Sunday, December 30, 2018

Charter School Advocates Moving to a Complete Takeover of EBR Schools

The Advocate reports here on a trip to Indianapolis for EBR school board members paid for by pro charter school, super rich donors. These out-of-state education reformers seem to believe that the transfer of more and more of our school tax dollars to support new charter schools will somehow improve education. Yet there is more and more evidence piling up demonstrating that these charter schools have the absolute worst results as measured by the very tests that the reformers rely upon to measure school success. The average ACT scores for the Charter school graduates in EBR are the absolute lowest (14.6 out of a possible 36 points) in the state. Performance on the elementary math and English tests place EBR charter takeover schools 5th from the bottom of the state's 72 school districts.

Here is an Advocate article about some of the out-of-state donors who have worked for several years to elect more charter advocates to the EBR school board. They have now basically succeeded in taking over the Board. EBR superintendent Warren Drake's job is now in jeopardy if he does not quickly jump on the privatization train.

But apparently evidence of performance is not important to the reformers once a school is converted to a charter. The reformers rely on performance data mostly as justification for taking over our public schools and converting them to mostly "for profit" charter schools. Then they can conveniently ignore the data.

Even the so called "non-profit" charters usually end up being a cash cow for the operators. Since the charter school operators get to appoint their own boards, they can pay themselves high salaries. Charter operators also hide some of their profits by having the charter school pay management fees and rent to companies that they also own. Some of those high salaries and fees coupled with mismanagement often result in collapse or bankruptcy of charters, with the taxpayer getting stuck with the tab to restart the school. See this report by Mercedes Schneider on some of the failed New Orleans charters. EBR recently had a couple of charters that went under without paying their utility bills and other obligations.

The most appalling thing about this story is that the takeover of our public schools is being aided and coordinated by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce (BRACC). Somehow our business community has been duped into pushing this ill conceived scheme.

Much of the funding for promotion of privatization of our schools will be the newly formed City Fund, already worth a cool 189 million. This fund will be used to promote what is called the "Portfolio Model" for the privatization of our public schools. This City Fund was created by wealthy hedge fund managers and the owners of Netflix. The name "Portfolio model" is appropriate since hedge fund managers made their fortunes by managing portfolios of other people's money. Now they want to "manage" our tax money by giving it to charter operators.

Without a shred of evidence to support the assumption that privatized charter schools provide a better education for our public school children, these self-appointed stewards of our school tax money will be pushing the EBR school board to turn over more of our taxes to unqualified operators of these independent schools. That's our school tax money being diverted without our permission.

How are they doing it? Are they using some of that out-of-state money to buy school supplies, textbooks, modern science equipment or to boost teacher salaries so we can attract the best educators to teaching jobs? Nope, not a penny for those things! At least, not so far. The money mostly goes to buying influence by electing school board members dedicated to privatization, and to giving campaign contributions to legislators who pass laws making the creation of charter and voucher schools a priority. In politics, money is a powerful weapon.  A few years ago out-of-state money helped to elect our Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, also dedicated to privatization. Pro-Privatization governor Bobby Jindal and the new BESE members appointed our latest state superintendent in January 2012 with the goals of increasing testing and test prep, blaming teachers for any low ranking of our education system and to increase privatization.  How has that worked?

The results of reform and privatization in Louisiana:
Here, again, is some of that pesky data on student performance: When White was appointed, our state was ranked about about 5th from the bottom of all states in student test performance on the national NAEP test. Now our average ranking is last among all states and just a hair above the District of Columbia schools. Recently, BESE and White removed basically all standards for student promotion from one grade to the next, and have lowered the passing standard on high school end-of-course tests to less than 20% correct answers on most of the state tests. It's no wonder that our graduation rate has increased in recent years.

How could the State Board of Education and even the reformers themselves condone and approve such ridiculously low standards for high school graduation? Probably because at least some of them don't know what the cut scores for passing grades really are. The raw cut scores for passing are kept secret from almost everyone by converting them to scale scores that look pretty good. For example, the lowest scale score for passing is 700 out of a possible score of 850 on the new LEAP 2025 tests. A simple calculation would seem to be 700/850 =  .82 or 82%. But scale scores cannot be converted in this manner to raw percentage scores. The conversion can only be done by using a conversion table originally known only to the testing company and to the LDOE. The conversion tables were revealed only because of public records requests backed up by the threat of lawsuits to enforce the law. For Algebra I, the conversion table reveals that the true passing score is only 14.7%.

Another investigation that reveals misleading practices of the LDOE is the revelation that in the last few years there has been great inflation of the various levels of achievement on the state LEAP tests compared to the NAEP. See this post. This practice makes it look like our students are doing a lot better in their basic skills courses than is indicated by the national tests.

But it's easy to fool people who have complete faith in educational reform and the people they have installed to implement it.  The Chamber and the big donors just want to believe that privatization and the blaming and shaming of teachers have produced real improvement. But in this era of alternate reality and alternate facts, sooner or later we need to come to grips with the real facts. Maybe then the hedge fund managers and the Chamber of Commerce will consider putting professional educators in charge and returning our public schools to the Louisiana taxpayers.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Another Fake School Conning Parents and Donors

Why did it take the New York Times to send a team of reporters to Louisiana to expose this fraud of a school? Where were the reporters of the Lafayette Advertiser and The Advocate while innocent children were being preyed upon and their parents conned into paying huge monthly tuitions to a "school" where their children were being beaten, humiliated, and taught to lie on their resume's so they could end up flunking out of elite colleges? The Times report exposes T.M. Landry near Breaux Bridge as just another fake "miracle school".

Its easy to promote miracle schools because we want to believe.
Why were so many so called "important people" taken in by these con artists? Why were TV personalities like those on the "Today Show and "Ellen" taken in by this scam that conned their viewers into making contributions to these crooks?

The so called education reforms where standardized test scores and graduation rates and "credit recovery" and "high performing" and "failing" schools have taken the place of real education have set the stage for a deluge of phony miracle schools.

Why are our public schools being forced to allocate a part of our public school budgets to buy television and radio ads in an attempt to prevent the bleeding of school funds to these fake schools?

Our politicians are on the take from education con artists
Our legislature and the federal congress has opened the floodgates allowing our public tax dollars to flow to con artists who are getting rich by faking school test results and graduation rates and college admissions rates, just to get our school tax dollars. The politicians are handing over our tax dollars to various non-educator con-persons because they themselves are "on the take" by receiving political contributions and various favors from these crooks who claim to be running miracle schools that can make all students into elite college goers.

Taxpayers wake up! We have a system for insuring that our school tax dollars are used to educate our children. We elect local school board members every 4 years who can be replaced if they don't spend our tax dollars wisely. Its not perfect, but its much better than allowing charter school operators who appoint their own boards so that they can pay themselves exorbitant salaries while hiring the cheapest teachers who often are not properly certified. But our politicians who are on the take to these charlatans have passed laws that make it easy for these privatizers to just hijack education funds from our local school boards.

Campbell's law tells us that if a school appears too good to be true, it probably is.
There is an important concept that applies to the ratings of public institutions such as public schools. Its called Campbell's law. This principle first articulated by social psychologist Dr Donald Campbell, tells us this: When a particular statistical/social measure is used to measure progress in any enterprise that carries with it high stakes, rewards, and punishments, that statistical measure is sure to be corrupted and/or misreported to the point that it becomes useless as a measure of success. If you make the graduation rate the measure of success of a school and you make the future of school administrators dependent on that graduation rate you will soon see a dramatic improvement in the graduation rate, mostly accomplished by handing out worthless diplomas. If you make high standardized test scores the criteria for keeping a takeover charter school open, you will get higher standardized test scores by hook or crook.

The education of children is a complex, difficult, but intrinsically rewarding job that has been done very well for many years in our country by dedicated professional educators. That job has changed and gotten more difficult in the last 50 years when our country set a goal of educating all children including those with disabilities and attempting to close the achievement gap between rich and poor, and white and brown students. That's when the myths about "good"schools and "bad" schools started proliferating and causing the diversion of our school tax dollars to privatization efforts by many non-educators who saw an opportunity for big profits. One of the most damaging myths is that anyone should be allowed to run a school even if they have no education credentials, as long as they can produce high student test scores. We have all been taken in by con-men who used these myths about eduction to extract our tax dollars. This is what creates this new rash of phony "miracle schools".

The con-man phenomenon is being modeled at the top.
It seems that we are living in a time of unbridled con-men and schemes to fleece the public that goes all the way to the top office in our government! Remember: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is; if the politician is promising to "make our country great again" while playing on peoples' prejudice and fears he is probably just a con-man. He probably needs to be locked up.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The New School Performance Scores and Grades Ignore Critical Factors

By omitting critical factors affecting test performance, the new public school grading system promotes the myth that all schools operate on a level playing field.
The new school grading system is very complex, requires many arcane calculations, and promotes the myth that schools are being rated in a fair manner.  Unfortunately the new school rating system amounts to a useless Rube-Goldberg ratings machine resulting in continued stigmatization of schools serving disadvantaged student populations. It operates with several serious flaws. (See the analysis below by Herb Bassett.) The school grading system tells us what we already knew without having to go through these complex calculations. That is that schools with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities produce lower test score averages year after year. Also schools that select their students by high academic ability and economic advantage produce higher average test scores year after year.

But when we look at the extremely detailed formula for assigning grades to schools, it seems to include almost everything but the factors that really matter. The addition of progress points changes little in the final result. It is my opinion that schools with high percentages of  disadvantaged students are just as handicapped in winning progress points as they are in attaining high average test scores.  All children can make academic progress but at different rates according to their varying environments and talents.

We know that acedemically selective magnet schools will always get high performance scores and an "A" letter grade almost without regard to the quality of instruction. That's because students selected based on good academic performance in the past will generally produce high test scores in the near future.

We also know that lab schools that admit mostly wealthy students will produce high average test scores and will also get rated as high performing schools. 

Alternative schools which receive mostly low performing and troubled students get the lowest grades year after year. 

Simply noting the designation "magnet" or "alternative" in the SPS tables has no effect on the calculation of the scores.

The correlation of poverty and school scores in the new grading system could be observed by including a column listing the percentage of students in the school who are economically disadvantaged in addition to the "magnet" or "alternative" designations. But our LDOE has always failed to include the economic data next to the school ratings. Here is a sample of such data for the Natchitoches Parish school system: (Click on chart to enlarge it)

The 3 "A" schools in Natchitoches Parish don't just happen to be magnet and lab schools.  The 4 "F" schools include one alternative school and three schools that serve some of the most impoverished students in the school system. Student selection profoundly affects the school scores and letter grades. (Note: high poverty populations do have some high performing students. These are often siphoned off to magnet schools, further depressing the score of their original school)

It is not my intention to unfairly spotlight the Natchitoches School system. The same trends can be observed in any of the public school systems in Louisiana.  In addition, the school systems that have the highest district grades are invariably those with the lowest levels of poverty. The LDOE conveniently fails to provide the data to allow the public to make this comparison.

So what is the purpose of reporting to the public that such schools repeatedly have low average test performance? How does it help to add insult to injury for struggling schools? How does it help a school to attract good teachers when it is repeatedly rated as a "D" or an "F" no matter how hard the teachers work? If the ultimate goal is to help students perform better, then it must be obvious that the school rating system is counter productive.

This grading system continues to perpetrate the myth that "A" rated schools have the best teachers and the "F" rated schools have the worst teachers. A great way to destroy this myth would be to switch the teachers from an "A" rated school with the teachers from an "F" rated school for a few years. I would be willing to make a sizable waver that there would be little change in the performance of either school. But to my knowledge, this has never been done. Why do we continue to perpetuate the myth that school performance is mostly determined by the quality of the teachers when we have so much evidence that there are much more powerful factors at work?

But Superintendent White and his allies are irrevocably committed to the rating, blaming and shaming of schools for factors over which they have no control. The facts don't matter. The only thing that matters is the mistaken ideology that such tactics will somehow produce improved results.

We have shown in this earlier report that the LEAP test results have been inflated in recent years to give the illusion of progress, but this report shows that Louisiana is falling further behind on the Nation Assessment of Education progress which compares Louisiana to all other states. 

In Louisiana, this policy along with the imposition of the unteachable Common Core standards have only resulted in a lower ranking compared to other states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.