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