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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nonsense.

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

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

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

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

Bill Gates has all the Anwers: Just Ask Him

There are two articles that you might want to read either before or after you read this post. The first article was in the New York Times and is entitled: Teacher Ratings get a New Look, Pushed by a Rich Watcher.  The other article is actually a blog post and is entitled Bill Gates Listens to the Wrong People.

The multi-billionaire Bill Gates is pouring more than $335 million into teacher evaluation research.  The money is being used to revamp several large school district’s personnel departments; it sets out to use digital video tapes of teachers in an attempt to evaluate the teachers, to try and find out if there are specific teacher behaviors that might be correlated with student achievement.  As the New York Times article points out, Gates believes that his money can be used to find out what makes one teacher more effective than another.  So, Mr. Gates idea is to find out what characterizes “extremely good teachers” by video taping them, examining very closely the classroom behavior of these teachers, and use these teachers as “exemplars” of good teaching.  According to the article

The goal is to help researchers look for possible correlations between certain teaching practices and high student achievement, measured by value-added scores. Thomas J. Kane, a Harvard economist who is leading the research, is scheduled to announce some preliminary results in Washington next Friday. More definitive conclusions are expected in about a year.

The other article, written by Diane Ravitch, questions the motivation of Gates, and wonders why do American educators listen to what Gates has to say about teaching, teacher performance, tenure, class size and teacher pay?  Money.  Gates is everywhere telling us that he really knows what education needs.  As Dian Ravitch points out,

Since Gates is a multibillionaire, he can’t possibly understand what it means to work in an environment where you might be fired for disagreeing with your boss. Nor can he possibly understand that schools are collaborative cultures that need senior teachers who are ready and willing to help newcomers. He can’t imagine that school is different from Microsoft or other big corporations. Let’s be honest. CCSSO and The New York Times pay attention to what Gates says because he is so rich. If he didn’t run the biggest foundation in the world, if he wasn’t one of the richest men in the world, would anyone care about his opinion of education? Really, who would care what he said if he were the chairman of the Whatzit Corporation and sold widgets?

If you have not visited Diane Ravitch’s and Deborah Meier’s blog, I urge you do so.  It is entitled Bridging Differences, and is made up of letters Diane and Deborah write to each other.

Trying to link student academic achievement to teacher behavior is not a new idea.  Researchers have been studying teacher and student behavior using video tapes, classroom observations and portfolios for decades.  The central problem that researchers report about teacher effectiveness research is the lack of agreement about what constitutes good or effective teaching.  Bill Gates, especially when he gives interviews, or is making a presentation talks as if he really knows what is effective teaching.

By and large the policy driving the assessment of teachers is the model of teacher effectiveness based on student test scores.  Gates, and other funding entities are quick to assume that teacher effectiveness is a relatively easy attribute to observe.  Yet, researchers Goe, Bell and Little suggest that not only is teacher effectiveness difficult to define but make this point:

just because it is possible to match teachers to their students’ test scores and use this relationship as a measure of teacher effectiveness does not mean that this is the only way to evaluate teacher effectiveness.

I find it amazing that Gates has ignored a very large body of research on teaching, and teacher effectiveness, and acts glib when he talks about “effective” teachers.  I honestly don’t think he has a clue.  If Gates did pursue a scholarly view of teacher effectiveness, he would find the following teacher evaluation (effectiveness?) methods, each of which has been researched:

  • Classroom Observation
  • Principal Evaluation
  • Instructional Artifact
  • Portfolio
  • Teacher Self-Report Measure
  • Student Survey
  • Value-Added Model

Each of these methods has strengths, but each also should be approached cautiously.  The value-added model (VAM), a model that Gates and others have grabbed onto has not been shown to be reliable.  VAM is used to determine teachers’ contributions to students’ test score gains.  According to Goe, Bell, and Little:

Little is known about the validity of value-added scores for identifying effective teaching, though research using value- added models does suggest that teachers differ markedly in their contributions to students’ test score gains. However, correlating value-added scores with teacher qualifications, characteristics, or practices has yielded mixed results and few significant findings.

Why the film, “Waiting for Superman” demonizes public education

Over the past month, I’ve written several posts about the film Waiting for Superman, and wanted to return to it today, and point you to the Bridging Differences Weblog by Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier, and their criticism not only of this film, but how the forces behind the film, and the standards and test culture have resorted to the demonization of public schools, and misleading the public about the “success” of charter schools.

Here is how Diane Ravitch begin her recent post entitled Demonizing Public Education:

I reviewed “Waiting for ‘Superman'” for The New York Review of Books. I thought the movie was very slick, very professional, and very propagandistic. It is one-sided and very contemptuous of public education. Notably, the film portrayed not a single successful regular public school, and its heroic institutions were all charter schools.

The public is being told that charter schools are more successful than public schools, and that some of the charter’s produce “amazing results.”  Some do, but so do public schools.  What is going on here is an effort to attack public schools, and to weaken the confidence that we have in our public schools.  Some analyses point to fund managers and foundations behind the movement because of the public funds that are available for charter and for-profit schools.

In the website Not Waiting for Superman, you can find out how conservative Republicans and techno-Democratic billionaires have bonded to foster educational reform based upon misinformation and the desire to control education.  Here is the introduction for a piece written about this:

This article, written expressly for NOTwaitingforsuperman.org, explores the money behind the movie, its promoters, and those who will benefit from the movie. As author Barbara Miner writes, “In education, as in so many other aspects of society, money is being used to squeeze out democracy.” After examining the role of hedge funds, foundations and other players, she asks, “Should the American people put their faith in a white billionaires boys’ club to lead the revolution on behalf of poor people of color?”

I recommend you scroll through the Bridging Differences website to find out more about educational reform.  You might also take a look at the Not Waiting for Superman site.

Billions and Billions, and I am not talking about stars!

I am talking about dollars, and how billionaires are influencing (science) education policy from the K-12 level to the U.S. Department of Education, and this is being done in an environment where the billionaires are demanding accountability from the recipients of its money, but do so without having to be held to any standards or accountability themselves.

In her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch explores how testing and choice are undermining education.  As Ravitch points out, there are many philanthropic organizations such as the Carnegie, Ford and Rockefeller, which have used a Request for Proposal (RFP) strategy in which they reviewed proposals, and then funded proposals that met various project goals.

In her book she identifies three new and very different foundations that decided what they wanted to accomplish, how they wanted to accomplish it, and who would be the recipients of their money—billions of dollars.  The three foundations she identified are The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Walton Family Foundation, and The Broad Foundation.  If you go to their websites, you will see a vast array of “investments” that each of these foundations has and is making in education policy and practice.  So, what is the problem here?

For these foundations, their investments in education should produce measurable results.  As Ravitch points out, these organizations might have begun their education work with various goals in mind, but she suggests that they have most recently supported educational reform strategies that mirror their own experience in acquiring large fortunes.  These include competition, choice, deregulation, incentives, and other market-based approaches.

The foundations have huge sums of money available to implement reform based on these strategies, and it is very difficult of school districts to turn their backs on such generosity.  These foundations exert enormous influence on public education, and indeed, can shape public policy toward education.  Ravitch puts it this way:

They have taken it upon themselves to reform public education, perhaps in ways that would never survive the scrutiny of voters in any district or state.  If voters don’t like the foundations’ reform agenda, they can’t vote them out of office.  The foundations demand that public schools and teachers be held accountable for performance, but they themselves are accountable to no one.  If their plans fail, no sanctions are levied against them.  They are the bastions of unaccountable power.

The billions and billions of dollars that these foundations have decided to invest in education have not been reviewed or assessed by academics.  Ravitch points out that not one book has been published which questions their strategies, and there appears to be few if any published papers or articles written by university faculty, perhaps because of fear alienating the foundations resulting in not having their projects funded.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Education received 100 billion dollars as part of Economic and Recovery Act to invest in K-12 education.  Four and half billion dollars have been allocated to The Race to the Top Fund in which states compete for the money.  Two states have received nearly 500 million of this money; other states will submit their proposals by June 1 for the second round of funding.  Unfortunately the Race to the Top Fund guidelines that the states must follow have been heavily influenced by the Billionaire Foundation of Gates, Walton and Broad.  Indeed, Bill Gates is an advisor to the Secretary of Education.

There is a fundamental problem here.  I will explore this more in the days ahead.  For now, I am going to watch a 60 minute segment on earthquakes.

Using Fear to Attack Teachers and Hold Schools Hostage

This week’s Newsweek magazine included three lead articles entitled Why we can’t get rid of failing teachers?, Schoolyard Brawl, and Blackboard Jungle. The next day, Teacher Magazine featured an online discussion related to these articles entitled Is Firing Bad Teachers the Answer? The discussion on the Teacher Magazine website encouraged readers to share their opinions based on this brief introduction:

The cover story in the current issue of Newsweek proclaims that, in order to improve schools, “we must fire bad teachers.” The story points to research showing that teacher quality is the most important factor in student success, and then argues that, for a variety of reasons – union obstructionism foremost among them – the teaching profession on the whole has languished in recent years, particularly in low-income schools. It cites the recently planned mass firings at Central Falls High in Rhode Island as “a notable breakthrough” in coming to terms with this issue, adding that “if more truly bad teachers were let go,” the good ones would get more respect and a “boost in status that comes with higher standards.”
What’s your view? Is firing bad teachers the key to improving schools? Would it ultimately bolster the teaching profession? Why shouldn’t ineffective teachers be fired – or why aren’t they more often?
Many of the respondents agreed that the question was a loaded one. How do you define “bad teacher” or “good teacher,” and that indeed the articles in Newsweek and the question posed on the Teacher Magazine website dichotomized teachers, and trivialized the issue of improving education. One of the respondents, Mark Philips, focused in on some views that I will explore after his quote:
And through all of this there is a blaming of teachers and principals. Newsweek
has managed to epitomize this with a cover story highlighted by the phrase “we must fire bad teachers.” Apart from the amazingly ill informed editorial-like stories, highlighted by a truly stupid look at classroom management challenges that any halfway capable teacher trainer would pick apart in an instant, the cover and story add to the growing public attack on teachers. This was only exacerbated when Obama and Duncan supported the Rhode Island move. That support from the President is unconscionable.
If we know nothing else from research in social and clinical psychology, we know that attacking does not increase motivation, it increases defensiveness. Teacher organizations do need to take more responsibility for the quality of teaching, but this isn’t the way to get there. And an open war between teacher organizations, teachers, and policy makers will be a lose-lose with the biggest losers being the kids.
The President should call an educational summit meeting. It should include Ravitch, Darling-Hammond, other top educators, and teacher organization leaders. It may be too late to totally revise his announced policies but it is not too late to shape their implementation, providing greater flexibility.
Most importantly, the President should take the initiative in rebuilding bridges with teachers. He has the strength of character to not let pride stand in the way and this must be done.
What is this all about? In the article in Newsweek which prompted the discussion on Teacher Magazine, there is a giant circled letter F located just above the title of the article. The authors (Evan Thomas and Pat Wingert) were giving an F to the fact that schools don’t seem able to “fire bad teachers.” Ro them the “F” was a grade. They go on to provide statistics showing the very small percentage of teachers that are “fired.” Then they suggest that American education will never regain its lost crown until administrators and politicians “step up!” They then applaud the actions of administrators that resulted in the mass-firing of all teachers and administrators at Central Falls High School.
To me the “F” represents “fear” and in this context it is about exploitation and the use of fear to manipulate the American public that their schools are really bad, and that we are unable to compete in the global work place. They cite statistics from international tests which use the sports analogy of ranking the teams based on win-lost records, and of course in this case, they rank order nations based on the average score of student test results. In nearly all of these cases, the averages are compilations, in that students rarely take the entire test. Furthermore, most of the comparisons try and compare U.S. schools to small nations, most of which have a common school curriculum. In the U.S. there are more than 15,000 independent school districts using a variety of curriculum programs and standards.
Using false statistics, and claiming that the sky is falling, these writers, and indeed administrators and politicians are using what Leonard Pitts calls and wrote in an editorial entitled The politics of fear, unmasked and exploited. Although Pitts discusses how one of our political parties has in recent years used fear to motivate the American public, I am using his argument to suggest that fear is being used as a weapon to motivate the public. We see this in the Newsweek articles, the movement to establish a set of common standards designed by out-of-school experts, corporate leaders and politicians, and the NCLB Act, which uses student high-stakes achievement tests to hold parents, teachers and administrators hostage. The central concept that runs through these movements is to strike fear in the American public that their schools are inadequate, and that the sky is falling. If something isn’t done, and done fast, economic ruin will result.
In my own view, the attitude that appears to be emerging in which teachers are attacked in the press, politicians, and corporate leaders is a dangerous trend. The writers of the articles in Newsweek provided its readers with a one-sided argument, and made the simplistic assumption that by simply removing so called bad teachers would solve the problems facing American schools. I don’t know about you, but many of the schools that I’ve worked in for more than 35 years are facing the most serious economic challenges in decades. Districts in the Atlanta area are going to have to eliminate teaching positions, and close schools. The Kansas City school district will have to close half of its schools, and according to the superintendent “the district would be bankrupt in 18 months without the cuts.”

And if you listen to the leaders of the “common standards” movement, American schools will cause economic failure unless drastic action is taken, and that drastic action is the adoption and implementation of common standards.

One of the blogs that I read is Bridging Differences, a give and take between Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier provide a forum for educators to explore education in a democratic society, and take issue with many of the trends that are dominating education today, such as NCLB. Diane Ravitch published earlier this month a new book entitled The Death and Life of the Great American School System. In her book she emphasizes the following ideas—-ideas quite different than those reported in Newsweek Magazine.
Ravitch includes these ideas for improving America’s schools:
  • leave decisions about schools to educators, not politicians or businessmen
  • devise a truly national curriculum that sets out what children in every grade should be learning
  • expect charter schools to educate the kids who need help the most, not to compete with public schools
  • pay teachers a fair wage for their work, not “merit pay” based on deeply flawed and unreliable test scores
  • encourage family involvement in education from an early age