Saturday, December 14, 2013

College and career readiness - what?

Who wouldn't think college and career readiness is a good thing?  Of course students should be prepared for college and career.  But what does this mean?  And why are we talking about  college and career readiness as if they are the same things?

First, let's consider college readiness.  Is this the same thing for all colleges?  How about for all majors even at the same university?  Does making sure all students can simplify radical expressions and solve quadratic equations mean they are all ready for every college program in every college?  What about technical college?  Business college?  Do all colleges have the same criteria for admission?  How can we have one set of standards to prepare all students for college when the requirements and expectations for different universities and different programs vary so greatly?

Now think about career readiness.  It's even more mind-boggling to think about preparing students for all careers with the same set of standards.  Seems to me we're hammering a lot of square pegs into round holes. How are we preparing the photographers, the artists, the dancers, the musicians, the athletes, the carpenters, the builders, the public servants when we expect everyone to meet the same expectations geared primarily to students with strong verbal aptitude?  

Nearly everything in the common core is geared to verbal skill and reasoning.  Reading complex text, writing to text, citing evidence from text.  How about the careers that lean more to concrete, visual-spatial intelligence?  Social-emotional intelligence?  Musical intelligence?  Students are not standardized.  Why should their education be?

And another thing - why do we spend so much time identifying and quantifying student weaknesses, focusing on what they can't do?  Is there room to also find what they can do?  Can we encourage them to grow and develop other skills and knowledge besides the ones in the standards?

I'm all for preparing students for college and careers.  I just happen to think that the best way to do this is to encourage students to discover and follow their passions.  To become lifelong learners.  To be equipped as confident, competent citizens.  To take risks.  To spread their wings.  I am not sure we can do that when we use the same standards for every child.

I don't have the answers.  Just lots of questions.  But perhaps we need to have some dialogue about where we're going with our obsession with standards and high stakes testing before we lose an entire generation of children.

What the FIP?

Student academic growth is a hot topic these days.  Many states are using student growth measures to evaluate teachers.  As I examine data with educators, one recurring question is "What can I do to impact student growth??"  Sometimes this query is a manner of professional curiosity, but sometimes, it is accompanied by anxiety, frustration, and even panic, since 50% of a teacher's evaluation is based on this metric.

My usual answer is:  FIP.

What is FIP, you wonder? Glad you asked.  FIP stands for Formative Instructional Practices and it's hands-down the best way to improve teaching and learning that I've seen for a long time.  In fact, FIP isn't new.  It combines "unpacking the standards," developing clear learning targets, appropriate use of  feedback, collecting and using data to inform instruction, and the best of formative assessments all in one nicely organized initiative.  

Much of the training and work for FIP comes from Battelle for Kids (BfK), a non-profit organization headquartered in Columbus, Ohio with a known track record for excellent, research-based educational products.  BfK has developed a series of online modules to guide teachers as they learn about and implement FIP in their classrooms.  FIP schools have found that, not only can they improve their student growth scores, but they notice increased student engagement, self-confidence, and student ownership of their own learning.  

I'm a firm believer that students will not take responsibility for their own learning until we give them responsibility.  FIP modules give practical strategies teachers can use to increase student ownership.  BfK also has several subject-specific modules in which teachers can see what actual procedures can be set up to manage this system.

My personal experience with FIP comes to me through my grandson - I'll call him Joey (not his real name or he would kill me).  He moved to a FIP school his 8th grade year.  Prior to his enrollment at Adams Middle School in Johnstown, Ohio, Joey hadn't done so well in school. He suffered from all kinds of medical problems that impacted his hearing and language development as a young child, which has an impact on his learning to this day.  Adams Middle School is a FIP school.  All of the teachers understand and implement FIP.  The school schedule is structured to allow students extra time to study and reassess if they don't achieve mastery on their first summative assessment.  The overwhelming sense of anyone entering the building is that all professionals are involved in helping each student learn.  The amazing thing to me as a grandma is that Joey can now tell me exactly what he needs to study for tests.  He can articulate what he is learning in class.  And, best of all, Joey is a successful student with confidence to take risks and learn new things.  Oh, Joey still fails tests the first time he takes them sometimes, but he sticks with it, studies, and ends up mastering the material so that he can get B's and C's....and even a few A's in his classes. He no longer feels stupid - and for a grandma, that's priceless.

No, I am not an employee of BfK, nor do I receive any benefit from plugging their work.  I'm just an educator interested in what works and a grandma who loves learning. 

Principal as Zombie

Watching a zombie movie trailer the other day, it struck me how similar the walking dead appear to the principals with whom I work in central Ohio.  I'm regularly hearing comments like, "It used to be more fun than this."  or "I miss how I used to be able to interact with my staff and students."

Ohio has implemented a new evaluation system called the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES).  There are two parts to this evaluation: 50% is based on student growth measures and 50% is based on a teacher performance rubric.  The rubric is well-defined and based on known best practice.  I have much hope that it could be a tool that stimulates professional discussion and facilitates professional growth.  It would, that is, if we had time to actually do it.

Principals must manage a building of hundreds of students, supervise dozens of staff members, and interact with parents on a regular basis.  They attend ball games, plays, concerts, and Board meetings after hours.  On top of this already full agenda, the state of Ohio has added nearly 200 additional hours of work to every principal (and many, many more hours than this to some) by requiring that every teacher be evaluated every year.

Teacher performance does not drastically change from one year to the next.  Requiring a full-blown evaluation with multiple observations, conferences, and "walk-throughs" each year for every teacher is overkill, causing principals to be so overburdened that they can't take time to work the process in an effective manner.  Requiring evaluations every 2-3 years would allow for more time to actually make the process work.

Senate Bill 229, now in the Ohio House, would be a step toward setting up a system that could be used to improve teaching and learning.  In this bill, principals would only evaluate skilled teachers every other year and accomplished teachers every three years.  Teachers who are developing or ineffective would still be evaluated annually.  As educators, we want to do our very best.  Reducing the number of teachers that must be evaluated each year would make the task more manageable.  And maybe my principal friends wouldn't look so much like zombies.

When growth is not growth

Unless you're living in a cave, you know that teachers in many states are being evaluated and rated based on the scores their students achieve on standardized tests.  I have written about why this is a bad idea here, here, here, and here. Today, I'm going to explain yet another part of the system that is patently unfair to teachers.

Once upon a time, there was an excellent teacher in an excellent school district who taught excellent students.  In fact, the students were so excellent that they achieved far higher than most other students in the state in every way.  They competed in tests of scholastic aptitude, they excelled in debate and music, and of course, they always scored in the very top of statewide standardized tests.  

This year, the excellent teacher in in the excellent school had seven of these excellent students in her excellent classroom.  When the standardized test were given, she was quite confident that her students would do well, even though three of them had been out late the night before at a concert.  When the results were released, however, it was found that four of the excellent students had excellent scores that were the same or a little better than the scores they had the previous year.  Unfortunately, they had scores so near the top in the past that their total gain was very small.  One can't score better than 100%, after all, and all of the students had begun at scores of 93-99.  

What's really unfortunate, however, is that the three excellent students who always did excellent work and had excellent academic accomplishments didn't have such excellent scores on the state tests administered the day after the concert.  In fact, all three of them had scores that dropped anywhere from 12-28 points on the bell curve.  When the State averaged net gain for this group of excellent students, they found that the average change in growth was negative 8.  

The excellent teacher in the excellent school with the excellent students was devastated because, based on this data, the district was determined to be a FAILURE when it comes to student growth with their gifted and talented students.  

This story is based on a real situation in a real school district in Ohio.  And herein lies yet another problem with using Value Added Measures in determining teacher effectiveness.  Average is not always the best representation of a set of data.  Let me give you another example.  Let's say 100 teachers are in a room, and we want to calculate the average income of the population of the room.  Looking at the wages of each teacher, we determine that the average annual income is $45,000.  Now, let's say Bill Gates walks into the room.  His annual income is $3,710,000,000.  We recalculate the average salary in the room and find that the mean annual income is now $36,777,230.  Do you believe that calculating the average income gives us a truly representative, accurate look at this data?  

Of course not.  That's why using average is NOT a fair and accurate practice when there are students who are near the ceiling of the test score and/or there are outliers not representative of the overall student growth.  There is only so far that students can go up when they start near the top, but their ability to drop in score is out of proportion to what they can gain.  We simply can't use this as an accurate measure of student growth, and most certainly, we can't use this as a measure for a district's or a teacher's accountability.  

VAM: Size matters

What if I tell you that two different teachers can get the exact same growth scores on the exact same test and have completely different Value Added scores?  Possible?  As it turns out, yes. Fair?  I'll let you decide.

As a Value Added Leader (VAL) and educational consultant in Ohio, I have the opportunity to work with many teachers in several districts to look at their value added teacher level reports.  In case you have missed the news, Ohio determines educator effectiveness by measuring how much students in teachers' classrooms "grow" on mandated standardized tests.  Simply put, student scores are placed on a bell curve and then compared with where they place on the bell curve the following year.  Those changes in placement on the bell curve (Normal Curve Equivalent scores,or NCE scores) are averaged across a classroom to get a mean NCE gain.  In order to be "most effective," a teacher's students must have a mean NCE change of at least 2 standard errors above the mean growth score.

That's a lot of math talk, I know, but let me explain a little about "standard error" to those not familiar with statistical math concepts.  Standard error is basically the confidence I have in the data.  If I have a LOT of data, my standard error is small, since I have more confidence in the data.  When I have fewer data points, I'm not so confident and so the standard error is larger.  There are a couple of factors that have direct impact on the size of the standard error - size of the population and range of the scores.

To put this in terms of a classroom teacher's rating, teachers in middle schools typically have 120 or so students and elementary teachers have maybe 25.  Special education teachers or gifted intervention specialists have even fewer, and if two or more teachers work with the same students, their numbers are decreased even further since the students are "linked" to all of the teachers who contribute to instruction.  The teachers with more students will have a small standard error and the ones with fewer students have a large standard error. So what?  The problem is that this becomes a big deal when determining a teacher's effectiveness rating.  Let's look at an example that I encountered at a school just yesterday.

Two middle school math teachers, one general ed and one special ed, co-teach a class of sixth grade math.  We will call them Mrs. A and Mrs. B.  They did an outstanding job, and their students, all low-performing students in the past, did quite well on standardized tests.  Their mean NCE change was about 5.  Another teacher in the same building, Mr. C,  teaches three classes of the same subject each day, and had similar results  - mean NCE gain of 5.  In other words, their students grew the same amount on their standardized tests - the teachers all produced equal "growth" in terms of how our legislature defines growth.  The standard error of Mrs. A and Mrs. B was 4.9.  Mr. C with similar results has around 70 students and a standard error of 1.9.  Remember, more students, more confidence in the data.  Same growth, different standard errors because of a difference in the size of the teachers' classes.  Mrs. A and Mrs. C have the smaller class and they both "link" to all of their students and so they each get credit for only 50% of their students' results.

In Ohio, the "most effective" teachers are those with a gain index of 2.0, that is their mean NCE change is 2 or more standard errors above the mean.  Teachers with a gain index of 1-2 are "above average". These are the teachers whose mean student gain is between 1 and 2 standard errors above the mean.  "Average" teachers are plus or minus 1 standard error from the mean.  Teachers between 1-2 standard errors below the mean are "approaching average" and those with mean student change in NCE scores of more than 2 standard errors are "least effective."  It's all about the standard error, but, as I've explained, standard error depends on the size of a teachers' classroom.

The exact same growth in student achievement resulted in a gain of over two standard errors for Mr. C in our example above,  and so he is lauded as one of the "most effective" teachers in the state.  Mrs. A and Mrs. B, however, with the exact same gain, but a standard error of 4.9 are average.  Same results - same gain in student achievement but the teachers are evaluated very differently because of the size of their classes.

If this sounds unfair to you, you would be correct.  There are MANY problems with using standardized test results and norm-referenced testing for accountability that I addressed before here  , here, and here. But for teachers looking at "average" ratings, this problem is significant.  My effectiveness should not be determined by the size of my class.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

To fail or not to fail, that is the question

A particularly disturbing meme making the rounds in social media boldly states:  "In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer.  This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life."

When something is repeated widely, it can take on a truth of its own.  People accept it without question because of the ubiquitous nature of the quote without thinking through the underlying meaning.  I maintain that giving students the time and support they need to actually LEARN something is far more helpful than failing them the first time and moving on.  Let me explain.

In the real world, I have multiple chances to pass the bar exam, take a drivers' license test, master proficiency on the Praxis exam.  I have used this metaphor before, but before a pilot is entrusted with landing a plane on his own, he must be given repeated attempts to demonstrate that he has acquired the skill.  Some will take fewer attempts, but ALL must learn to land the plane safely.  I don't show the pilot how to land one time and give him a test.  No, I provide much practice and multiple attempts to reach proficiency.  On the job, if I am being trained to do a new task, my employer makes sure that I get the training I need to do the task correctly. It may take some of us longer to learn, but certainly multiple attempts to grasp the necessary knowledge are afforded so that all employees, in the end, can do the expected task.  Even after an employee is trained, if a job is botched, it will likely be sent back to be redone so that the final result is acceptable.  It is the rule, rather than the exception in life that we have more than one chance to master skills that we are learning.

Why do we accept this notion that all children must achieve the same standard at the same time?  Historically, grades were used to sort and rank students.  Rather than serving as communication about student achievement relative to clear learning standards, grades were intended to put children into tracks.  These students would go to college, these would enter a trade, and these would be relegated to working on the farm or in an entry-level position in industry.  This sort and rank strategy worked in an industrial society where children could make productive livings on farms or in factories with little formal training.  College was not intended to be for all students.  Education was set up to be like the assembly line - all children moved along at the same pace and were sorted at the end of the line by grades, the quality control of the system.  

While this process functioned as intended in an industrialized economy,  it is disastrous in the twenty-first century.  Today, we know that all children can and do learn.  We understand that high expectations are possible.  Teachers strive to challenge each student at his or her own level, so that all children move forward toward clear learning targets.  It is vitally important that all children acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful adults.  This means that ALL children should be given the opportunity to learn.  Assembly-line education is obsolete.  Grades should inform us of student achievement relative to learning goals.  While the goals may be the same for all children in a classroom, the time it takes each child to reach the goal is the variable.  

In the past, the TIME was the constant and the learning outcome was the variable.  All children didn't learn the same high standards.  Today, TIME is the variable and the learning outcome is the constant.  Quite simply, it takes some of us longer to learn than it does others, but that doesn't mean we all can't learn.  Students who fail a summative assessment initially are given extra time and support to reach the same level of mastery as students who grasp the material the first time presented.  Failing grades are not a mark of rigor.  They are a sign that someone has given up.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sample Superintendent Letter for Ohio

Here is a letter Ohio superintendents concerned about common core implementation and PARRC assessments can use as a template or model to send to Ohio legislators as they contemplate HB 237.

Dear (state legislator)

We are a group of superintendents from districts in Ohio who would like to express our concern over recent developments and requirements in K-12 education in our state.  You are examining a bill to halt implementation of the common core standards, as well as the PARCC assessments that are due next school year.  We believe that it is important for you to hear our voices and concerns as you debate this legislation.

There is much good in the common core standards, adopted in Ohio as the New Learning Standards in English/Language Arts and Math.  Our teachers are using Close Reading strategies and taking students more deeply into complex text.  We are using more focused math standards and solving rich problems.  We are purchasing materials to help with the instructional shifts required. However, we also have grave concerns about the common core standards and the assessments that accompany them.

First of all, child development specialists, early childhood experts, and teachers of young children are concerned about the cognitive level and developmental readiness required in the new standards.  The standards were developed by selecting the SAT score that would be required to achieve a B in a 4-year college program, and then back-mapping the skills and knowledge to preschool.  This is unrealistic and certainly not research-based.  If we are to implement these standards, early childhood experts MUST be involved in developing the benchmarks for young children.  

We are also concerned that these standards are totally untried.  They may lead to children being more prepared for college and career, and they may not.  They may also lead to higher dropout rates, frustration, and discouragement; we simply don’t know.  With the extreme accountability measures in place for teachers and schools, undue emphasis is placed on English and Math standards that may or may not work.  Not only that, but with budget cuts and such high stakes on standardized tests, subjects that are untested are falling by the wayside.    

Another question concerns the purpose of the new standards.  We have heard that they are intended to prepare students for college and career, however research suggests that there is no correlation between student achievement and rigor of standards. We posit that the standards were developed for the purpose of creating a national market for companies that sell educational tests, textbooks, and test-prep materials. Bill Gates, at the 2009 National Conference of State Legislators, stated, “ When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching.”  Our children deserve better.

Next Generation Assessments will be piloted this spring and enforced upon our schools next year, carrying high stakes with them, as well, even though there is grave concern that we do not have the number of computers nor sufficient band width to accommodate so many students taking online assessments at once. Again, the tests are untried, hurriedly prepared, and are designed to fail 70% of the students taking it. There is no reliability or validity to these assessments.  Using them to notify 9-year old children that they are not on track for college and career is ludicrous, and to use them to evaluate teachers is equally as absurd.  In addition, our children will be spending literally days of instructional time in lengthy assessments.  Children in grades 4-8 will spend 9.5 hours in standardized testing for the ELA and math assessments, and those who are most needy and require extended time, even longer.  Science and social studies assessments for Ohio are expected to mirror the format of PARCC assessments, which is an additional four hours, minimum. In addition, children will be required to take an assessment in “Speaking and Listening,” with no projected time specified yet.  When children are in the computer labs or classrooms for extended testing time, the operation of the entire school is disrupted.  The PARCC assessments alone take 40 days of assessment (20 for performance assessments and 20 for end of year assessments) to rotate all children through the limited computers we have.  If even half that number of days is required for science, social studies, and speaking and listening, our schools will be disrupted for 60 days of the school year.  This is a conservative estimate.

With these concerns in mind, we urge you to support HB 237 to halt the implementation of the common core and PARCC assessments.  Review the standards with child developmental readiness in mind.  Pause high-stakes testing until we can transition properly to new standards that are good for all of Ohio’s students.

On Coddling Kids and Common Core

I don't know of any parent who would give a 6-month old child a sharp object.  Nor would anyone allow a 3-year-old to cross the street alone.  I also don't expect my bright 5-year-old to write a 500-word essay.  I doubt that anyone would consider these precautions as "coddling" children.  A recent op ed by Frank Bruni in the New York Times  poses the question, "Are Kids Too Coddled?"  By implication, those of us who are leery of the common core state [sic] standards are trying to preserve student self-esteem (God forbid!) at the expense of expecting them to buckle down and master these rigorous expectations.  School, after all, shouldn't be too full of mirth, now, should it?  

gty child tantrum ll 120703 wblog How Not To Spoil Your Children: Parenting Experts and Parents Weigh in

Like Arne Duncan, Bruni is supporting the common core by attacking its opponents, implying that those against implementation of the common core must be coddling children.  " What’s not warranted is the welling hysteria: from right-wing alarmists, who hallucinate a federal takeover of education and the indoctrination of a next generation of government-loving liberals; from left-wing paranoiacs, who imagine some conspiracy to ultimately privatize education and create a new frontier of profits for money-mad plutocrats."  So those of us with legitimate criticisms are labeled as right wing alarmists or government-loving liberals.  How convenient.  Instead of offering a logical, well-reasoned defense of the common core, we have ad hominem attacks against opponents or platitudes and sound bites assuring us that the common core is necessary for our children to "compete on the world stage."

As an educator of over 35 years, I have some concerns over the common core and some additional concerns over this notion that we are "coddling" children if we don't walk lockstep in line behind Arne Duncan and his common core corporate buddies.  

First of all, the idea of the common core feels a little too market-driven to me.  Do we REALLY want to help children succeed, or do we want to provide maximum profit to companies producing tests, textbooks, and test prep materials?  Bill Gates, at the 2009 National  Conference of State Legislators said that 

"When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. " 

 In fact, the common core standards for English/Language Arts speak of writing to text, citing evidence from text, answering text-dependent questions repeatedly. Why this emphasis on text? Could it be that text-dependent questions and writing can be scored more easily by machines? The architect of the common core, David Coleman, is the president of the College Board which designs the SAT and AP tests. Coincidence?  The standards were intended from their very beginning to be assessed with standardized tests.

Who really wrote the common core, anyway? I'm being told that the standards were developed by teachers, but the fact is that only one teacher was on one of the committees charged with actually writing the standards. Five of the 29 members of the validation committee refused to sign off, but their objections were never made public. A larger concern is how the standards were developed and expectations established. The committee started with the achievement required to get a 1630 on the SAT, and then backmapped to preschool. There is no evidence anywhere that this is a good idea or workable in any way. Children are not little shrunken down adults. Not one child development expert or early childhood professional was consulted in developing these standards. In fact, several organizations concerned with early childhood development have come out in opposition to the standards.

Mr. Bruni implies that we are coddling our kids by caring about their self esteem.  Those who work with children, however, know that school should be a place where learning is fun, where students develop confidence in their abilities, and where tasks are developmentally appropriate.  Why?  Because a) that's what responsible adults do and b) that's how children learn best.  Anything else is educational malpractice.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Welcome to SLO World

I guess I have to come to the conclusion that I am not a blogger.  I had good intentions and high hopes when I first started this blog, but, although the spirit was willing, the flesh
was weak.  Along with that, I have entered an alternate reality that I call "SLO world."

In Ohio, we have been frantically trying to implement this process known as Student Learning Objectives (SLOs).  Ironically, the process is not really about students or learning or even objectives.  It's about measuring teachers because, apparently, we need to quantify teachers by some number that is supposed to magically inform us on whether the teacher is Most Effective or, God forbid, Least Effective.  The way we do this is to have the teacher select or create an assessment with other "content experts," decide what score our students will attain on the assessment at the end of the year (note:  we have no idea), and then give the test in April to see the percentage of students who hit our arbitrary target.  I'm not kidding.  That's how we tell if a teacher is "most effective" in Ohio.  This randomly chosen target becomes 50% of a teacher's evaluation and so the stakes are pretty high to guess correctly.

All along the path for this process, we have become accustomed to receiving the training to do the work well after the work is expected to be done.  Last year, all teachers were advised to write at least one SLO, but the training to even have an idea what an SLO was didn't start until January (train the trainer) with training for general staff running in February through May.  Kind of hard to write an SLO when you aren't told what one is until it's due.  For another example, common assessments had to be administered early this fall so that we could develop the targets and have them approved by November.  And yet the training for how to build good assessments is just now rolling out.  All SLOs should have been completed by now because the date they are all supposed to be written and approved is November 30 and yet the training for how to actually write an SLO for special education teachers is next month.

The internet has several satirical sites that used to be funny.  Remember Mad Magazine back in the day?  Today on the internet, we have the Onion, Call the Cops, and the Duffle Blog - sites that humorously lampoon real news events with satirical pieces.  The trouble today is that one legitimately can't tell the difference between satire and reality. Welcome to "SLO world."

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Setting the Record Straight

Many comments on a plethora of web sites have addressed the issues of education and specifically teachers lately.  In my observation, most of the comments are favorable toward public education and educators, but it seems a vocal minority repeats some common misconceptions that I would like to address. If you encounter any of these misguided statements, here are some factual counterarguments.

Misconception 1: Public schools are  government schools controlled by union thugs.  
Have you heard this one?  I chuckle when I hear brainwashed individuals making this comment.  First of all, the "government" schools are run by your locally elected Board members.  These are the "government" powers behind your local public school - the people you see at the grocery store and the bank.  The people you live beside and that you voted for from your own communities.  True, state and federal government keep intruding with ridiculous mandates, and I'm right behind you if you want to protest that kind of government control. But to call public schools "government" schools is a stretch.  Public schools are YOUR schools.

The next fallacy in this statement is the idea that teachers are somehow "union thugs."  Most teachers do belong to a professional association, true, but these "thugs" are the people to whom you entrust your children each and every day.  If you think teachers are union thugs, would you send your first grade child into their classrooms?  Do thugs routinely bake cookies, dry tears, tie shoes, provide encouragement, and look out for the well-being of children?  Because that's what I observe these "union thugs" doing.   In my 35-year career in public education,  I have had the opportunity to work with thousands of teachers in dozens of school districts.   I have never seen a school district that was controlled by the teachers.  In the better districts, teachers have more of a say than some others, but teachers are not the ones controlling your schools.  In short, your public school is not a "government school," not controlled by the teachers, and teachers are not union thugs.  How out of touch do you have to be to believe this misconception?

Misconception 2:  Teachers get paid for summer vacation and holidays.
Nope. Wrong again.  It's hard to take people seriously when they say things like this.  Teachers are paid for 184 days of work.  The salary is divided into equal payments for 12 months and so they take a reduced amount during the school year in order to receive a pay check during the summer.  In addition to this 184 days, teachers in Ohio must spend at least 180 hours every five years in order to renew their licenses.  That is equivalent to another week of work each year, and so let's say a teacher works an average of about 190 days per year.  If you hold a typical job, you work about 230 days a year, an additional 6-8 weeks more than teachers.  During that 8 weeks, they are expected to pay for licensing every 5 years, pay for fingerprinting and background checks, plan instruction, develop assessments, review curriculum, collect/purchase materials to use in their classrooms, stay current on all of the mandates and requirements for their job, and stay revived enough to inspire a passion for learning in students.  

This is not to say that we complain about the number of days we work.  Certainly not.  But please know that we are NOT being paid for summers and holiday....and that just because we have time off without pay doesn't mean we aren't working. 

Misconception 3:  Teachers are overpaid.
A four-year degree required to go into teaching costs about $160,000 (tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies).  If we teach 30 years, we need to make over $5,000 more a year just to pay for the education.  The reality is that teachers make significantly less than those in professions that require a similar level of education.  Starting teachers in our district make $27,000 per year (median starting teaching salary in Ohio is $30,000) and have college loan payments of nearly $1000 per month to start with.  Current pay freezes have created situations where teachers have had to move back home with their parents or, if they have a family, some have had to resort to food stamp to make ends meet.  Try paying for college loans, rent, utilities, child care, groceries, car payment, insurance  when you take home $1800 per month.  

After 15-20 years, teachers are making $40,000-$50,000 a year - about the same as a college graduate or a manager at McDonald's would make.  By the end of their career, teachers top out at $60,000-$70,000, still significantly less than other professionals, even when we look at simply per diem rates.    Of course there are parts of the country and wealthy school districts that pay more, but these numbers are from my county, and the numbers I have quoted are in line with Ohio median teacher salaries.  Legislators across the country are trying to take away the automatic pay raises for years experience that are common in current teacher pay systems.  The effect of this ruling would leave most teachers at the $30,000 salary mark, or $2000 a month with $1000 of that going to college loan payments.  Difficult to attract talented individuals into the teaching profession when you can make substantially more as a manager at a WalMart (starting pay $40,000 with potential to make over $100,000).

Again, we are not complaining about our pay.  None of us went into the profession because of the money.  We just want to set the record straight for those of you who think we're raking in big money.

Misconception 4:  Teachers only work 6 hours a day.
Ha!  Show me a teacher who is only working 6-hour days and I'll show you a teacher who hasn't helped a student, coached a team, graded a paper, handed in required lesson plans or grade reports, attended required meetings, etc. etc.  In other words, a teacher who isn't teaching.  There may be some out there - every profession has it's duds - but I'm willing to bet that the vast majority of teachers put in well over 8 hours per day.  

You see, teaching isn't a job.  It's a way of life.  I'm not a teacher by vocation - I am a teacher by nature.  

Misconception 5:  Merit pay and competition work in the marketplace and they will work to make teachers better.
Anyone who thinks this has never been a teacher.  Even in the free market, there are product-delivery systems and service systems.  The way to make product delivery better is not necessarily the way to make service better.  In fact, the idea of competition and monetary rewards improving business isn't even a good business model.  It has been shown time and again that the "TQM" method of empowering workers and using teamwork and collaboration improves production better than top-down behavior modification and competition.  It doesn't work effectively in business.  Why would anyone think it would work for a service industry?  And it certainly will NOT work in education.  We teach because we care.  If money were our motivation, we wouldn't have gone into teaching for the very reasons addressed in misconception 3. Do you think nurses will keep more patients alive if we pay them more?  Or dentists will help more kids avoid cavities if we give them more money?  The whole idea is ludicrous and insulting.  

Teachers are trying their best  to instill a love of learning in your children and to provide them with the knowledge and skills they will need to be successful in life.  We do this in spite of declining resources, larger class sizes, standardized curriculum that is stifling creativity, and less and less appreciation and support from political and societal institutions.  We have been blamed for the debt crisis and national security concerns.  News reports and data have been skewed to make us look bad at all costs.  Our profession is under attack and we feel like we are personally under attack at times.  In spite of all of this, we are here, loving your kids. The heroism of teachers you witnessed in Newtown and in Moore, OK was above and beyond anything we evaluate on a rubric of teacher effectiveness, but it demonstrates a common commitment, a common passion that I see in educators every day.  We are not thugs.  We are not overpaid government bureaucrats.  We are teachers.  And that's a pretty special thing.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Where is Our Outrage?

I'm a child of the 60's.  We were protesting injustice, intolerance, and bigotry before we left the playground.  I can remember a cluster of us congregated out by the swing sets, vociferously indignant about the Bay of Pigs fiasco.  College in the 70's, the protests were more organized, more well-attended.  Black armbands marching through the city to protest the voting age.  Sit-ins on campus to protest the war.  Burning bras for women's rights.  Things mattered to us.  And you know what?  I think we made a difference.  We eventually did become voting age and our activism helped end racial segregation, the Viet Nam war, and gender inequity.

My background contributes to my frustration now with events in American public education.  Right now across the country, we all see what is happening to education as corporate reformers suck more and more public money into the private sector via an unjustifiable excess of testing and through for-profit charter schools.  States are turning public money earmarked for our children's education into vouchers for unaccountable private schools.  In Ohio and several other states, third graders must pass a test in order to be promoted to fourth grade, in spite of the evidence that children who are retained have a much higher risk of dropping out.  Mandate after mandate requires enormous amounts of money to comply, with no additional funding.  We used to protest at unfunded mandates, but we have lost our ability for outrage.

Policymakers have silently usurped local control from our schools, creating a generation of children who can't think or solve a problem unless they are presented with four bubble-in choices.  Creativity has been stamped out of public schools by standardized testing.  Art, music, and phys ed have taken trivial roles in elementary schools if they are present at all.  A superintendent friend of mine recently lamented, "I was in Afghanistan and I helped in their schools.  They're a third world country.  They have art and music.  This is America and some of our schools can't afford art and music."  We have money to fight unnecessary wars and pay Pearson millions and millions of dollars for testing, but we lack the will to provide funding for our children's education? Something is drastically wrong, but where is our outrage?

When the new PARCC assessments roll out in 2014-15, schools will need to have updated computers and infrastructure to the tune of thousands of dollars for every district.  Teachers will be evaluated based on tests that have never been administered, and their careers will be affected by whether or not they can get students to pass a computerized test that they have never seen.  Students' futures will hang on a curriculum and a burdensome series of  assessments that are untried.  Interventions will be required from private agencies at public expense, sending more money from public coffers into private pockets.  Legislators sit in their comfy offices with their personal assistants and mandate the provision of interventions to help students learn but don't provide a dime for the resources to do it.  We should be outraged!

The new testing regimen demands many more days and hours of mind-numbing testing for our children and there are plans to begin testing children in pre-school.  Do we really want to quantify and measure three-year olds?  Can we measure the things that really count?  Is there a standardized test to illustrate love of learning, curiosity, passion?  Isn't that what we want for our students?  I maintain that excessive standardized testing creates an environment exactly opposite of what all of us hope for children.  What about our teachers?  Do children's standardized test scores tell me that a teacher cares and treats my child with respect?  That the teacher is supportive, a positive role model?  How about the teachers in Moore, OK or Newtown, CT?  How do you evaluate whether a teacher would take a bullet for my child?  A tired maxim enjoins that "not all that counts can be measured and not all that can be measured counts."  Who has decided what should be measured and how?

We are on the wrong path with our children's education and we must figure out a way to escape it.  It's time to do something for our children and support our public schools before it's too late.  It's time to write legislators, march on state capitols, picket, opt out, vote, do something!  It's time for a return of outrage.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Educators: We Have a Problem

Truly, I'm not a conspiracy theorist.  I like things to make sense and am skeptical of claims until I check them out.  (Do you sense the "but" coming?)  BUT, there's something seriously wrong with a system that is as out of whack as we have rolling out across the country for teacher evaluations.  If Ohio were the only state completely taking leave of their senses, I wouldn't think so much of it, but it's many states.  Almost makes you think there Someone or Something behind all of this.

The most recent craziness that is causing me to reflect is this business of using student test scores to evaluate teachers.  In Ohio, we have value added measures for teachers of reading and math grades 4-8.  I have already addressed the errors of this methodology in a previous blog.   After passing a law that required all teachers to be evaluated using student growth measures, it finally sank in to legislators that over half of our teachers don't have these magical numbers.  Obviously, we can't leave something as important as evaluating teachers in the hands of principals and observations, and so another law was passed creating what we now know as Student Learning Objectives (SLOs).

Naive as I am, I thought these measures would be learning objectives for students.  Ha!  Silly me!  Instead, the SLO process is a lengthy document detailing a process of collecting baseline data, setting targets for where we want students to be by April, and then measuring and tracking to find the number of students who met the targets we set for them.  Beautiful plan.  Nothing wrong with professionals providing evidence of their impact on student learning, collecting data, setting goals.  In fact, that is valuable work.  So where's the problem?

The reality is that we don't have the assessments to use for such a process.  Teachers create assessments to use for their own classrooms, but there is no such thing as assessments to use for measuring growth for the vast majority of classes we teach.  So, step one, we need to create common assessments that can be used for every teacher across multiple classrooms.  Of course this is complicated by the fact that teachers are not trained to develop tests that measure growth.  And the fact that testing companies that do this for a living need about three years to create such an assessment.  And the fact that, even after creation, these tests need to be piloted and examined to ascertain that they are reliable and valid.

Another consideration is that perhaps some things aren't meant to be quantified.  This same process is being used for preschool teachers.  What am I measuring, why and how for a three-year-old?  How about physical education?  I don't know about you, but I want kids to be MOVING in that class and not tied to paper and pencil tests.  And if we base teacher evaluation on movement - how much control over student growth in fitness does an elementary teacher have when he/she sees the students 35 minutes per week and the rest of the time they're sitting on a couch eating potato chips?  I'm seriously going to tie that teacher's evaluation on fitness goals???  Have you considered art?  I can just see us rating Pablo Picasso as not achieving growth on the art rubric because he doesn't conform to traditional views.  Isn't art about creativity?

The next glitch in the system is that we have to take these tests - which are not created - and set growth targets.  Since the tests don't even exist yet, we have no way of knowing what "ambitious yet attainable" goals might look like.  None.  How do I know what is a reasonable score for students by April on a test that has never been administered?  And so we are setting growth targets for students that we are basically pulling out of a hat.  Not a huge problem except that these arbitrarily set goals are going to be used as 50% of  a teacher's evaluation.  The tests are given in April so that growth measures can be computed and entered into a state database prior to the May 1 evaluation due date established in law.  That means that the tests will not reflect the learning of the last quarter of the year and that teachers can't use the assessments as an end-of-course exam.  How will we get students - already weary of multiple days of testing on statewide assessments - to take these tests seriously and do their best?  Maybe some of the best teachers are great motivators and can manage it, but to base half of a teacher's evaluation on something this nebulous doesn't seem to be advisable....or fair.

Another crazy fact is this:  the state and the national consortia are creating end-of-course exams for high school courses that will be ready in 2014-15.  Tests will be administered in Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, English 9, 10, and 11, Physical Science, Biology, American History and American Government.   Teachers of these subjects are spending an enormous amount of time training for SLOs, creating assessments, analyzing data, setting targets and doing a LOT of paperwork for assessments that will be used for two years.  That's it.  Two years.  They won't really have the data to create good SLOs for at least 2 years and by then, they will be subject to statewide assessments that will flow into the value added measures used for teacher evaluation.

Why have teachers go through all of this work to create random assessments with questionable targets for two years?  Beats me.  Nothing about this procedure makes sense.  The timeline is extremely rushed for one thing - as I mentioned it takes testing companies three years to develop and test assessments and teachers are being expected to do it in three months - and the timeline makes no sense.  We are switching to a new curriculum effective 14-15.  FIRST we should teach the curriculum and train teachers in how to develop assessments designed for student growth.  Next, after a 3 year process of teaching and testing, we can establish trend data and set good learning targets.  And finally, if that system proves to be valid and reliable, THEN we can talk about whether it is an effective way to measure teacher effectiveness.  Which it isn't.

Educators, we have a problem.  But it's not the one the media is trumpeting.  We are being subjected to an unfair, inequitable, unreasonable evaluation system that will surely be litigated.  As it should be.  My job is to support teachers do the work to improve teaching and learning and I think there are elements in this process that can be helpful.  I love facilitating educators from across multiple districts as they work together to prepare common assessments.  Collecting data and setting goals is the right work.  BUT (there's that word again), there is no educational, moral, reasonable way this process should be used as part of a teacher evaluation system. Ever.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

You may be a bad teacher if....

One thing I have come to realize as I evaluate and mentor teachers is that the "bad" ones seldom recognize the fact that they're bad.  You can walk into any school building in America and ask students and staff to identify the rotten teachers and I'll bet you they'd basically agree.  It seems like the only ones who don't know what teacher isn't doing the job is the teacher who is ineffective.  With this in mind, I have developed this checklist for how to tell if your teaching skills lie on the wrong side of the bell curve:

1.  You may be a bad teacher if you still use the same lesson plans you laminated 20 years ago.

2.  You may be a bad teacher if you don't really check to see if students are learning until the summative assessment.

3.  You may be a bad teacher if you think students doing poorly on the test is a sign of rigor.

4.  You may be a bad teacher if students are sitting in rows in your room NEVER talking to each other.

5.  You may be a bad teacher if you publicly make fun of student errors and encourage students to do the same.

6. You may be a bad teacher if your idea of differentiation and "using data" means to re-teach a concept to the entire class when there are several low grades.

7.  You may be a bad teacher if you think assigning huge ditto packets of worksheets = effective use of supplemental resources.

8.  You may be a bad teacher if you think sharing clear learning targets is "spoon feeding" the students.

9.  You may be a bad teacher if students can master all of the summative assessments in your class but still fail because they didn't comply with your busy work paper requirements.

And finally, 10.  You may be a bad teacher if you recognized yourself in any of these statements and prefer to make excuses rather than change what you're doing.

Friday, April 12, 2013

5 Truths about Teaching

  1. Truth #1 - Kids don't acquire confidence to try new things and succeed in life by being told that they are failures on a daily basis.

    Truth #2 - People learn at different rates.  Doesn't matter how many times it takes you to learn something, as long as you really LEARN it.  You DO get multiple attempts to pass the bar exam, take the Praxis assessment, demonstrate mastery to get your driver's license.

    Truth #3 - Even in business in the "real world," if you don't master something on your first attempt in training, they're generally not going to fire you.

    Truth #4 - It is more rigorous to expect students to LEARN, no matter how many attempts it takes, rather than assigning them a D and moving on.

    Truth #5 -It's NOT OK to allow children NOT to learn.  Expect mastery, even if it takes longer.

    As part of my job, I get to go around and do fun things like presentations on formative instructional practices or differentiated instruction or best practices in math.  Sometimes, I get a little pushback from participants who are quite comfortable doing things the way they've always done them.  

    I find some of the reluctance to engage in new practices is tied to a basic philosophical difference in what the role of a teacher should be and what a grade is.  The traditional approach has teachers as dispensers of knowledge, responsible for preparing students for college, or, better yet, "the REAL world."   (as in "What's this nonsense about formative assessment and retaking tests?  They can't do that in the REAL world.")  

    I'm not sure what world you live in, but in the one I inhabit, it is IMPORTANT to make sure people are learning when they're being trained.  I'm not putting a pilot in the air with a plane alone until he has demonstrated many times that he can land.  I may allow him to use a flight simulator.  I have a veteran pilot with him as he is learning.  I allow him to take his test to be a licensed pilot repeatedly because he MUST master the material.  AFTER he is licensed, a mistake may be fatal and so I can't give him multiple attempts to land the plane on the job, but during his learning phase, I make sure he gets the skill.  When students are in school, it is IMPERATIVE that they master the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in life. (what that set of skills and knowledge might be is a different topic for another time)  Giving a summative assessment before students are ready and then moving on is not good practice, nor is it more rigorous than expecting mastery, no matter how many times it takes.   

    A bigger conversation needs to occur around what a grade is...what is the purpose of grading students?  What does a grade mean?  The prevailing view of grades in the 50's was a mechanism whereby students were ranked, and indeed, today, we still use grades to rank students.  Valedictorian  Salutatorian.  Honor student.   5th in the class.  Those titles are important to many people, and they want quantifiable evidence of where they stand.

    Of course today, we know that ALL children can learn and the standardization movement has forced us to consider that all children need to learn at higher levels.  Our global economy has pressured us to push students towards "College and Career Readiness" (as if those mean the same thing for every child!).  Today, a grade needs to provide us with information.  Instead of ranking children with respect to others in their classes, we look to grades to tell us where students are with respect to a given standard of education.  In other words, grades should reflect actual learning.  If a student takes 3 attempts to demonstrate mastery, he/she has learned the same material and should receive the same grade.

    If I were the goddess of education, I would not have letter grades at all, which would end the debate entirely. Until then, let's simply concentrate on good education and concern ourselves with making sure we are teaching ALL students well.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Kasich Through the Looking Glass

You remember the Lewis Carroll story of Alice and her adventures through the looking glass.  She entered a world in which reality was strangely distorted.  This is kind of the feeling here in Ohio as our governor continues to defend his highly inequitable school funding plan.  (Cleveland City Club, April 3)  Poor districts will receive more money under this plan while wealthy districts get less, according to Kasich.

Let's look at the facts.  These are not opinion, but cold, hard data which is easily accessible to the public:

When Ohio districts are arranged by per pupil expenditure:
Of the top quartile of  districts, that is the districts who already spend the most per pupil to educate their students, 47% receive an increased amount.  This includes Orange in Cuyahoga County with a current per pupil expenditure of over $21,000.
Of the bottom quartile of districts, 32% receive an increased amount.

When Ohio districts are arranged by median income of residents, Kasich fares better:
Of the top quartile of most affluent districts, 34% receive an increased amount.
For the bottom quartile of districts, 53% receive an increased amount.
Significantly more districts with poorer residents do get more money.  However, this also means that 47% of the poorest districts in the state receive NO new money while over a third of the very wealthiest districts DO receive more, and some considerably more.  In fact, Olentangy, the district with the highest median income in the entire state, receives 330% more state funding under this formula.

When Ohio districts are arranged by % of poverty:
Of the quartile of schools with the highest rates of poverty in the state, 54% receive additional funds.  This means 46% of the districts with the neediest learners get no new funds, and many will see severe reductions when the guarantee money disappears in two years if this budget passes.
Of the quartile of schools with the lowest rates of poverty, 30% receive additional funds.

Depending on what you mean by "poor districts," none of these scenarios provides the poorest quartile of districts with additional funds.  The best the plan does is provide a little over half of the poorest districts with money, leaving the others to flounder over the deep cuts from the past Kasich budget that cut $1.8 billion from schools.  And no matter how you slice it, whether by per pupil expenditure, median income, or percent of poverty, many of the wealthy districts get more while 64% of the districts in Ohio receive NO additional funds at all.

Kasich is either lying....or he has gone through Alice's looking glass and has a distorted view of reality.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

What About the Students?

Ok, first of all, get ready, because this has just a teeny bit of math geekiness in it.  But hold on until the end, because I promise there is a point coming.

We have been notified that the new common core assessments through the PARCC consortium are going to be "more rigorous" and that we need to prepare for a dramatic drop in the number of students deemed to be proficient on the new tests.  To what purpose, I'm not sure, but it's important for us all to realize that these scores on the current assessments are DERIVED SCORES.  For the math novices among you, this means that the scores are set by looking at a normal curve and determining where on the curve to draw the line for acceptable performance.  In other words, here in Ohio, 400 is the magic number that separates "proficient" from "basic."  But the actual accuracy that a student must score to achieve the 400 changes every year based on what score is at a given level on the bell curve.  You see, psychometricians love the bell curve.  In fact, if a test does not yield results that form a bell curve, the test is not used.  Period.  That means that for ANY test that is used in this way, about 68% of the student scores will always cluster in the middle of the distribution.

In case the lightbulb hasn't gone on for you yet, understand that the only way all of a sudden 40% more students will fall below proficiency is if the Policy Makers decide to move the score for "proficient" to a higher level on the bell curve so that a higher percentage of scores fall below the magic number to pass.  On the current tests, students have been consistently scoring higher and higher and yet a similar percent of students will always be below proficient because the score for proficient is set by a point on the bell curve and NOT on a percent of accuracy.  If every single student in the entire testing population all of a sudden achieved a score 40 points higher in accuracy, the bell curve would simply move and the percentage of students below proficient would remain the same.  We are aiming at a moving target.

Not only have Policy Makers determined for some reason to cause more students to fail by changing the cut score for the passage rate, but the content of the tests appears to be wildly inappropriate developmentally.  What third grader can sit and type out a coherent paragraph on a QWERTY keyboard?  ELA standards tested at the fifth grade level appear to be several years beyond what any group of normal fifth graders has ever been able to perform.  The technology required to take the math assessments raises serious concerns about whether we are testing math ability or technological literacy.  We are being set up for failure, folks.

There are corporate reformers bent on making public schools look bad.  Public school teachers are being portrayed as greedy union slugs, only in it for the money (yes, we're all getting rich on our barely median income).  The new assessments will open the door for more third party vendors to hawk their wares and suck more money out of the floundering public school coffers, promising to increase our scores on poorly designed tests.  Charter schools will siphon off more and more money into the pockets of management companies who then spend millions on lobbyists, political campaigns, and advertising.  This may be inevitable, but my question is this:  What about the students?

Does anyone think it makes one iota of sense to treat children like this?  Not proficient.  Below average. Not as smart as you should be.  Failures at the age of 9.  Try as you might, students, you're not going to rise to the level of our expectations.  Work as hard as you can, but most of you will never be good enough to pass these tests.  What kind of perversion is this?  Who does this to children?  And why?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Kasich Budget Increases Inequities

HB 59 is Ohio's budget bill.  I will be providing testimony during the public hearings on March 14.  Here is the text of my testimony:

To the Honorable Representatives of the Ohio General Assembly:

I have been involved in public education for over 34 years in one capacity or another, and I believe that public education is absolutely vital for economic prosperity.  With that in mind, I would like to make two points involving the governor’s proposed school funding plan:
1)  The proposal exacerbates the inequities in the current system that have been ruled inappropriate for over 15 years and
2) The legislature has placed many demands on public schools that cannot be accomplished without the educational service center system as it currently exists.

First, the proposed funding plan exacerbates the inequities in the current system.   Suburban and urban districts have the potential to raise much more local revenue than small rural districts because of the existence within their borders of business and industry that support schools through property taxes, as well as through local income taxes collected within those municipalities.  I would like to point out to you that rural districts derive NONE of the financial benefit of those businesses and industries, and yet our citizens work, pay taxes, and spend money in those same places.  The businesses and industries within suburban and urban areas thrive and pay taxes BECAUSE of money invested there by people living in rural areas.  It is the responsibility of state legislature to equalize this investment, and so, of necessity, more state money should be allocated to property-poor rural districts.

Small rural districts do not have the ability to raise the revenue locally.  We have no business and industry to tax. Our people are mostly middle class with property values much lower than those in suburban and urban areas.  The median income of our residents is much lower than those in suburban schools.  The governor talks of “weaning” our rural schools away from state support, but the effect of this drastic reduction in revenue once the guarantees are gone is that local schools in rural areas will collapse.  Already, we have class sizes of over 30.  Already, some of our districts have eliminated art, music, and physical education in elementary and middle schools.  Already, our teachers have taken pay freezes.  Already, we have cut the number of administrators and teachers.  Already, our schools have stopped offering programs and field trips and enrichment activities.  What more can we cut?  In the meantime, the average suburban districts, many of whom receive additional state dollars in this plan, already are offering Advanced Placement courses, already have sculpture, orchestra, computer programming, and other electives.  Affluent suburban districts already have the means to provide students with adequate, updated technology.  Over half of the districts receiving additional funds are already healthy schools providing their students with supports and opportunities that the rural districts are doing without.  Do not our rural students deserve an equal chance at a quality education?

I don’t believe you understand the effect this funding plan will have on schools.   Rural schools ARE the communities they represent.  The school is frequently the largest employer in the area.  Our schools are the hub of community life.  If rural schools are forced to close or consolidate, entire communities will be devastated.  Not only that, but with school closings in the rural areas, we would be placing our primary aged children on school buses for 2-3 hours per day, or more, to take them to the next district.  This is not acceptable. 

I have taken the time to prepare a spreadsheet (attached) of all 603 districts in Ohio showing  median income, percent poverty, per pupil expenditure, and the percent of increase the first year of the Kasich funding for each district.  Please note that of the top 10% affluent districts in the state based on median income, the very richest districts where there is plenty of potential to raise local funds, 44% receive additional state dollars in this plan.  Of the entire bottom 90%, only 34% receive additional funds.  This plan increases the inequities in state funding and seriously compromises the ability of local districts to provide even a basic education to our children.  This plan takes money away from financially unhealthy, struggling districts and gives more to healthy, financially solvent districts, which amounts to fiscal malpractice.

Another way to analyze the data is to look at the per pupil expenditure.  The average child care center in Ohio charges $250 per week, multiplied by 36 weeks of school, and we find that over half of the districts in the state are trying to educate children for no more than one would pay a babysitter to watch them.  Of those districts, over 66%  receive no additional funding from the state, and will  lose even more when the guarantees are phased out.  Orange School District in Cuyahoga County currently spends over $21,000 per student, and they receive additional state funds under this plan, while the schools in my county educate children for less than half of that and get no help. 

Next point, the legislature has placed many demands on public schools that cannot be accomplished without the educational service center system as it currently exists.  There have been many, many unfunded mandates and changes brought about by laws that the state legislature has passed.  Changes in the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System and Ohio Principal Evaluation System necessitate much training and much more time to implement, which will require more expenditure for administrative staff.  The Resident Educator program, Student Learning Objectives, the transition to the common core state standards and the instructional changes necessary to implement them, the additional interventions and assessments necessary for the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, the new assessment systems, the Instructional Improvement System, Formative Instructional Practices, the new meetings and supports necessary under the ESEA waiver, interpreting and using value added data, all require a great deal of training and time.  The Ohio Department of Education cannot possibly provide the training and support necessary to roll out these initiatives and support district implementation.  With the minimal investment to Educational Service Centers in Ohio, the department of education has a cadre of capable, trained staff to do this work so that school districts can comply and actually do the work well.  The state is receiving an excellent return on their investment when they maintain support for ESCs.

Another valuable service of educational service centers is direct service to students.   When the money flows directly to ESCs, then we can provide direct services to preschools and low incidence populations more cost effectively. The governor was right two years ago when he emphasized that shared services would save districts money.  The ESCs provide these shared services, but will be severely compromised in our ability to do so if the money flows directly to the schools. 

In summary, I urge you to consider the long term effects of this proposed budget on the children of Ohio.  Fund our rural schools adequately and protect the educational service centers.  Thank you.
Respectfully submitted,
Bonny Buffington

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Rape of Public Education

Since 2001, David Brennan and William Lager, both  for-profit charter school operators, have contributed over $4,00,000 to Ohio Republicans. (Plunderbund, January 28, 2013) Looking at Kasich's new proposed funding plan for Ohio, Brennan and Lager have received a nice return for their investment.  The proposal provides an additional $11.9 million, according to the Akron Beacon-Journal's projections, by virtue of allowing an additional $100 per pupil for "facilities."  (Media Matters, February 1, 2013)  In the past twenty years, literally BILLIONS of public school dollars have been funneled into charter schools in Ohio, all in the name of "school choice."

Along with this assault on funding, the Ohio General Assembly, under Kasich's leadership, have passed more and more onerous unfunded mandates that apply to traditional public schools, but not to charter schools.  For example, the new Ohio Teachers Evaluation System requires that administrators evaluate every teacher every year in a mandated process that requires many hours and meetings for each teacher.  With cuts in funding, schools have eliminated administrator positions, and do not have the resources to accomplish this requirement. There are simply not enough hours in the day.  In addition, there is no REASON to evaluate every teacher every year.  Educators don't become much better or much worse suddenly from year to year. In order to comply with the mandates of this law, schools will be forced to hire outside evaluators, emptying an already depleted general fund, and further driving up class sizes.  In contrast, charter schools are exempt from this requirement, which is ironic because, on average, charter schools spend roughly twice the amount per pupil on administration as traditional public schools do.  In fact, White Hat Management, owned by David Brennan, has a per pupil administration cost nearly 4 times that of traditional schools.  (OEA, A Brief Update on Charters)

The long anticipated school funding plan rolled out by Kasich this month adds insult to injury.  No matter the rhetoric, the actual data proves that only 36% of public districts get ANY increase at all, and yet 44% of the schools ranking in the top 10% of median income get an increase. (See my blog, A geek digs the data) Yes, you heard that right.  Of the top 10% most affluent district in the state, 44% get an increase, and many of them sizable increases, leaving the most of the bottom 90% of the schools receiving nothing.  Zero.  Zip.  Nada.

None of this would be quite so alarming, but while 92% of our traditional public schools produce excellent results as measured by performance index on state testing, only 26% of the charter schools reach this level of achievement. (Public record, ODE web site)  Charter school average achievement falls in the bottom 8% of the state and literally every single school in the bottom 5% of the state is a charter school.  The charters just aren't cutting it.  The concept of a "for profit school" is an oxymoron.  Schools either exist to fill the pockets of their CEO/operator OR they exist for the benefit of student learning.

Not only that, but Kasich is boasting of his increase in education funding.  The $1.6 billion additional dollars are temporary - the "guarantee funds" disappear after two yeas - and don't restore our education budget to where it was 2 years ago when Kasich slashed $1.8 billion from the budget.  The intent, to me, seems clear.  Force the property-poor districts to close down and funnel more money into the pockets of David Brennan and William Lager and their ilk who, in turn, send several million back into the pockets of Kasich and other leading Republicans.  Do this while protecting the school districts of the wealthiest among us.  Decrease the property tax of the wealthy and increase it for the poor districts, many of them rural where the owners of property are American farmers.

The net result is that those who have the most need receive the least benefit.  Schools educating children for under $10,000 per pupil, the cost of basic child care, are eliminating art, music, phys ed.  They are working with few administrators, inadequate technology, and large class sizes.  Parents are paying money for school athletics, depriving many of the opportunity to compete. High school students have little choice beyond basic English, math, science, and social studies courses.   Teachers are discouraged and feeling the stress of being blamed for everything from the state's economic woes to national security issues.  All this in stark contrast to wealthy suburban districts where students have access to natoriums, libraries, updated technology, field trips, and courses in computer programming, sculpture, orchestra, the arts, adanced placement, etc, etc, etc.... and more state funding in the new budget.  Something's gotta give. But as long as charters and testing companies are paying millions to politicians to enrich their campaign coffers, I fear that the rape of the American public school will continue.