists at the Dayton Daily News, which is one of the Cox affiliates involved in this story.

To be clear, the Cox analysis may accurately detect large variations in assessment results from year to year. But my analysis of the data suggests that these irregularities are less likely due to real cheating than due to mobility in student population (recall the lack of student-level data). Although the Cox news articles on this study offer a disclaimer that their analysis does not actually prove cheating, this disclaimer should be expanded considerably.

The evidence is that the AJC may be practicing sensationalism by throwing the data up against the wall, and hoping that some of it will stick.  The map they published is impressive, but it raises more questions than it answers, and the writers of the article were quick draw the “cheat” card. “Cheating” was mentioned 57 times in the first article of 3000 words, and 31 times in the second article, which was 978 words long. Mobility or any mention of changing student populations was mentioned once in both articles.  One might raise the issue that the publication of this article is self-serving.  Are they really interested in uncovering serious issues facing our nation’s schools, or are they more interested in selling newspapers, and receiving awards for investigative reporting.  I really don’t know.  But the thought crossed my mind.

Dr. Miron conveys his concerns about the method used by the AJC.  Here are his concerns:

  • As noted, the analysis is based on school-level data and not individual student-level data. Accordingly, it was not possible to ensure that the same students were in the group in both years.
  • The analysis of irregular jumps in test scores should have been coupled with irregularities in erasure data where this data was available.
  • The analysis by Cox generates predicted values for schools, but this does not incorporate demographic characteristics of the student population.
  • The limited details available on the study methods made it impossible to replicate and verify what the journalists were doing. Further, the rationale was unclear for some of the steps they took.
Stop Weighing the Cow, and Start Teaching Students to Think, Problem Solve, and Do Inquiry
Since NCLB was enacted in 2002, all students and schools have been subjected to high-stakes testing.  Its been relentless, and it has had it’s effect on teaching and learning.  Teaching has been reduced, especially in high poverty schools, to teaching to the test.  Students in many of these schools have a full diet of worksheets, drill and practice, and fill in the blanks.  Inquiry, and problem solving are nowhere to be seen.  It must be seen, however.
In her new book, Multiplication is for White People: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children, Dr. Lisa Delpit made this important statement early in her book:

I am angry at the machinations of those who, with so little knowledge of learning, of teachers, or of children, are twisting the life out of schools.

She adds that the current use of standardized tests, which promotes competition between schools, and used to evaluate teachers and principals to decide their salaries bring out the worst in adults.  It should be no surprise to the Atlanta Journal staff, but they fail to pursue the data other than to blame schools for the current state of our schools. This is not about cheating.

According to Dr. Delpit, “the problem is that the cultural framework of our country has, almost since its start, dictated that “black” is bad and less than and in all arenas “white” is good and superior.”

To point to urban schools as the harbinger of cheating and surprising test results leaves us with many questions.

  • Why don’t we talk about how we got ourselves into this mess in the first place?
  • What has been the effect of the NCLB policy that has turned schooling into test factories, only interested in finding out what low-level of knowledge students might have learned in school?

We simply can not continue to test with out really reforming education.  And simply writing common standards (goals) for all kids regardless of where they live, and with little teacher flexibility or comments from teachers simply will only reinforce the authoritarian nature of schooling, but do little to improve the lives of teachers and students.  Testing students doesn’t make them smarter, any more than weighing the cows makes them heavier.

I agree with Dr. Delpit when she calls for us to create excellence in urban classrooms, and she suggests that we must do the following:

  • Recognize the importance of a teacher and good teaching, especially for the “school dependent” children of low-income communities.
  • Recognize the brilliance of poor, urban children and teach them more content, not less.
  • Whatever method or instructional program is used, demand critical thinking while at the same time assuring that all children gain access to “basic skills”—the conventions and strategies that are essential to success in American society.
  • Provide children with the emotional ego strength to challenge racist societal views of their own competence and worthiness and that of their families and communities.
  • Recognize and build on children’s strengths.
  • Use familiar metaphors and experiences from the children’s world to connect what students already know to school-taught knowledge.
  • Create a sense of family and caring in the classroom.
  • Monitor and assess students’ needs and then address them with a wealth of diverse strategies.
  • Honor and respect the children’s home cultures.
  • Foster a sense of children’s connection to community, to something greater than themselves. (Delpit, Lisa (2012-03-20). “Multiplication Is for White People”: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children . Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.)

What do you think about the Atlanta Journal’s inference that cheating might be the reason for the unexpected changes in test scores?  Do you think the questions raised in this post have implications for the Atlanta educators indicted by the Fulton County grand jury?

School Closings: What’s the Lesson Here?

In the last post on this blog, in which I argued it was a mistake for large districts like Chicago to carry out mass school closings, readers expressed strong opinions on the issue of closure. The post was also published on Anthony Cody’s blog, Living in Dialog over on Education Week, and you can read all the comments there.  Dialog is important, and its important to listen to each other’s points of view.

Disconnected from the Real World

What do students need to know about space science?  The new Framework for K-12 Science Education has some suggestions.  Take a look.  Scroll to the bottom of the page.
The Real World?

One commenter wrote “Mr. Hassard’s commentary is extremely disconnected from the real world. Where is Chicago going to get the money to maintain all the current neighborhood schools? Every building has its own fixed costs that don’t depend on the numbers of students; you simply can’t keep open every low-enrollment school.” The reader concludes that “bottom line is that every public operation, like every private one, has a bottom line.  ‘Deep ecology’ won’t pay teacher salaries, the costs of books, or utility bills.”

Another reader agreed with this view and went on to say: “First off, Chicago has 54 schools set for closing. The average capacity of these 54 schools is 51%. 51%! All these buildings essentially half empty. A school board’s first priority is to their students but they’re also responsible to the taxpayers in their district, the one’s responsible for footing the bill (or at least what they can afford) for the operation of their schools. So how, in all good conscience, can a school board even attempt to rationalize keeping all those half empty schools open? They can’t.”

Other readers had different ideas about the purpose of schooling and how closing schools impacts more than the “bottom line.”

Connected to the Real World

Closing schools might save a school district money (although there is evidence reported in a Pew Study that contradicts this) but the effect on people who live in the communities of the closed schools is much more extreme.   Another reader commented that  “not only are Traditional Public Schools part of the ecology of a community, within the buildings themselves exists an ecosystem essential for sustainable success for the at-risk, poor, black and latino youth most likely attending “failing”/closing schools.”  Mary Conway-Spiegel, the writer of this comment, went on to explain how closing schools affects students, especially those children needing support and encouragement.

Closing “failing” schools closes off the Love most of our neediest children desperately need and rely upon. This love is demonstrated in so many small and large ways throughout a day in a “failing” school they are too many to count. I’ll name a few: an oasis of safety from unbearable home lives, three meals plus snacks, warmth in the winter, boundaries, positive role models…and so so so much more.  When we deny our neediest children positive connections to school, when we forget that at the very center of education is Love – a Love of learning–it’s akin to clear cutting a beautiful forest.

Another reader raised a number of questions that she thought should be discussed among the school boards ordering the closings and the constituents of the schools marked for closing.  And, the reader wonders if 13% of Chicago’s schools are so under-enrolled, why is that?  She writes, “ If that many have fallen into that state of disrepair, there is a larger problem here then under-enrollment. That indicates a deeper, systemic problem.”

According to the Mayor of Chicago, (who appoints members to the Chicago Board of Education), the issue of which schools will be closed is settled.  Yet, the districts plans to hold discussions with citizens in the affected areas.  A little late, I would think.

The CEO of the Chicago School District made what I thought was an odd statement.  According to an article in Education WeekBarbara Byrd-Bennett, the school system’s chief executive officer, released a statement Wednesday, saying,

I fully support the rights of individuals to express their opinion and as a former teacher and principal who has lived through school closings, I know this is not easy for our communities. But as CEO of this district, I need to make decisions that put our children first.

Student Voice

Students might see this kind of decision-making differently.  Here is how one adolescent student (now a college student) takes issue with the point of the view of administrators who make decisions to close their schools.  The student’s name is Melissa Kissoon, a 21-year-old graduate of Franklin K. Lane High School in Brooklyn. She is also a youth leader with Future of Tomorrow and the Urban Youth Collaborative.  These comments were made by Ms. Kissoon during a conference on school closings.  Her high school, Lane High School, Brooklyn, NY, went though major changes while she was a high school student, and was phased out and replaced by other schools. She writes:

As we know, most students who have gone through a similar situation to this, are low-income students of color, primarily Black and Latino, as well as West Indian and other targeted groups.  The zone schools we go to are usually the low-performing ones.The higher performing schools are the specialized high schools or high schools with high-income students that are mostly for more privileged kids compared to those in neighborhood public schools. This creates an ongoing cycle, because it is hard to become privileged when you come from a poor education system. And this is the mentality of most students, which is honestly why most students give up on school so quickly. When school districts close schools, they are sending a message to low-income students of color that is: “We’re going to give up on you, and not supporting you.” And it is understandable that the DoE may assume phasing out a school is actually improving the schools in the long-term, but what about the current students?  In a recent report made by the Urban Youth Collaborative, UYC, of the 21 phased-out high schools in New York City, the 33,000 students who were in their final years, only 9,592 actually graduated. In schools the dropout rates were high, including my own and at another school, the drop out rate reached 70% in the year the school closed.

Although I graduated and I’m in college now this is not a typical situation of a student who has come from a high school phase out. I can honestly say, I look back at the last four years of my life and I feel robbed of my high school experience. My school was no longer MY school; I was basically being kicked out of a school that made a promise to support me and give me all I need to graduate. Students must be consulted about the use and future use of their school. We must be included in decisions about OUR education.

Melissa Kissoon believes that student’s voices need to be heard when changes are made to a school’s future.  In a research study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, entitled Closing Public Schools in Philadelphia: Lessons from Six Urban Districts, one of the most important finds was that of giving voice to constituents in the affected school zones, and that the board of education was willing to make changes when compelling arguments were made.  Unfortunately in Chicago, discussions with parents will only take place after the decision was made to close schools.

Dialog before Decisions are Made

Although the Pew Study reported that public acceptance went up when school officials acted on the following recommendations, there still remain deeper questions about why so many low achieving schools are being closed.

  • presented the case for downsizing as early in the process as possible;
  • hired outside experts to help guide the process;
  • established clear, quantifiable criteria for deciding which schools to close;
  • showed a willingness to make some adjustments in the announced list of targeted schools when faced with compelling arguments; and
  • made the decision on the entire plan with a single vote and not separate votes on each school.

Low achieving schools are those schools whose students don’t do well on mandated multiple-choice end-of-the-year examinations. The focus on this single variable as the measure of school effectiveness makes it almost impossible for many urban schools to make the mark set by bureaucrats who have perhaps never been involved with schools in high poverty communities.

As I write this post, the New York Times reported that a court in Fulton County, Georgia has indicted 35 former Atlanta Public School educators, including the former Superintendent of Schools, Beverly T. Hall.  According to the Times report, “Dr. Hall, who retired in 2011, was charged with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. Prosecutors recommended a $7.5 million bond for Dr. Hall; she could face up to 45 years in prison.”  This is a grotesque continuation of the “Atlanta cheating scandal,” that was one of the unintended outcomes of the standards-based and high-stakes testing environment.  The effectiveness of schools is now reduced to test scores, and teaching at its highest is teaching to the test.

Because we have continued to use standardized test scores to check how schools are doing educating our children and youth, we have blinded ourselves from the humanistic side of schooling.  For students, school will always be more than taking a test.  Yet, we pull a fast one on students by using the very tests that they are required to take, and if they attend schools where many of the kids simply don’t do well on these things, the authorities pull the rug out from under them by closing the school.  What’s the lesson here?

What do you think about the school closing issue in contemporary American education?

School Closings in Our Cities: A Deep Ecological Problem

In this post I am going to argue that it is a mistake for large school districts such as Chicago, New York, and Atlanta to close schools on the basis of achievement and cost effectiveness.  The Chicago School District announced that they plan to close 61 schools which is 13% of the total schools in the district.  This will be the largest mass school closings in U.S. history.  If you map these schools and their communities, the Chicago school board acts as if these schools are unimportant, and indeed the children and youth that attend these schools, because they are poor, and failing state mandated tests, can be moved about at their whim.  According to the president of Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, the decision to close more than 50 schools has been done with no planning.

Deep Ecological Considerations

In their research on what they call “green governance” Burns Weston and David Bollier (2013) offer an insightful analysis of the consequences of the way business enterprises in partnership with government are “fiercely commercializing” many resources that were protected or beyond the reach of such shenanigans.  Bollier (2002) calls this a scandal, and refers to it as a “silent theft” and “the private plunder of our common wealth.”  The closing of schools in the urban environment needs to be considered in the context of ecological issues that are plaguing the world today.  All environments are subject to our understanding of the biosphere, ecosystems, ecology and environmental science.  We often fail to realize that the economic systems that are in place are not separate, but have consequences in the real world.  Weston and Bollier  (2013) call our attention to the effects of the “State and Market” pathways to development and profits.  They write:

The results include pollution and waste in the form of acid rain, hydrocarbon emissions, poisoned waterways, and toxic waste dumps; short-term overuse and destruction of natural resources such as forests, waterways, and fisheries, along with the roads, bridges, harbors, and other material infrastructure needed for their exploitation; and the devaluation of urban and other human settlements, exemplified by “brownfields” and suburban sprawl, which especially affect the poor and racial and other minorities. The policies and practices responsible for this state of affairs are morally and economically unacceptable; they are also environmentally unsustainable (emphasis mine).

The drive to close schools in the urban and inner city environments is clearly the result of policies that lack any understanding and empathy for a world-view that is sustainable, and humane.  I am not suggesting that the human species is any more important than other species of animals and plants.  I am suggesting that as one of many species sharing the earth at this time, we need to recognize how we are connected to other living things and the biosphere.  Without this kind of knowledge, it is very easy for the rich and for those in power to deal with others less fortunate in extreme inhumane ways.

School Closings in the U.S.
School Closings in the U.S.

In their research book entitled Ecology of Wisdom (2010), Alan Drengson and Bill Devall explore the works of Arne Naess, “mountaineer, Gandhian boxer, professor, activist and a student of life’s philosophy.”  Naess’s work has direct implications for the school closures in Chicago, and other urban districts around the country.

Arne Naess, as early as 1965 critiqued the short-term shallow ecology movement (Drengson & Devall, 2010), and compared it to his own thinking which was the long-range deep ecology movement.  Naess citied Rachel Carson as a major influence on his thinking or view of ecology (deep ecology), and joined this view with Gandhian nonviolence, to become an environmental activist.  The Chicago Teachers Union, which resisted peacefully the Chicago school board’s actions last year, is pushing back against the proposed school closings.

Naess realized that it was crucial to have a “whole view of the world and life” to have meaningful dialogue about the environment.  He also believed deeply in the Gandhian belief of respecting the humanity of others.  According to Drengson & Devall, Naess was an interdisciplinary thinker, and was interested in studying grassroots movements to realize the main principles and values of the movement.  The teacher’s union in Chicago, in my view, is a grassroots movement of educators who are willing to act on principles of equity and fairness, and a deep understanding of the ecology of neighborhoods and significance of schools.

Urban schools are important, and they are part of communities and neighborhoods that bring meaning and value to the people who live there.  Naess would most likely join with the Chicago Teachers Union to support their activism.

Schools are Part of, not Separate from their Communities

Mr. Ed Johnson, an education advocate in Atlanta, and a student of W. Edwards Deming, has worked for at least a decade to raise questions about the kind of education that is being put upon the children and youth of Atlanta, and the district’s policy of closing schools in poor neighborhoods.

In an interview posted on YouTube in 2012, Mr. Johnson discussed the Atlanta Public School (APS) closing proposed by Superintendent Dr. Errol Davis.  Ed Johnson opposes the closing of any of the schools in the system.  His interest is in how to improve Atlanta schools, rather than the effort to turn the schools over to private charter organizations.

Public schools should be sustained and improved, not closed.  Simply closing schools to save money (and Mr. Johnson agrees that the APS is in financial need) is a shallow way of thinking about school improvement.  Johnson, from his work professionally as a student of Deming explains that a school is part of a community, and to simply cut or close schools will result in consequences to the entire community.  Closing a school disrupts a community to such an extent that even though the district might save $5 million over a ten-year period, the real effect will be losing money.  Not only do parents depend on the neighborhood school as a public place to educate their children, but the school itself, being part of a community, is connected to many entities that make up the community.  Johnson recommends that instead operating a school at full capacity, we might consider a variable capacity school that makes adjustments to the student population.  By keeping the schools intact, and reducing the overall costs to run the school based on enrollment, a schools remains as a vibrant part of the community, and with community leadership can begin to rebuild and improve the school.

Johnson explains that s system (such as a community) is more than a sum of its parts.  He says that if we get the parts (of a school & its community) working together, it will result in much more than the sum of the parts.  Narrow thinking will lead to the closing of schools because the central office looks only at short-term savings of money, where the kind of deep thinking that Johnson is advocating might create an environment for school improvement, rather than closure.

And one more thing.  Mr. Johnson tasks the school board with telling us what they think is the purpose of schooling in Atlanta.  As he points out, asking nine school board members this question several years ago resulted in nine different answers. As Johnson says, if they can’t agree on the purpose of schools, how can they function to improve the district.  Why do have public schools?  What is the purpose of school?  If we can not answer such a basic question, how can we possibly make serious decisions about people’s lives such as shutting down their children’s schools.  And indeed Mr. Johnson’s ideas about purpose of schooling are in sync with Edward Deming’s ideas when he says:

People are asking for better schools, with no clear idea how to improve education, nor even how to define improvement of education (Deming 1994).

I think you might find it valuable to watch Mr. Johnson’s interview which appears in this video.  View the second part of his video interview here.

Why is that school boards and superintendents of some of America’s largest cities think that the quality of life for citizens living in poor neighborhoods is not as important as to those living away from these neighborhoods?  Instead of trying to foster leadership at the local school and neighborhood level, boards and superintendents are either closing schools or turning schools over to corporate run charter schools whose interest may not be in fostering learning beyond what it takes to pass a multiple choice test, and to staff these schools with outsiders who are un-certified and inexperienced.  As Deming, and in the case of Mr. Johnson, believe, our present thinking about schools lacks purpose, and is shallow and short-term.  The emphasis is on immediate results, and comparisons from one year to the next.  In the case of schools, student achievement test scores are used to make these evaluations, and because this is the bottom line for the state department of education, teachers are teaching for the test.  The Atlanta cheating scandal is a direct result of this policy.

We need new goals for schooling.  The goals need to be in the service of students and their families, not the broad economic interests of governments and corporations.  We need to think differently about schools, and we need to realize that they are not corporations, and they do not have the same purposes of corporations.

As Deming (1994a) points out, beware of common sense when we think about such issues as ranking children by grades, ranking schools and teachers by test scores, and rewards and punishments.  Deming believes that grades should be abolished, and that the ranking of people and schools should not occur.  And significant to the issue of school closure, Deming suggests that taking action (such as closing a school today) may produce more problems in the future, and that a better remedy would be investigate why children in poor neighborhoods are not doing well on state mandated tests, and then do something about it.

Why are we closing schools?  We are doing this because our thinking is shallow.  We use numerical goals as if they were real goals (90% of students will graduate by the year 2050), and in the end, we end up punishing those people and schools that couldn’t live up the expectations of people who know very little about schooling, curriculum, learning and teaching.  All goals are reduced to a report card, that in some states is as simple as A,B,C!

In a report by the Pew Charitable Trust on the effects of 193 school closures in six large cities (Chicago, Detroit and Kansas City, in addition to Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Washington, DC), it was found that the money saved has been relatively small, its been difficult to sell the vacant school buildings, and when closing announcements are made, academic performance of students falls.  But perhaps more importantly, the study found that it was important for the school boards and superintendents to make a strong case for downsizing, and be willing to listen to parents and community leaders about alternatives and to make adjustments.  This does not seem to be happening in Chicago.

Is the policy of closing schools for cost effectiveness a way to improve education in that district?

References

D. Bollier, 2003. Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth. New York: Routledge.

W. E. Deming, 1994. The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education, Second Edition. Cambridge, The MIT Press.

W. Edwards Deming, 1994a. The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education (Kindle Location 349). Kindle Edition.

A. Drengson & B. Devall, 2010. Ecology of Wisdom: Writings of Arne Naess. Berkeley: Counterpoint.

B. H. Weston & D. Bollier, 2013.  Green Governance (Kindle Locations 190-194). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

Why Don’t Our Elected Representatives Write Their Own Legislation?

Update 3.22.2013: EmpowerEd Georgia reported that the Parent Trigger legislation in Georgia was tabled for this legislative session. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution story, the bill was pulled because it didn’t have the votes needed in the senate for passage.

Today, a committee in Georgia Senate will discuss the Parent Trigger Bill which has already passed the House. The bill will enable disgruntled parents of low performing school to fire the teaching and administrative staff and turn the school over to a for-profit charter management company paid with school district money.

House Bill 123 bill did not originate in Georgia. A similar parent trigger bill is before the Florida legislature. And you guessed it, the Florida bill did not originate in Florida. The same can said of the parent trigger bill in Oklahoma.  If you wonder just what the parent trigger bill really is, follow this link to Fund Education Now, an amazing website created by three parents and education advocates whose understanding of school reform research is far beyond what our legislators use to improve education.

As these Florida education advocates say, “something is being done to public education” and its important that politicians who are making it possible for public funds for education to move to the corporate sector realize that they are going to be challenged.

The bills were written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  The parent trigger bills moving in and out of the legislatures in Georgia, Florida, and Oklahoma were written by ALEC. The legislators in these states only had to fill in the dates, the name of their states, and sign the legislation as if it were their own.  ALEC is a corporate-funded organization that works behind closed doors to create model bills that in the end favor corporate interests over the interests of the public sphere.   It’s goal is to promote the privatization of government services and that includes the public schools.

Schools and universities would call this plagiarism. Maybe it’s simply copying with permission. In either case is shows complete disregard for the citizens they represent. To some extent, the legislators are being dishonest, especially when they try to rationalize or explain the reason for the bill. They tell us that they are on the side of parents and their children, when in fact they are using children for the financial gain of private charter firms.

These elected legislators have no integrity in the way they are performing their responsibilities. In this case, the law they are trying to pass is not based a real or perceived need at the local school level. If it was, we would have data on the number of disgruntled parents who are marching and rallying to fire the staff and hire a charter management company.  It’s simply not happening.

Why don’t they write their own legislation? Groups, such as ALEC,  do all the work. The thinking of these legislators is shallow.  All they have to be able to do is read from a menu of model bills on the ALEC website, select a bill that they like, meet with national organization representatives and their lobbyists, and then send the bill to a house and senate committee in their own state.

In the case of the Parent Trigger act, Parent Revolution and ALEC have parent trigger model legislation on their websites.  You can read the Parent Revolution bill here, and the ALEC bill here.

Model Bill Menu–A One Stop Service Station for State Legislators

The American Legislative Exchange Council says it provides a “unique opportunity for legislators, business leaders and citizen organizations” to develop model policies based on academic research, existing state policy and proven business practices (American Legislative Exchange Council 2013).  It’s a goldmine for legislators who take the side of corporate interests over the citizens they represent.  If a legislator is a member of ALEC (there are about 2,000 state representatives on the roll), then you must realize that only 2% of the budget of ALEC comes from these legislators dues, and the rest comes from corporate sponsors.  There are too many corporate sponsors to list on this page.  However, here is a link to a page where you can scroll through the hundreds of corporate sponsors.

On this page, you can get access to brief descriptions of model bills, acts and amendments.  There are about 600 model bills on this page!  I decided to scroll through the hundreds of bills, and select some that relate to education.  I’ve also included several model bills that impinge of science and environmental education.

As you read through the bills that I’ve selected, it is clear that ALEC is in the business privatizing schools, and undermining teachers.  As I wrote in an earlier post, there is a clear attempt to commercialize education and exploit children and schooling further undoing the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy.

Over on the Center for Media and Democracy, you will find an exposé outlining the way ALEC is undermining education in a democratic society.  Following are some ways that ALEC is working to undermine public education.

Look for these in the bills that follow:

    • Offering vouchers with universal eligibility
    • Tax credits to parents who send their children to private schools
    • Preying on parents with children with special needs by using federal funds to subsidize untested for-profit schools
    • Segregating children on the basis on disabilities, race, and parental income.
    • Removing charter school authorization from local school districts and giving it to a state appointed commission
    • Staffing schools with uncertified teachers with little experience
    • Making it almost impossible for teachers to get tenure by basing it on student test score improvement
    • Supporting right-wing ideology by requiring courses that are propaganda forums
    • Promoting climate change denial
  1. Charter School Growth with Quality Act–set up a state charter school commission to serve as charter authorizer.  This act became law in Georgia last year with the help of outside billionaires sending money to the pro-bill organization headed by the legislator who pushed the bill through the Georgia legislature. The bill reinstated a commission that the Georgia Supreme Court had ruled unconstitutional. It was a get back by the republicans who had their feelings hurt. The bill was opposed by John Barge, the republican Superintendent of Education. Barge was called a turncoat and liar by members of his own party. He’s to be admired.
  2. Civil Rights Act–affirmative action programs would be void.
  3. Education Savings Account Act–enables public funds from the school district to be used to in any program chosen by parents for their children
  4. Endangered Species Resolution–urges Congress to amend the Endangered Species Act to require a stronger role for the states and stronger consideration of the social and economic consequences of protecting species
  5. Environmental Literacy Improvement Act–this is a good one.  Teaching about the environment must be designed to “acquire” knowledge, taught in a “balanced” way (you know, if evolution, then evolution must be examined critically), not designed to change any student behavior, attitudes or value (this is the best one–what is the purpose of learning?)  By the way, this is the bill that created an Environmental Education Council, except no one can be on the committee if they have ability in environmental science!).
  6. Environmental Priorities Act–An assessment of all environmental priorities based on “good science” and “sound economics” shall be undertaken by people without a background in environmental science; the Environmental Priorities Council will have 2 politicians, a state administrator selected by the Governor, a member of the chamber of commerce, and an economist. No members should have backgrounds in environmental science.  Remember, the ALEC bills are based on “academic research.”
  7. Founding Philosophy and Principles Act–A bill requiring all students to take and pass a course in America’s founding philosophy based on The Creator-endowed rights of the people.  It appears to be endorsing a propaganda type course, and for me it glaringly omits the key words used in the Environmental Literacy Improvement Act, and that is “critical thinking.”  The content of this course is not be questioned.  The bill promotes right-wing ideology.
  8. Founding Principles Act–basically the same as the previous act requiring students to learn that in a short time, the 13 colonies became the greatest and most powerful nation on earth.  More right-wing ideology.
  9. Free Enterprise Education Act–this is another humdinger.  A course in economics (no complaint here), but based on the idea that to get out of the Great Recession, which was caused by illegal and immoral behavior of well-educated adults in the financial and housing industry, students must take a course that tells them how the free enterprise system works!  Ideology at work again.
  10. Great Teachers and Leaders Act–teacher tenure will be based on student growth on academic tests, and tenure can be removed if the teacher has two consecutive bad years.  This bill endorses unsubstantiated claims that teacher effectiveness can be measured using student academic test scores.  It is an anti-teacher and anti-adminstrator bill that further supports the degradation of public school educators.  Shame on any legislator that supports this bill.
  11. Hard Science Resolution–you must read this one.  This bill requires that any government regulation have a strict and absolute basis in hard scientific fact and cut any arbitrary and imprecise regulations that might harm the free-maker competition and consumers.
  12. Higher Education Transparency Act–In this bill, colleges and universities must make available on their website all syllabi, curriculum vitae of each instructor, a budget report, distribution of last grades, and the college must also give a report to the governor. All of this information is already available on higher education institutions websites.  This is a bill that encroaches on academic freedom, and adds a new role for the governor, and that is to evaluate undergraduate courses in paleontology!
  13. Indiana Education Reform Package–It calls for charter schools, school scholarships (vouchers), teacher evaluations and licensing, teacher collective bargaining (none), turnaround academies and textbook act.
  14. Parent Trigger Act–Enables parents or teachers (50% +1) to take over a school and replace it with a charter school.  The movement is deceptive and fraudulent and is simply a way to open the doors of struggling schools to charter management pirates.

There you have it.  Only 14 of the more than 600 bills on the ALEC website.  It no wonder that our legislators don’t write their own legislation.  They don’t have to.  All they have to do is: Go Ask ALEC.

What is your opinion about state legislators making use of the model bills on the ALEC website, and then introducing them in their own state legislature as if they were the authors, and that they were introducing the bill to resolve an important state issue?

 

References

American Legislative Exchange Council. (2013). Model Legislation. In American Legislative Exchange Council. Retrieved March 19, 2013, from http://www.alec.org/model-legislation/.

 

Special Delivery: NGSS Adoption Workbooks

Yesterday, I discovered a new organization, the U.S. Education Delivery Institute (EDi). When I saw the name, I first thought it was part of the U.S. Department of Education, or the United States Postal Service. I was wrong on both counts. The EDi, formed in 2010 is another Washington D.C. non-profit founded by Sir Michael Barber, former head of the U.K. Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit.  The U.K. organization designed by P.M. Tony Blair to manage priorities by “delivering” to and monitoring intended targets.  Delivery was abolished in 2010.

Edi has teamed up with Achieve to “deliver” a workbook telling leaders how to adopt and carry out the Next Generation Science Standards.

What’s Being Delivered?

A workbook.  For state leaders in states who intend to adopt the NGSS.  Now, the workbook is really important because of “several shifts in the way that science is taught.”  All of these shifts are covered in the workbook, which is 114 pages long.

But, wait.  According to the workbook, the fundamental change is in how students will demonstrate proficiency!  The authors of the handbook (no names are included, except the president of Achieve, and he didn’t write this) tell us that  students will engage in scientific practices–developing models, designing solutions, constructing arguments.  It’s as if this has never been done before.  There have been many efforts by science educators to improve science teaching. Achieve cleverly criticizes earlier science education standards (NSES), and programs such as AAAS’s Project 2061, and the STS curriculum movement.  In each of these efforts, teachers use inquiry teaching and learning approaches, and in the case of STS, curricula is related to students’ everyday experiences.

The NGSS standards document is sterile.  The standards are written without context.  In fact, to the writers of the NGSS, the context doesn’t matter because they claim that all students should be held responsible for each standard, regardless of where the students live.  But we know this is not right.  Study after study of the relationship between child poverty and academic performance consistently shows an inverse relationship between these two variables.  How can we simply drop new standards on American schools and expect that all students will have the same chance to learn and love science?

New Verbs.  Another big idea is which verbs are used in the new standards.  That’s right, which verbs.  Remember way back when we started writing “behavioral objectives” verbs were used to describe the kind of action that students would have to show on specific objectives.  The verbs have changed in the NGSS.  In fact, the difference in verbs used in the NGSS tells the story!  NGSS doesn’t like verbs such as distinguish, describe, recognize, identify and demonstrate.  But they do like verbs like develop, design, construct, analyze and interpret (see p.5 NGSS Adoption and Implementation Workbook).

A Chapter Book. A seven chapter workbook written for state implementation leaders.  The titles tell it all.  Designate strategic leadership team; define your aspiration, evaluate past and present performance, determine state’s role and approach to implementation, set targets and trajectories, develop stakeholder engagement strategy, establish routines and solve problems.

Exercises.  There are 27 exercises spread among the seven chapters.  Each exercise is guided by three or four objectives that use verbs such as identify, evaluate, develop, determine, understand, use, record.  These are not the kinds of verbs that the NGSS claims are used in the new standards, e.g. design, construct, etc.

Glossary. There is also a glossary of key terms including Aspiration, Element (not from the Periodic Table of the Elements), Guiding Coalition, Metric, Strategic Leadership Team, Target, Trajectory.

Who’s Delivering the NGSS Workbook?

Two organizations have teamed up to deliver this NGSS document, Achieve and the U.S. Education Delivery Institute.  The organizations are richly funded by American corporations that financially support a long list of standards and assessment-based groups.  Figure 1 shows the overlap of corporations that fund Achieve and EDi.  Gates shows up everywhere, and here they are again. The overlap of companies that fund these education organizations is further evidence that so called state standards are driven by national priorities of firms that want to privatize K-12 schooling.

Achieve

U.S. EDi

Funders

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Carnegie Foundation

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

21 Additional Corporations

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Carnegie Corporation

Harold K.L. Castle Foundation

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

What is troubling here is that each organization is beholden to the Gates Foundation whose picture of educational reform is part of an “educational reform cabal (ERC).”  ERC is behind reforms that are anti-union, seek to rid the schools of all those “bad” teachers, use simplistic metrics such as test scores to make serious decisions about students, teachers and schools, support the take over of K-12 public schools with for-profit charters, believes 50% + 1 parents (Parent Trigger Bill) can overturn a school by firing teachers and replacing them with a charter management company, advocates use of vouchers paid for with public funds which can be used to send students to private schools, and so forth.
The new science standards will be of little use unless there is real curriculum development, and money is made available to school districts for teams of science teachers to develop, field-test and carry out new curriculum that support student learning.  In a recent article in The Science Teacher, Rodger W. Bybee points to a major concern about the NGSS.  He suggests that there is a need “for clear and coherent curriculum and instruction that connects the Next Generation Science Standards and assessments.  He writes:
If there is no curriculum for teachers, I predict the standards will be implemented with far less integrity than intended by the Framework and those who developed the Next Generation Science Standards (Bybee 2013).
The new workbook has little to do with science curriculum.  It’s main intent is to make sure that the new standards are implemented in the nation’s schools, and to give their take on how to do this.  It may be all well and good.  But, its top down reform no matter how you look at it.  Teachers aren’t even considered as “targets” of the workbook that Edi is delivering.
There is little transparency in this workbook.  We have no idea who wrote it.
We do know this, however.  The former Georgia Superintendent of Schools (2003 – 2010), Kathy Cox is the Chief Executive Officer of U.S. Education Delivery Institute.  Stephen L. Pruitt, who is Achieve’s Vice President is the leader of the development of the NGSS.  Pruitt was Georgia’s Associate Superintendent of Assessment and Accountability overseeing the NCLB, and was Cox’s Chief of Staff from 2009 2010
In 2005, while Cox was Superintendent of Education, and the state was re-writing the state science standards, she recommended that the word “evolution” be removed from all pages of the science standards documents.  Her reasoning was the word evolution was a buzzword of controversy.  She also appeared to believe that there were several accepted theories for biology, and she didn’t want the public or students to get stuck on the word evolution.  Her strongly held view was overturned after major news organizations reported the story, and key science organizations voiced strong opposition to her fear of the word evolution.

What’s next?

The last version of the new science standards has not been published, but according to Achieve, the NGSS will be published this year.  Schools will begin implementation in 2014.
In the meantime, look for a special delivery of the Next Generation Science Standards: Adoption and Implementation Workbook.

Do you think that we are on the right track here?  Do you think there is a problem with organizations such as Achieve and EDi receiving their funding from the same group of corporations?