Monday, September 1, 2014

"50 Myths" & the Two Worlds of Public Education

A few people have asked me recently why this blog is called Education in Two Worlds. The reason is because K-12 public education is caught in a political struggle between progressives and conservatives — the "two worlds" — as never before. There are reasons why this is so, and they are the same reasons why Congress is strung up between two worlds and is unable to act, to the chagrin of the vast majority of American voters. In particular, the advent of huge capacity high speed computers and the ready availability of detailed Census data have made the gerrymandering of legislative districts a nightmare for those who believe that politics is the art of compromise. No more: politics has become the art of feeding raw meat to your base so that you can hold onto your seat.

Never was the political struggle in education brought home to me more clearly in a personal way than when Peter Smagorinsky published a review of the book that David Berliner and I and our young Associates wrote this year. We are most grateful to Smagorinsky for the care and insight that went into his look at our book.

It was the comments from the public at the Atlanta Journal Constitution web site that provide the stunning example of how far apart the public is on the major policy issues facing K-12 public education. Below, I present a sample:

  • So it's all just in our minds. A myth, or a series of them, says Smagorinsky. The stories of dysfunctional classrooms your own children bring to the dinner table, the dumbing down of the curriculum and the second rate test results our nation produces ... are just myths. I think most parents wish the organized resistance to reforms such as charter schools was a myth.
  • Thanks for the tip about this book. I will be one who will read it.
  • So in your opinion, we should dumb down our standards so that anyone from anywhere can drop into any Georgia school and graduate. I know of a specific case in our hometown where a student was not going to graduate from the public high school. Solution, he transferred to the local private school and surprise, surprise, surprise, he graduated! One size does not fit all. Our community has rampant welfare "participation", the primary growth industry is EBT card acquisition. Our teachers struggle everyday to overcome apathy towards education yet you believe we should be doing the same things as say, Gwinnett County or how about Washington D.C.? Before you jump on the Common Core bandwagon, you might want to investigate where it is heading. I know, you didn't mention Common Core, but that is the matra of the Grand High Socialist and his administration.
  • Once again, Dr. Smagorinsky hammers it. Thanks, Dr. S. I've just requested the book through interlibrary loan. I so wish that all who are quick to jump on the charter bandwagon and other such regressive, corporate "reforms" would really search the available literature for deeper answers. There are good ideas out there, but turning over our public schools to folks full of ulterior motives and manipulative distortions and lies is not one of them.
  • Lots of "myths" about the schools,but there are also lots of "myths" from the schools: a) There is an efficient,fair process for removing an incompetent or ineffective teacher. b) That there is no self interested bureaucracy that thwarts real reforms in order to maintain their power and position. c) That the dispensing of public monies leads to gross corruption and outright theft and malfeasance such as with the Beverly Hall scandal d) That the largest union in America is the NEA, and the NEA stands foursquare against ANY school reforms that don't expand its power and reach. e) That the system,with all of its conflicts and incestuous political machinations, can reform itself.
  • So, your response to this information that cuts through the propaganda with actual facts and destroys many of the myths being espoused by "reformers" is... Everyone should watch one of the most blatantly obvious pieces of pure propaganda ever produced (waiting for superman). Brilliant.
  • Rent the film "Waiting for Superman" to see what's missing from this article.
  • Too much of the education establishment is only interested in maintaining the existing system that pays their salary and guarantees a fat pension. Thankfully, these feeders at the public trough are not nearly all the teachers and many faithful, talented teachers remain in the profession and in the public schools.
  • Smagorinsky points to a book that spins statistics to allegedly prove that public education doesn't suck.
  • Professor Smagorinsky, the challenged state of our public schools is not a myth. I've seen it firsthand. But in a system where politics and education is inextricably linked, I find myself very concerned if our nation can ever get it right. Not when public education is a microcosm of the never-ending struggle between Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian governance philosophies. With no consensus, there is no hope for a solution that our citizens will support in large numbers. And so we have the turmoil we are faced with today - merely a snowball that has been rolling for decades and getting more and more powerful - until it crashes. Have we crashed yet? I hope not.
And the debate goes on and on. One half sees U.S. public education as an abject failure, propped up by the mendacious, greedy, and all-powerful National Education Association. The other half sees it as one of the last institutions in America attempting to protect the common good. No compromise in sight.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Texas Charters Use Occasion of Texas Judge's Decision to Whine About Their Funding

The Texas Charter Schools Association was hoping to get Judge Dietz — who ruled on August 28th that Texas school funding levels were inadequate and unconstitutional — to declare inequitable the $1000 difference between charter and traditional per pupil expenditures. He didn't. He simply ignored their arguments that charter schools should be supported at the same per pupil expenditure as traditional public schools.

The Association whined in a press release the same day. "...the judge got it wrong on specific charter claims, and it's now time for the Texas Supreme Court to get it right," said David Dunn, executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA). "Public charter schools have answered the call from parents for more quality education choices and innovative options, but we know that parents aren't willingly choosing to walk away from needed funds for their students. It's unfair to provide the option and not provide the means."

In reality, charter schools are stripped-down, bare-bones, hollow institutions that pay teachers below scale and line the pockets of Education Management companies. The claim that they should be supported at the same level as real public schools is laughable, and yet that argument is made in virtually every jurisdiction that permits them to operate.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Put a Hold on that Pultizer Prize Until We Answer a Couple of Questions

A Phoenix newspaper, the East Valley Tribune, recently ran an article with the exciting title "BASIS Chandler ranks among world's best in international test." The BASIS charter school company is well known to readers of this blog. The East Valley Tribune article simply oozes with PR flack enthusiasm: "A Chandler charter school has been recognized as being among the best in the world. BASIS Chandler was one of the four BASIS charter schools selected for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Test for Schools. The school didn’t merely take the test but excelled in it, scoring above Shanghai...."

What little of relevance that we can infer from the puff piece is that a group of BASIS Chandler charter school 15-year-olds took the PISA test and their average scores were high — higher even than some entire nations. What is not reported and what is borderline impossible to determine is how many students took the PISA at BASIS Chandler. Well, more than an hour's digging through files at the Arizona Department of Education finally produces some numbers:

    BASIS Chandler charter school enrolled
  • 500 students in Grades K - 8, and
  • 195 students in Grades 9 - 12.
What we also know from past experience with BASIS schools is that many begin but few finish. A couple years ago at BASIS Tucson — the natal BASIS charter and showcase for the company — of the 60 students starting grade 9, only 20 were around to graduate 4 years later. Now if that same attrition rate holds for BASIS Chandler, the World Beater, then we would expect that something of the order of 25 students at BASIS Chandler took the PISA — and smoked the entire population of Shanghai.

So, an honest headline for the editors of East Valley Tribune would read something like this: "Two Dozen Students Get Good Scores on a Test." And next week's headline, should anyone wish to do a follow-up article, could carry the headline: "50 Students at Chandler High School Outscore Two Dozen Students at BASIS Chandler Charter School."

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

K12 Inc. Keeps Trying to Get Its Virtual Charter School into Maine

A 2012 Maine Sunday Telegram investigation of K12 Inc. and Connections Education (Pearson) showed that Maine’s digital education policies were being shaped in ways that benefited the two companies, that the companies recruited board members in the state, and that their schools in other states had fared poorly in analyses of student achievement.

In 2013, K12 Inc. settled a federal class-action lawsuit in which some claims, including those alleging K12 Inc. made false statements about student results, were dismissed for lack of merit, while other allegations – that K12 Inc. boosted enrollment and revenues through “deceptive recruiting” practices – were dismissed as part of a $6.75 million settlement to the shareholders.

In April, the NCAA announced that it would no longer accept course work from 24 schools operated by K12 Inc., saying the courses were out of compliance with the NCAA’s nontraditional course requirements.

Earlier this month, Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman ordered K12 Inc.-managed Tennessee Virtual Academy to close at the end of this school year unless test scores show dramatic gains, according to The Associated Press.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

One State Has the Courage to Stand for What It Believes

On August 19th, the Vermont State Board of Education issued a remarkable document. Their "Statement and Resolution on Assessment and Accountability" is a remarkable document, and it is essential reading for educators and politicians in all 50 states. Is it too much to hope that it is the bell wether of a trend?

The members of the Vermont State Board refused to bow to the pressures of fad and federal coercion. They took courageous stands against useless over testing of children and the unfair evaluation of teachers. Here are a few excerpts from their policy paper:

  • Standardized tests do not "...adequately capture the strengths of all children, nor the growth that can be ascribed to individual teachers."
  • "...under high-stakes conditions, when schools feel extraordinary pressure to raise scores, even rising scores may not be a signal that students are actually learning more."
  • "At best, a standardized test is an incomplete picture of learning: without additional measures, a single test is inadequate to capture a years’ worth of learning and growth."
  • "Unfortunately, the way in which standardized tests have been used under federal law as almost the single measure of school quality has resulted in the frequent misuse of these instruments across the nation."
  • "Excessive testing diverts resources and time away from learning while providing little additional value for accountability purposes."
  • "Although the federal government is encouraging states to use value added scores for teacher, principal and school evaluations, this policy direction is not appropriate. ... Thus, other than for research or experimental purposes, this technique will not be employed in Vermont schools for any consequential purpose."
  • "While the federal government continues to require the use of subjectively determined, cut-off scores; employing such metrics lacks scientific foundation. ... Consequently, there is no single point on a testing scale that has proven accurate in measuring the success of a school or in measuring the talents of an individual. Claims to the contrary are technically indefensible and their application would be unethical."
The State Board's "Statement and Resolution" is a remarkably intelligent statement about practices in assessment and accountability. Will it be fobbed off by less courageous states as just one little exceptional place up there in New England? Not really relevant? Peculiar? That would be a shame. Or will it be seen as the knowing and progressive document that it is, worthy of serving as a model for policy statements across the nation?

Watch for the press release on Tuesday.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Year-Round-Schools? Is anybody really interested in that any more?

Year-Round-Schools were popular back when the Beatles were all the rage. But you don’t hear about them much any more … year-round-schools, that is; you still hear about the Beatles a bit. People were looking for ways to cope with rapid population growth in the 1960s and 1970s. Baby Boomers were advancing through the education system and soon Baby Boomers' children were entering schools. The Boom is over, and population growth is coming from a different demographic sector – one that doesn’t get quite as much audience for complaints about crowded schools. So it was a surprise when a reporter for Education Week called to ask about Year-Round-Schools.
“Why has this topic come up now?”

“Well, both Virginia and Michigan have money in their 2014-2015 budgets that schools can apply for to try a year-round calendar.”

“Do you mean, going to school for the entire year, or just rearranging the 180 days differently.”

“Just rearranging the 180 days.”

“Hmm, that’s surprising ... I mean, that's curious”

Year-Round-Schooling (TRS) came about for a couple reasons. Taxpayers and their school board representatives looked at empty schools from June to September and they knew that the kids were no longer working in the fields so they questioned the poor use of resources. In areas where population was burgeoning and new schools needed to be built, those empty schools for 3 months started to look like an opportunity.

“If we just divided the kids into 4 tracks and staged each track on a 9-week-on and 3-week-off calendar, we would achieve a 25% increase in building use. Instead of building 4 new schools, we would only have to build 3.” Behold: YRS was born.

It all sounded wonderfully economical. But as soon as it starts in any town, problems arise.

The alternative calendars (the 4 tracks) are not equally desirable at the middle school and high school levels. You have the sports teams, and then you have the marching band that has to play during half-time at the football games; and so the athletes and the band have to be in the same track. So the 9-week-3-week track that has the 9-weeks from September to November gets to be a desirable track with all the cool kids in it. But when you have lots of kids wanting in the cool track and nobody wants in the uncool track (like 9-weeks of school from June to August) you have a real problem. You won’t save any space unless the tracks have about equal numbers of kids in them. So you can’t allow free choice of a track; so what you do is allow choice of tracks except that all new kids and transfers into the district are forced into the undesirable track. Now parents start to grumble.

Parental grumbling intensifies when families with more than one child discover that they can’t get all their children on the same track. There are big problems coordinating schedules across elementary, middle, and high schools for multi-child families. Try to plan your family vacation, for example, when one child is in grade 5 on a traditional calendar and the other child is in grade 8 on a YRS calendar.

But that’s not the half of it. When the schools start messing with the traditional 9-month—3-month calendar, they start messing with a host of summer activities that have grown up over the decades and accommodated to the traditional calendar: Boy & Girl Scouts, Boys Club, Girls Club, Cub Scouts, Little League, summer camps of a thousand different kinds – I could go on, but you can supply your own examples.

Eventually, you realize that changing the traditional school calendar is about as impossible as moving a cemetery. But the board and the taxpayers insist, so what happens? The superintendent, the principals, and the teachers are caught in the middle. They have to deal with the myriad complaints and complications. And what is their response? Well, the only thing they have left to argue is that the YRS calendar is a superior form of education! Kids learn more; that’s why we’re doing it. They don’t suffer the horrible learning loss over the three-months summer vacation. Well, doesn’t psychological research prove that distributed practice is better than massed practice? And all those poor children who have turned their brains completely off during the summer have to spend September and October relearning everything they have forgotten so that they can continue with the next stage of learning math or reading or social studies or whatever.

Of course, all this justification that the administrators and teachers are forced to put out is pure poppycock. The psychological research on massed vs distributed practice is on nonsense syllable learning and doesn’t generalize to learning things as complex and messy as school subjects. And furthermore, most of that research was done by college professors who hated that their students ignored their courses during the semester and then crammed for the final.

Also, the idea that school subjects are so tightly articulated across grades that forgetting something during the summer will paralyze you when you try to learn the next level of the subject in September is blatant nonsense. Does reading work that way? Of course not. And does anyone really believe that kids these days don’t read in the summer, or write? Ever hear of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or texting? And if it were true that subjects are so tightly sequenced that you can’t advance to Stage 5 unless you mastered Stage 4 (in social studies?), then we all would have stopped learning anything at about the 6th grade.

And what about the summer learning loss? It’s tiny and insignificant and the only ones pushing it are businesses trying to make a buck off of it by selling books or apps or tutoring services.

So what you have is school professionals caught in the middle between taxpayers trying to reduce costs and parents trying to run a household. What they invent are a bunch of myths and weak arguments hoping to convince parents to put up with the trouble and inconvenience. It seldom works for long. Most places that try YRS give up on it after a few years, say, when the population growth pressure lessens.

One of the few places I have seen YRS tolerated for long was in a super-wealthy suburb of Denver where the families loved taking 4 vacations a year: skiing in the winter, surfing in the summer, Europe in the spring, and New England in the fall.

If YRS is such a fantastic learning experience, why don’t we see it at Choate, Andover, Phillips, et al.?

180 days is 180 days. It doesn’t matter how they are spread out over the year. Now if you are talking REAL YRS, i.e., 365 days a year with weekends off, well, that’s a different matter. But, do you think the country is ready for a 33% increase in the cost of K-12 schooling? Shall we really up the budget from $500 billion to $666 billion?

Now, back to Virginia and Michigan. What’s up there? Why are they putting aside a little money in an attempt to induce a few school districts to try YRS? Sure, they’ll say that it is an experiment on increasing learning and avoiding that horrible gigantic loss of learning over the summer. But color me more suspicious than that.

Many (most?) school teachers have organized their lives so that they have plenty to do over the 3-month summer break. They take jobs at the rec center or the summer camp; they go back to school themselves and work on their Masters or doctorate; they travel with their families. Many will not be willing to give up these things to continue teaching during the summer. Who will step in and help with the teaching? Look for Teach For America to step up. Or better yet, let’s watch and see if the K12 Inc. and Connections/Pearson sales force shows up in Virginia and Michigan with the perfect staffing solution: online line courses!


  • Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J., & Greathouse, S. 1996. “The effects of summer vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and metaanalytic review.” Review of Educational Research, 66, 227–268.
  • Smith, M. L. & Glass, G. V (1975). Evaluation of Year-Round Schools. Cherry Creek District 5. Educational Report. ERIC Identifier: ED145537.
  • Smith, M. L. & Glass, G. V (1976). Evaluation of Year-Round Schools. Cherry Creek District 5. Second Year Final Report. ERIC Identifier: ED145538.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Follow Up to "50 Myths & Lies"

My co-author, David Berliner, and I were recently interviewed by Larry Ferlazzo as a follow-up to the publication of our recent book 50 Myths & Lies that Threaten America's Public Schools. A somewhat shorter version of the interview was published by Education Week and is available there. For those wishing to read a slightly longer version of the interview, it is reproduced below.
Ferlazzo: You make a clear distinction between what you call school myths and hoaxes. Could you elaborate on what you see as the differences between the two, along with providing some examples?

Answer: A hoax is a deliberate attempt to deceive, and is more elaborate than a simple lie. Hoaxes are stories of doubtful veracity, constructed to create a desired opinion in the mind of the hearer. The Piltdown Man was a hoax. American education has not had to contend with many hoaxes, but the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) to privatize our public schools is fertile ground for growing a few hoaxes. Slick TV ads for online charter schools – like those run by K12 Inc., for example — that show smiling children and happy mothers negotiating an education on a laptop on the kitchen table approach the mendacity of a full-blown hoax.

Unlike hoaxes, myths arise from our well-intentioned attempts to understand and generalize our personal experiences. Unfortunately, our personal experience is a poor guide to the creation of general knowledge. We may have held our son or daughter back in the 3rd grade for a second year and the child turned a couple Fs into Cs. When we conclude that retaining children in grade is a beneficial practice, we contribute to the myths of The Benefits of Grade Retention.

Ferlazzo: What do you see as the two or three most dangerous “myths and lies” about schools and why do you think they are so dangerous?

Answer: One myth, we call the grand myth, is a myth from which many others flow. It is the common myth that America’s public schools do poorly compared to other countries. It is fair to say that some of our schools do not do well, but it is a flat out lie to say America’s schools do not do well. Those are two very different claims. On the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study [TIMSS] tests, on the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study [PIRLS] test, and on the Program for International Student Assessment [PISA] tests of reading, science and mathematics, public school students in five groups were assessed. One group attended schools where fewer than 10% of the families were in poverty, others attended schools where approximately 10-25% of the families were in poverty, or where 25-50%, 50-75% or over 75% of the families served by the school were in poverty. On each of these three international tests the American public school students in the schools where poverty rates of families were under 10%, or under 25%, did terrific. The approximately 15 million children in these two groups of schools were consistently among the world leaders! Even the middle group, where poverty rates for families was between 25-50%, our public school children did well, that is, above the international average. That means that about 50% of our public schools students, about 25 million children, are doing fine. But others are not. Children in schools here over half the families live in poverty—particularly those children that attend schools with over 75% of the families in poverty, do not do well in school. We run an apartheid-lite system of schooling, where housing patterns determine whom you go to school with and how those schools score on achievement tests. Where poverty rates in schools are low, scores are remarkably high on all three tests. The myth that we cannot compete well in international tests is just that—a grand myth, a meta myth, a destructive myth.

A second myth we see as dangerous has that quality because of what it reveals about too many of America’s politicians and school leaders: it reveals both their ignorance and their cruelty! This is the myth that leaving a child back in grade who is not doing well academically is good for the child. It provides the child with “the gift of time” to catch up. We believe that only ignorant and cruel people would support such a policy, although it is law in about a dozen states, including Arizona and Florida. First of all, a large and quite consistent set of research studies, many of excellent quality, point out that for the vast majority of the children retention in grade has either no benefit, or is detrimental. Only rarely does retention benefit the child who was left back. So the research overwhelming suggests that those who recommend retention are likely to be ignorant. Second, an important piece of the rationale for retention policies is that if you cannot read well by third grade you are more likely to be a school failure. But reading expert Stephen Krashen disputes this, citing research on 12 young students with serious reading problems, dyslexics all. Eleven of the twelve did not learn to read well until they were between 10 and 12 years of age, and one did not learn to read until he was in 12th grade. Among these slow learners, all of whom would have been left back in Florida and Arizona, were nine who published creative scholarly works, and one who became a Nobel laureate. So not doing well by third grade does not determine one’s destiny. Third, the research informs us that retention policies are disproportionately directed at those who are poor, male, English language learners, and children of color. Middle class white children are rarely left back. Fourth, a retention decision changes family dynamics. Parents and siblings change in their treatment of, and aspirations for, the child identified by the school as having “flunked.” Of course, the schools do not say a child is dumb. Instead they offer the children and the families “the gift of time” to catch up. But the world interprets that gift more cruelly. Fifth, being left back is associated with much higher rates of dropping out before completion of high school. Thus, the social costs of this policy go way up since these children are more likely to need assistance in living because of poor wage earning capacity, and there is also the greater likelihood of a higher incarceration rate for people that do not finish school and cannot find decent work. Sixth, when surveyed, children left back say it feels as bad as losing a parent or going blind. It is an overwhelmingly negative event in the lives of the vast majority of the retained children, so leaving them back is cruel as well as a reflection of the ignorance of those who promote these policies. Seventh, and finally, the same costs expended for an extra year of education for the child who is held back, say eight thousand dollars, could more profitably be spent on a more beneficial treatment than repetition of a grade. A certified reading specialist, working twice a week as a tutor throughout the school year and for some part of the summer, would have greater success in improving a child’s academic performance. There is no more powerful treatment than tutoring, and in this case it is cheaper and more humane than is flunking a child. For the seven reasons given, we can think of no education policy that reflects worse on America’s politicians and educators than the policy of retaining students in grade.

Ferlazzo: What are a couple of “myths and lies” that didn’t make the list?

Answer. We didn’t challenge the Common Core State Standards. We were not all against them, though we did think there were some issues with them. Most of all we were concerned with the lies that were told about them. For example, we felt that The Common Core will not raise international test scores because the problem is clearly not our curriculum. Our students who are not in schools that serve large numbers of families in poverty actually do quite well in international competitions—see above—and our Asian students, of any income level do, remarkably well. This means our admittedly uncoordinated curriculum is not at all inadequate. So selling the Common Core as a way to do better on international tests is bogus.

We also felt that the Common Core will not grow the economy, as some have claimed. The economy is a function of the creativity, ingenuity, and entrepreneurship of our workers and company executives, along with tax codes and government incentives. Sadly, it is the many admirable characteristics of young American adults that could easily be killed by an education system built around the Common Core standards and its associated tests. That will occur if the tests of the CCSS tests are little different from those that came before, tests of memorization that promoted little more than coaching of the most mind-numbing type. Further, if high stakes are attached to those tests, as currently demanded by the federal government and most states, the test will be corrupted, as will all the people who work with the tests.

We felt that the Common Core will not create high paying jobs. Investment of capital creates jobs. Contrary to naïve beliefs, merely educating a person does not necessarily create a job for that person, if it did there would be much lower unemployment in many poor nations around the world. In fact, one middle-class job that might be affected negatively by the Common Core is teaching. The salaries of teachers can be driven down with standardization of the curriculum because the job of the teacher becomes more like training and less like educating. Trainers are cheaper to hire than teachers. Further, because of curriculum standardization, the Common Core promotes use of cyber-curricula, making experienced teachers less necessary and certainly less costly.

We felt that the the Common Core may not lead to a more democratic society. While the “rigor” of the CCSS is applauded by many, the application of “rigor” is sometimes used to keep poor and minority students out of college preparatory and AP courses, and to foster dropouts. Rigor is often a code word for discrimination.

We felt that the the Common Core will not reduce the achievement gap. The standards were not written by experienced educators, and so they do not consider the individual needs of students of varying abilities who populate the classes in our public schools. Some students might need to be challenged more, some students need to be challenged with a different curriculum, and there are those who face challenges in learning at the levels expected at each grade. The CCSS do not have much to say about these realities of classroom life.

Furthermore, the testing accompanying the Common Core will limit the states’ abilities to develop unique local curriculum, as promised by the developers of the CCSS. This is likely to occur because teachers and schools will be judged on tests that match the standards not the local curriculum. This likelihood suggests, as well, that the U.S. system of education might end up having more homogeneity in its outcomes than is desirable. If all 50 million or more students are learning the same things, it might be limiting the potential of our nation. Our nation has to deal with a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world. To confront such a world we might be better served with a broad spectrum of students’ knowledge and skills than by a narrower set of the type promoted by the CCSSs.

Other myths we might want to do more with include

  • The high school exit exam myth. They might be close to worthless.
  • Single sex classes. More on that has come out. They don’t seem to do much.
  • Readability formulas seem to have lots of bunkum associated with them.
  • Lots more on VAMs—really junk science.
  • And related to VAMs is the weak teacher effect on aggregate scores, as opposed to their powerful effect on individual scores.

Ferlazzo: What is your advice to those who want to fight against these “myths and lies”?

Answer: Become more politically active. Education is often the biggest budget item in states and local districts so unless you are helping to make those decisions education will get screwed, especially by the rich and the old who don’t want to pay taxes, especially for young children of color. Run for school board in your own or in neighboring districts.

Join community organizations that are concerned with the schools: The Lions, Rotary, Elks, the woman’s auxiliary to the Royal Order of Moose, and the like. Make sure that those people know what is going on in the schools.

Refuse to give capricious tests; tell parents to keep their kids home at standardized test time; get more militant: “A profession of sheep will be ruled by wolves.”

Write letters to the editor, op ed pieces, attend political meetings, especially school board meetings when you can, and speak out.

Shame people who say really stupid things, like “teachers are overpaid,” “we have lots of incompetent teachers,” “teachers don’t work hard,” and “poverty is no excuse.” Make fun of them. They deserve that.

Ferlazzo: During my nineteen year community organizing career, we always kept in mind the organizers axiom attributed to Saul Alinsky, “The price of criticism is a constructive alternative.” There’s an ongoing discussion among critics of many present-day “school reforms” about balancing what we’re “against” with what we’re “for.” Though you include some suggestions for better alternatives, I’m curious if you ever considered framing your book as “Fifty Policies That Work” instead of “50 Myths and Lies”? Was your decision to choose the latter for rhetorical, political or other reasons?

Here are just a few of the things we are for: We never wanted to get into policies that work because we are probably better critics than advocates, but also because the single biggest problem we see is a HUGE one. It’s the expansion of the middle class through decent employment, along with the promotion of dignity for workers and their families. That’s more than an educational issue, but that’s what would help our schools a lot. But we are for some particular things, elaborated on next.

What we are for is an enormous change in housing patterns. Putting low-income people with low-income people is apartheid-lite. We need more mixed SES housing.

We are for dual language schools.

We are for higher taxes on the wealthy and some corporations to fund the commons—teachers, police, fire fighters, our army and its veterans, park rangers, and all others who make a democracy work. Decent pay and enormous respect for those who serve the commons gets us higher quality public servants and remarkably low levels of corruption.

We are for an enriched but not an academically pressured childhood. We like play. We invented childhood 150 tears ago—lets not throw it out just because many Asians are willing to.

We are for an inspectorate made up of excellent experienced teachers (perhaps Nationally Board Certified Teachers) to regularly supplement principals visits to classrooms. They should both advise and, if needed, help remove teachers from the classroom. This requires a number of observers, and a number of observations, to reliably assess teachers and is therefore expensive. But it is likely to be less expensive than a court fight over teacher tenure. Professions are partly defined by having the right to police themselves and determine due process. Maybe it’s time to try doing this.

We are for an expansion of the meaning of an education budget. We’d include expansion of high quality early childhood education, summer educational programs that are not just for remediation, paying a part of the budget to local people who run local youth organizations, running after school cross age tutoring programs and after school clubs with paid instructors, such as robotics clubs, school news clubs, and of course sports. Evidence exists that each of these activities helps youth develop in both academic and pro-social ways as they mature.

Ferlazzo: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to share?

Answer: We have written too much already. But we did this book because we want to start a thousand conversations. Public education in the next few decades could be lost if it is not a focus of attention and support. That would be a shame. We always think of Lawrence Cremin when we discuss education. He said that when the history of the United States is written in the middle of the 21st century, and the question is raised about why the US became the dominant power in the world at the end of the 20th century, the answer would be found in the 19th century. It was not inventions like the Gatling gun, cotton gin, steamboat, telegraph or telephone: It was the invention of the common school. We believe that. These schools need to be helped survive the privatization movement both because they work well where poverty is not the killer of achievement that it has become, and because a successful public school system may allow us to keep our fragile democracy.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

When Economists Strive to Disparage U.S. Schools, They Work Magic

Erik Hanushek frequently attempts to prove that virtually everything is wrong with the U.S. public school system: the teachers are bad, the administrators are bad, the schools fail to educate the poor, and now, the schools fail to educate the rich — or at least the children of the most educated parents. My word, what is left?! Well, maybe a bit of evidence would strengthen Hanushek's position. But sadly, he is prone to leap from shaky data to foregone conclusions. What follows is my co-author David Berliner's setting matters straight.
Criticism via Sleight of Hand

David C. Berliner

​Hanushek, Peterson and Woessmann (2014) (HPW) criticize Berliner, Glass, and Associates (2014). They label Berliner et al. “apologists,” and as misleaders of the American people. But their critique of our work seems bizarre. They never address the issue we deal with. We talk about the role of income and poverty in national and international assessments. They do not. Here is what they do: ​“To ascertain whether the challenges facing the United States are concentrated among the educationally disadvantaged, we identify for each state and country the proficiency rate of students from families with parents of high, moderate, and low levels of education.”

​Their analysis suggests that the children of America’s better educated families do not do as well as the children of better educated parents in other countries. If true, that would certainly not make us happy. But it is an irrelevant criticism of our analysis which convincingly demonstrates that poverty, along with its sequelae and correlations, is the greatest barrier to high achievement test scores for U.S. students on both domestic and international tests. Theirs is criticism via sleight of hand—we talk “level of poverty” and the outcomes of assessments, they talk “level of parental education” and the outcomes of assessment.

​Everyone knows that there is a relationship between educational level and income. But HPW blithely assume that the correlation between these two variables is quite high, when it is not. In fact the raw correlation between an individual’s educational level and that individual’s income actually is surprisingly low. In Arizona, for example, among employed individuals 25-55 years old, the correlations between wage income and education level are about .20 for workers at younger ages, the child-bearing ages. This correlation increases with age, but is still relatively weak, only about .40 (accounting for only 16% of variance) at the upper end of the age scale examined. One’s level of education and one’s level of income simply do not provide the same information, something often referred to as status inconsistency in the sociological literature.

To criticize us with their data set requires HPW to show two things. First, that the correlation between educational level of the parents of school children and income level of those parents is quite high in the U.S. Second, they must show that the relationships of parental education and parental income is about the same in all the OECD countries. They do not provide either of these two analyses. Nor could they, since it is highly unlikely that similar correlations are the case.

​Moreover, HPW do not acknowledge that much recent data suggest that education and income are not highly correlated in the U.S. For example, we know that in 1970, only 1 in 100 taxi drivers and chauffeurs in the U.S. had a college degree. Today, 15 of 100 do. Highly educated taxi drivers are likely not to be able to afford to live in the areas where school poverty rates for families are below 10%. In those public schools, U.S. students are among the top scoring in the world. Even in the schools where about 10-25% of the families are in poverty, U.S. public school students compete remarkably well. The question is whether all those well-educated taxi drivers live in the areas served by those kinds of school? Probably not! Thus their children are unlikely to be getting as good an education as are the children whose parents, regardless of their educational level, can afford to live in those areas.

​Educational achievement on domestic and international tests is related to where you live and with whom you go to school. The children of these well-educated taxi drivers are more likely living in schools attended by people of more modest means, and this is possibly a reason for the findings of HPW. But it is not just taxi drivers with college degrees that have grown in numbers. In 1970, only about 2 percent of firefighters had a college degree. Now 15 percent do. Are they sending their kids to the schools attended by richer Americans, or to schools that serve the working and middle classes?

​About 1 in 4 bartenders has some sort of college degree. Are they high earners? If they have children, with whom would those children go to school? Our critics know as well as we do that who you go to school with is more important for your performance on tests than is your teacher, or any other influence. James Coleman made that clear fifty years ago and no credible refutation of this argument yet exists.

​So if many of America’s highly educated people are not earning high salaries, and thus not sending their children to the schools attended by the children of the advantaged, guess what? They will not do as well as might be expected of highly educated people—which is the point made by HPW. So not only does their data not refute our argument, if our hypothesis about education and income in contemporary U.S. is credible, their data actually confirm ours! Parental income and their child’s school achievement are strongly related, perhaps even more so than is parental education level and their children’s school achievement. In modern America, parental income rather than parental education more often determines who your children go to school with.

​Even more evidence suggests that the correlation between education and income (and therefore, the correlation between education and the neighborhood one lives in) is not as high as HPW suggest. More than a third of recent college graduates hold jobs that do not require a college degree. This underemployment or "mal-employment" rate appears to be over 36% for college-educated workers younger than 25. People don't go to college to be a waiter or a bartender, but that is now a common outcome of their education. Nearly 8% of college graduates are working part-time, but would like full-time positions, and these highly educated people are not counted in the mal-employment rate of 36%.

​Not surprisingly, hospitality and retail are the most common occupations of the mal-employed. Of the nearly 3 million recent college grads, 152,000 are working in retail sales and nearly 100,000 work as waiters, bartenders or in other food service posts. Another 80,000 serve as clerks or customer service representatives, and 60,000 work in construction or manual labor. ​These are Americans of child-bearing age, and they will be sending their children to school now, or quite soon. Will they live in neighborhoods where less than 10% of the families served by the schools are in poverty? Or are these now and future parents more likely to live in neighborhoods where 25-50% of the families are in poverty? Those would be the neighborhoods and schools that serve the working and the middle classes, and the students in these schools score about the national or international average on most assessments. Not great, but certainly not bad. Furthermore, going to the suburbs is no escape: Recently, and for the first time, suburban poverty rates exceeded urban poverty rates. So these poor and modest-earning well-educated Americans, often with large debts from college, are likely to wait a long time before they can move to a neighborhood with a school that has less than 10% of its children living in poverty and thus a likely very high performing school.

​As is clear, HPW switched the argument from poverty to education. Perhaps children of America’s highly educated parents are not doing as well as children of the highly educated in other countries. We did not study that issue, but we have doubts about their findings, given what we have presented above about the relationship between education and income and where children are likely to be brought up in the contemporary U.S. More important is that their argument is irrelevant to our argument. We are quite sure we are correct in stating that youth poverty is our biggest education problem (see also, Biddle (2014)). What follows is why we hold this belief. ​On the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study [TIMSS] tests, on the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study [PIRLS] test, and on the Program for International Student Assessment [PISA] tests of reading, science and mathematics, public school students in five groups were assessed. One group attended schools where fewer than 10% of the families were in poverty, others attended schools where approximately 10-25% of the families were in poverty, or where 25-50%, 50-75% or over 75% of the families served by the school were in poverty. On each of these three international tests, U.S. public school students did terrific in the schools where poverty rates of families were under 10%, or even when poverty rates were between 10% and 25%. But we did not do well in schools where poverty rates were above 50%, and we did even worse on those tests in schools where poverty rates for families were in the 75-100% bracket.

Here is the recent TIMSS data for grades 4 and 8 by poverty of the families served by the school.

​ Although many nations in this analysis were not developed nations, the competition did include Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, and many OECD countries. The data are clear. First, to the amazement of everyone, the U.S. mean score in mathematics was above the international average, a finding conveniently underreported in the U.S. But averages always hide trends in data. When U.S. scores are broken down by the poverty of the families served, as in this graph, we see that the higher the percent of poverty among the families served by the schools, the lower the score in math. The science assessment showed the same trend. ​Less well known is that the two groups on the left constitute about 12 million students, and they handily beat the average score of Finland. Even the middle group beat Finland at both the 4th and 8th grade, and that means that about 50% of U.S. school children who are not greatly affected by poverty, about 25 million children, are doing as well as the nation whose scores other nations envy. But internationally high, or quite respectable test scores, are not the lot of those students attending schools with high rates of poverty. That is our simple point. ​Let’s switch to PIRLS.

​U.S. public school students, where poverty rates were low, the two bars on the left, outscored every other nation in the world, and there were more than 50 other countries and jurisdictions in this study. Underreported, once again, was that even our children in schools that serve the poorest families, the bar on the right, scored above the international average. The gap, however, between the children in schools that serve the wealthy and those that serve the poor is huge. That is our point. If we want better test scores in the U.S. we should probably stop blaming unions, tenure, the curriculum, teachers and administrators, and instead create programs to reduce poverty and the housing segregation that accompanies low earnings. ​Now let’s go to PISA, the test that HPW use to argue that we do not have it right. Here are math scores for the five groups we focus on.

​Even in math, often our weakest subject, those students in schools where poverty rarely is seen, the first bar in this graph, placed 6th in world—and they placed higher than Japan. The next group, schools with less than 25% of the children living in poverty families, placed 17th in world, well above most of the countries in OECD. But here is our national problem: The U.S. average score was low because the schools attended by children whose families are in poverty score poorly. Those in the schools most heavily affected by poverty may not have the mathematics skills needed to compete in the market. But other U.S. children certainly do, and they are predominantly those attending schools low in family poverty.

Here are science scores.

​The first bar in this graph displays PISA science scores for students in schools with under 10% of their classmates living in families that experience poverty. They were beaten by only one country, Shanghai, which as we know is not a country but a city. And it is a city with the highest rate of college graduates in China. Apparently it also does not test the children of its illegal immigrants (those from rural areas living in Shanghai illegally: Their number may approach 200,000). The second bar, representing students in schools where under 25% of the students are from families in poverty tied for 8th in the world. Not too shabby a performance for about 12 million American public school students. But once again the trend is clear. Children in schools high in poverty do not do well. The difference between the schools serving the wealthy and the poor is over one standard deviation.

Here is the reading data. The trend is clear once again.

​Reading is an area of US strength, as PIRLS revealed. We see that again in PISA. US students in schools where under 10% of the families served are in poverty placed 2nd in the world. In the group where under 25% of the students were in poverty the students placed 6th in the world, tied with Finland. So, again, around 12 million of our student’s did great. And if we assess the performance of students represented by the third bar, the one showing students in schools with 25-50% of the families served in poverty, they also did well. They came in 10th. So approximately half of all US students, about 25 million of them, are doing pretty good, but that is not true for the other half of our school population—those attending schools where over 50% of the students come from families that are eligible for free and reduced lunch, our marker of family poverty.

​We conclude that in contemporary America parental income, not parental education buys neighborhood, and neighborhood plays a big role in determining the composition of the class ones child is in, the composition of the cohort at the grade level one’s child is in, and the characteristics of the community in which one’s child goes to school. If there is not a very strong correlation between parental education and parental income, or more to the point, between parental education and where you can afford to live, HPW are wrong in both their interpretation of their own data, and their criticism of us. But we would like to add one more criticism of HPW, namely, that reliance on PISA and other international assessments to draw conclusions about characteristics of the U.S. system of education is foolish, even though we challenged their interpretations of our work by using those same questionable tests. The remarkably insightful Chinese born scholar Yong Zhao has a book coming out soon (Zhou, 2014). In it he makes it quite clear that PISA, in particular, and for international tests in general, it is impossible to draw valid conclusions about the strengths and weaknesses of national systems of education. Zhao (and many others) would caution, and we would agree, that HPW are on extremely shaky ground when they use PISA data to do so.


Berliner, D. C., Glass, G. V and Associates. (2014). Fifty myths and lies that ​threaten America’s public schools. New York: Teachers College Press.

Biddle, B. J. (2014). The unacknowledged disaster: Youth poverty and educational failure in America. Boston. MA: Sense Publishers.

Hanushek, E. A., Peterson, P. E., & Woessmann, L. (2014). Not just the ​problems of other people’s children: U.S. Student Performance in Global Perspective. Harvard University, Program on Education Policy and Governance & Education Next, PEPG Report No. 14-01, May 2014.

Zhao, Y. (2014). Who’s afraid of the big bad dragon? Why China has the best ​(and worst) education system in the world. San Francisco, CA: Jossey- ​Bass.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why Are Charter Schools Spending So Much on Administration?

The state of Arizona has long been a leader in charter schools. Of a million students enrolled in K-12 public education in the state, approximately 141,000 are enrolled in the nearly 550 charter schools. At roughly 15% of the school population in charter schools, Arizona leads the nation in its commitment to non-traditional schooling. Taxpayers in the state of Arizona spend more than $1 Billion annually to operate these charter schools.

Among the promised benefits of charter schools were that decentralised and less regulated entities forced to compete for students would necessarily spend less money on administration and more on instruction. No less eminent advocates of charter schools than Paul Hill and Checker Finn have made such arguments. The reality of the charter school movement has not kept up with such promises.

When expenditures to operate public schools in Arizona are broken down by categories like Instruction and Administration, interesting trends become apparent. For the 900,000 pupils in traditional public schools, approximately $4,000 per pupil is expended for Instruction. For the 141,000 charter school pupils, the average expenditure for Instruction is $3,200.

But the surprising differences in the costs of operating traditional and charter schools appear in the category of Administration.

  • Administration in the 1,500 traditional public schools of Arizona costs $760 per pupil.

  • Administration in the 550 charter schools of Arizona costs $1,344 per pupil.
So charter schools in Arizona are spending almost twice as much per pupil on administration as the traditional public schools. Denis Smith, writing in the Columbus (OH) Dispatch observed that in the state of Ohio “Many charter schools employ highly paid administrators but compensate their teachers well below those in other public schools, leading to constant staff turnover.” The Arizona situation seems to indicate that “overpaid administrators” is not just a Mid-western phenomenon. Exactly how much charter school administrators are paying themselves is difficult — or impossible — to determine nearly everywhere. They are public when requesting tax money; they act suspiciously private when asked about salaries.

Afterword: Interestingly, the figures for Arizona match almost exactly data reported by Arsen & Ni in a 2012 article entitled Is Administration Leaner in Charter Schools? Resource Allocation in Charter and Traditional Public Schools, which was published by Education Policy Analysis Archives.

Data source:

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

An Administrator Tells What It's Like in One Sector of America's Schools

KB, a school administrator on the East Coast was provoked by a posting on Infinite Campus on this blog to reply. His observations follow:
Public education today is a nebulous Pandora's box. What makes one parent happy will make another irate to the point of a complaint to the superintendent. Some parents need to care more about their child and others would do their child the best service possible if they let the kid do their own thing for a while. I read somewhere a quote, "no matter how tall your grandfather was, everyone has to do their own growing". This is so true in schools today but many parents feel they are actually helping their 17-18yr old child by babying them, calling teachers at the slightest grade change, complaining to VP's when their child is disciplined, doing any and all paperwork/etc., related to college application, etc. They have no idea the damage they are doing to these kids. The result of this is that parents are often raising children who have absolutely no clue how to advocate for themselves or handle their own issues.

For example, I had a mom call to complain that her son (18yrs old and graduating in a month) received a lunch detention because he left wood shop class early before the bell (seen on camera, picture printed, the case was rock solid). Her rationale for complaining to me was that 1) he never received a single referral in high school and she wanted to keep it that way and 2) she was "trying to teach him how to be a man and do the right things", Hello...he's 18yrs old!! Can't he come to the discipline office and plead his case?

Just today, I had a mom come in to our main office because she wanted to pick up working papers for her 17yr old son, who she happily told us was turning 18 in a week. Isn't it possible that this near-18yr old healthy male could have ridden his bike the 3 blocks to the school and done this himself? Our entire district is about 2miles in any direction (max)

We often joke in school that we have 2 types of parents. The first are the "helicopter" parents who are constantly buzzing around the school at the slightest issue and are always "in the know". The second are called "lawnmower" parents because the will literally mow you over until they get what they want, regardless of whether they are right or not.

Our recently retired superintendent used to say, "I'm know I'm raising my kids right simply because I'm NOT raising them like these parents". I feel the same.

These (and many others) are the reasons why schools select student information systems like Infinite Campus, Skyward, PowerSchool, (and the list goes on). Tell parents that their kids need to do their OWN growing and learning and I'll tell the school to stop sending student information updates every 5 minutes.

KB, Administrator

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.