Parents: Set goals, measure, fix

Parents strongly support standards, assessment and evaluation writes Suzanne Tacheny Kuback in an e-mail discussion on Mike Petrilli’s “problem with proficiency” post. She describes parent focus groups conducted by PIE Network.

Standards, assessment, and evaluation don’t make sense to parents as separate concepts:  to the extent they think about these things at all, it’s just stuff that they assume you do to manage sensibly. (Set goals, measure them, talk about how well you did, and then fix stuff that didn’t work.) Not only would it not make sense to parents to suggest not doing these things, parents are incredulous when they think that any of it isn’t already common practice.

Most intriguing, “standards” don’t even make sense to parents as an idea unless you measure them. I wished we’d videoed those moments in the conversations: if you suggested having standards but no common tests, parents got mad. They literally pushed chairs back from the table or threw pens down to make their point: “You can’t say you have a standard if you don’t also measure it.”

Parents are concerned about excessive testing, but they want the information, Kubach wrotes.  It’s not that they don’t trust teachers.  ”They just want to know how their kids are doing and value the objective information they get from tests.”

‘Restart’ weak charters

When a charter school isn’t performing well, closure isn’t the only option, argues a new Public Impact report. The Role of Charter Restarts in School Reform. Instead of forcing students to find new schools, “introduce new adults who have the will and skill to help struggling students achieve, and let the students stay.”

Charter school restarts offer a way to intervene when performance does not meet expectations–and not just as a last-ditch effort to avoid closure. Restarts can also be used proactively by responsible boards and authorizers when the conditions are right.

This report describes how restarts worked at five charter schools in Chicago, New Orleans, Trenton, New York and Philadelphia.

Oakland’s school board plans to close three very high-scoring charters because it believes the American Indian Model Schools board remains under the thumb of founder Ben Chavis, who resigned amid conflict of interest charges.  Students will be forced to transfer to lower-performing schools. Why not restart with a new board?

Tech college funding tied to earnings

Texas technical colleges, which specialize in job training, will be funded based on graduates’ earnings rather than enrollment, starting Sept. 1. The “value-added accountability funding formula” analyzes the difference between graduates’ income five years after graduating and the minimum wage.

Minority gains ended in Obama era

Racial/ethnic achievement gaps were narrowing, till the Obama administration waived and weakened No Child Left Behind, writes Paul Peterson, who directs Harvard’s program on Education Policy and Governance, in a Wall Street Journal commentary.

During the Clinton-Bush era (1999 to 2008), white 9-year-olds gained 11 points in math, African-American student performance rose by 13 points and Hispanic student performance leaped by 21 points. In reading, the gains by white 9-year-olds went up seven points, black performance jumped by 18 points and Hispanic student achievement climbed 14 points.

For the first nine years, the average annual gains were six points for African-Americans, five points for Hispanics and three points for whites.

In 2008, President Obama campaigned against No Child Left Behind’s testing and accountability provisions, writes Peterson. Once elected, he “halted enforcement of most of No Child’s key provisions and offered waivers to states that signed up for more lenient rules devised by the Education Department.”

Between 2008-12, gains by African-Americans at age 9 were just two points in each subject, while Hispanics gained one point in reading and nothing in math. Whites gained one point in reading and two points in math.

The racial achievement gap has widened slightly.

Now, “the Obama administration, teachers unions and some Republicans are joining forces to gut core provisions” of No Child Left Behind, which is up for reauthorization, writes Peterson.

The latest bill promoted by the Senate education committee calls for testing but allows states to let students submit “portfolios” or “projects” in lieu of the standardized tests required by the original law.

He has more in Education Next.

The Obama administration isn’t “serious” about passing a new Elementary and Secondary Education Act to replace No Child Left Behind, even though Sen. Tom Harkin’s bill is “close to the administration’s vision,” writes Alyson Klein on Ed Week‘s Politics K-12. “With waivers in place in 39 states and the District of Columbia, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is instead spending his time and effort on prekindergarten, a policy that probably has even less of a shot in a Congress bent on cracking down on spending.”

Bennett’s grade changed to F

Tony Bennett has resigned as Florida education commissioner days after AP reported he’d raised the grade of  a donor’s charter school when he was Indiana’s education chief.  Leaked emails showed Bennett pushed his staff to ensure a school he’d repeatedly praised earned an A, rather than a C.

“They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal. The grade was raised by changing the way high-school scores are counted in schools without a senior class.

Bennett said Christel House’s C revealed a flaw in the accountability system penalizing schools that combined a middle and high school. However, earlier he’d refused to adjust failing grades for two district-run Indianapolis high schools, Arlington and Howe that had added middle school grades, reports the Indianapolis Star. Both were taken over by the state.

In the case of Christel House, emails unearthed by The Associated Press show Bennett’s staff sprung into action in 2012 when it appeared scores from the recently added grades could sink the highly regarded school’s rating from an A to a C. Ultimately, the high school scores were excluded and the school’s grade remained an A.

But in 2011, after IPS’ then-Superintendent Eugene White demanded Bennett consider the test scores of high school students separately from those of middle school students so the high schools could avoid state takeover, Bennett was unmoved.

Howe and Arlington have been failure mills for many years, writes Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle, who worked for the Indianapolis Star.

Arlington’s officially-reported four-year graduation rate barely increased from 49.6 percent for its Class of 2006 to 55 percent for its Class of 2011. Much of that increase was due to IPS allowing the many students who failed Indiana’s battery of graduation exams to receive diplomas through the state’s waiver process; two out of every five graduates in Arlington’s Class of 2011 got their sheepskins through that loophole, a rate that has been steady for more than a decade.

Bennett’s fall could strengthen the movement to pull Florida out of Common Core, adds Biddle. Bennett was defeated for re-election in the Indiana race for superintendent in part because of his strong support for Common Core.

Education Gadfly has more reaction to Bennett’s fall.

GOP donor’s school went from C to A

As education commissioner in Indiana, Tony Bennett pushed an accountability system that gave each school a grade. When an Indianapolis charter school funded by a Republican donor earned a C, Bennett and his staff changed the grading system to raise the grade to an A, reports Associated Press.

Bennett had praised Christel House Academy in speeches as a high-performing school serving predominantly low-income students. The school was founded by Christel DeHaan, who’s given “more than $2.8 million to Republicans since 1998, including $130,000 to Bennett and thousands more to state legislative leaders,” reports AP.

“They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence’s chief lobbyist.

Bennett lost re-election in Indiana but was hired by Florida, where he’s now revising the state’s grading system.

On Sept. 12, Jon Gubera, Indiana’s grading director, told Bennett that Christel House Academy had scored a 2.9, a C, because of “terrible” 10th-grade algebra scores.

A weeklong behind-the-scenes scramble ensued among Bennett, assistant superintendent Dale Chu, Gubera, Neal and other top staff at the Indiana Department of Education. They examined ways to lift Christel House from a “C’’ to an “A,” including adjusting the presentation of color charts to make a high “B’’ look like an “A’’ and changing the grade just for Christel House.

. . . When he requested a status update Sept. 14, his staff alerted him that the new school grade, a 3.50, was painfully close to an “A.” Then-deputy chief of staff Marcie Brown wrote that the state might not be able to “legally” change the cutoff for an “A.”

“We can revise the rule,” Bennett responded.

Over the next week, his top staff worked arduously to get Christel House its “A.” By Sept. 21, Christel House had jumped to a 3.75.

Bennett claims he fixed a glitch that affected schools that combined grade levels. Christel House was a K-10 school last year and is adding an 11th grade this year.

In an interview with Rick Hess, Bennett explains that 13 schools were penalized for not having an 11th or 12th grade:

In our first run of the new school calculations in Indiana, we turned up an anomaly in the results. As we were looking at the grades we were giving our schools, we realized that state law created an unfair penalty for schools that didn’t have 11th and 12th grades. Statewide, there were 13 schools in question had unusual grade configurations. The data for grades 11 and 12 came in as zero. When we caught it, we fixed it. That’s what this is all about.

Christel House was one of the top charter schools in the state, Bennett told the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. The low grade showed something was wrong with the grading system, he said.

Bennett said that Indiana was in the midst of finalizing its school grading formula when the email exchange took place. He said he had hoped to use high-performing schools like Christel House to calibrate the system.

“We needed to make sure the school grades reflected how the schools really performed,” he said.

Any evaluation system must include a “qualitative reality check,” writes Greg Forster on Jay P. Greene’s Blog. “All educational standards privilege someone’s opinion of what is a good school, and government privileges the opinion of powerful interests.”

 

Indiana rethinks A-F school grades

Indiana lawmakers want education officials to rewrite the A-F grading system for schools to reflect both students’ passing rate and progress — without comparing students to each other, reports StateImpact Indiana.

Critics say the system is too complex. (Indiana’s system is the most rudimentary scoring system I’ve seen yet, writes Matthew DiCarlo on Shanker Blog.) Others say Indiana needs to use value-added data — which is quite complex — to factor out poverty effects.

Eight AP Statistics students at an Indianapolis high school came up with their own A-F rewrite for the high school model, which they presented to three state lawmakers, a representative of the state superintendent and school officials.

Currently, 60 percent of a high school grade comes the percentage of 10th graders who’ve passed end-of -course exams in Algebra I and English 10, with another 30 percent derived from the four-year graduation rate. That leaves 10 percent for a “College and Career Readiness” measure: 25 percent or more of students must earn passing scores on Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests, earn three or more college credits or earn a career certification.

The Ben Davis High School students suggested decreasing the importance of the end-of-course exam pass rate, which correlate strongly with graduation rates. They’d make the readiness metric 30 percent of the school’s grade and include a measure of students’ improvement in high school. They also want to adjust the grades for students’ poverty — somehow.

House Education Committee Chair Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, suggested looking at the percentage of graduates who need remedial courses in college.

Testing plus school inspections?

The English use school inspectors as well as centralized testing to provide feedback to principals, inform parents and identify “serious weakness,” writes Iftikhar Hussain in Education Next.

Inspectors visit schools once in three to six years. They observe classes, interview school leaders, examine students’ work and talk to students and parents. In addition, students take a national test at age 7, 11, 14, and 16.

From 2006 to 2009, 13 percent of schools were rated Outstanding, 48 percent Good and 33 percent were Satisfactory. Six percent failed: 4.5 percent were moderate fails and 1.5 percent required “special measures.”

Schools that receive a moderate fail rating are subject to additional inspections, with an implicit threat of a downgrade to the severe fail category if inspectors judge improvements to be inadequate. Schools that receive the severe fail rating may experience more dramatic consequences: these can include changes in the school leadership team and the school’s governing board, increased resources, as well as increased oversight from the inspectors.

Inspector ratings are correlated with student- and parent-reported measures of school quality, even after controlling for test-score results and other school characteristics, writes Hussain.

Fail ratings lead to test score improvements that are especially large for the lowest-scoring students, Hussain finds.  ”These results are consistent with the view that children of low-income parents, arguably the least vocal in holding teachers accountable, benefit the most from inspections.”

Some U.S. education reformers see school inspectors as a way to hold schools accountable without relying exclusively on test scores.

Accountability light and lighter

Sen. Tom Harkin and the Democrats have proposed a new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka No Child Left Behind). So have Sen. Lamar Alexander the the Republicans. Both “move away from the strong federal accountability system at the center of the much-maligned NCLB law, but to different degrees,” reports Ed Week.

The Harkin bill would require states to create accountability systems that essentially build on the administration’s waivers (which are in place in 37 states plus D.C. so far), meaning that states would have to set goals for student achievement and come up with some sort of system to help turn around the schools that are struggling the most. The Alexander bill, on the other hand, would continue to require states to test in grades 3-8 and once in high school, but the senator is counting on transparency to be the main lever for school improvement. And under the Harkin bill, schools would be on the hook for helping the bottom five percent turn around—plus fixing another 10 percent of schools with big achievement gaps. There’s nothing like that in the Alexander bill . . .

Harkin wants teachers to be evaluated based on student achievement with the results used to ensure that low-performing schools get an “equitable” share of high-quality teachers. The Alexander bill eliminates the provision on “highly qualified” teachers and leaves teacher evaluation to the states.

The House Republicans don’t agree: Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education committee, wants to mandate teacher evaluation. He introduced his ESEA reauthorization bill today.

Alexander also would let “federal Title I dollars follow a child to any public school they want, but not to a private school or for outside options like tutoring,” writes Klein. And the Alexander bill specifically forbids the U.S. Secretary of Education from requiring districts to adopt certain tests, standards, or accountability systems.

Harkin claims to be ending federal “micromanaging” of schools and offering states “flexibility.”

That’s laughable, writes Mike Petrilli on Fordham’s Flypaper blog.  He lists 40 policy questions that Harkin’s bill decides, ranging from “equitable distribution of quality teachers” to collaboration time for teachers in low-performing schools.

School report cards must include  (“detailed data on the number of pregnant or parenting students and their outcomes,” data on “school violence, bullying, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, in-school student suspensions, out-of-school student suspensions, expulsions, referrals to law enforcement, school-based arrests, disciplinary transfers (including placements in alternative schools), and student detentions” for each subgroup, etc.)

Fordham favors “reform realism” about the limits of federal power. On Dropout Nation, RiShawn Biddle calls that “mushy.” He thinks both bills are “lackluster.” But, at least, Harkin is trying to hold schools accountable.

States would still have to provide data on how districts and schools are helping poor and minority children, keeping one of the most successful aspects of No Child’s accountability provisions. States would also have to provide families with an “equity report card” complete with data on how well districts are doing in providing comprehensive college preparatory courses – including Advanced Placement classes – to all kids; this would make data easily accessible to families so they can make smarter decisions and be lead decision-makers in education.

But Harkin repeats the Obama administration’s error of focusing on the worst-performing schools and letting the rest off the hook, Biddle writes.

Neither bill will pass, nor will there be “anything even resembling a compromise, anytime ever until there are new folks in Congress (and maybe a new president),” writes Alyson Klein. That means rule by waivers will continue.

Empowering the best, testing the rest

How can we “create an accountability system that empowers excellent educators to create top-notch schools while ensuring a basic level of quality for everyone?” asks Fordham’s Mike Petrilli on Ed Week‘s Bridging Differences.

Petrilli once believed that “educator autonomy, plus parental choice, would lead us to the Promised Land.”  At Fordham, which embraced “let a thousand flowers bloom,” he helped plant a few charters in Dayton, Ohio. The “flowers that turned out to be, err, more like skunk cabbage.”

Empowering educators was necessary, but not sufficient, he concluded.

You can’t just empower anyone—you have to empower a team of people who actually know what they are doing. And these people, collectively, must have the capacity to run a great school. They need to have a coherent pedagogical vision, know how to build a curriculum, know how to create a positive school culture, know how to build and follow a sensible budget, know how to put reasonable “internal controls” in place, know how to recruit a great staff, and on and on. These people, it turns out, are scarcer than I had realized at age 22.

And then you have to hold these schools accountable for getting strong results with kids.

The charter movement started with the idea that each school would commit to the results it would achieve, customizing the metrics to the school’s goals, writes Petrilli. In response to No Child Left Behind, charter leaders agreed to take the same exams and be judged by test scores like other public schools.

Petrilli suggests keeping testing and accountability as the default system, but with better standards and tests.

Students are tested annually; schools are held accountable for making solid progress from September to June, with greater progress expected for students who are further behind. States and districts give these schools lots of assistance—with curriculum development, teacher training, and the like. Such a default system won’t lead to widespread excellence, but it will continue to raise the floor so that the “typical” school in America becomes better than it is today.

All public schools—district and charter—could opt out by proposing a different set of accountability measures that might reflect the long-term success of their graduates or the willingness to face school “inspections.”