Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Little Piece of the Opt Out Movement

The Opt Out Movement is an unorganized, spontaneous attempt by students and parents – and we can assume, with the support of some teachers – to stem the rising tide of standardized testing by external agencies. The movement is opposed by politicians, testing companies, and the federal government. A recent event brings to the forefront the dynamics underlying the Opt Out Movement.

Jim Vacca teaches an Advanced Placement class in Language Arts at Boulder (CO) High School. Boulder High was a site for the try-out of the PARCC test – the Pearson company’s entry into the Common Core testing business. The administration of Boulder High was prepared for a bit of opting out after the cross town Fairview High School students staged a huge walk out in protest of the state assessment test earlier in the year. Boulder High students were told that if they opted out of the PARCC that they were to attend study hall when the test was administered.

But Jim Vacca’s students were more interested in learning than twiddling thumbs in study hall or serving as guinea pigs for the Pearson company. They asked Vacca to hold their regular AP Language Arts class, and he did.

The Boulder High administration did not take kindly to Vacca’s act of insubordination, and they informed Vacca that he would no longer be allowed to teach AP classes. His students have started a petition to have him reinstated as the AP Language Arts teacher.

We can draw several observations from this incident:

  1. The Opt Out Movement is a special middle class movement. Boulder High and Fairview High are not typical middle class schools. They are located in a city that is overwhelmingly Democrat in voting preference. (By city ordinance, pet owners must be referred to as “guardians” in official communications.) The Opt Out Movement has yet to penetrate where testing does most harm.
  2. As Diane Ravitch once observed, the hope for the success of the Opt Out Movement resides with the students and retired teachers. Teachers currently employed are easy targets for retaliation.
  3. School administrators at several levels are afraid of retaliation by state agencies and the federal government if they refuse to go along with external testing schemes. In a recent exchange on an internet discussion list, and employee of one of the big contractors in the assessment business was quick to point out that those opting out were risking the cut-off of federal funds.

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 the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Crony Capitalism Beats the Free Market Again

There's bad news for all those neoliberal and conservatives who think that free markets and competition are the royal road to the shining city on the hill. The free market constantly takes a back seat to "crony capitalism": "an economy in which success in business depends on close relationships between business people and government officials. It may be exhibited by favoritism in the distribution of legal permits, government grants, special tax breaks, or other forms of state interventionism."

First, about 5 or 6 years ago the founders of the Basis charter school chain thought they would enter the private school market in Scottsdale, Arizona, and reap those huge private school tuition profits. And why not? Private schools like Phoenix Country Day and Tesseract were charging $20,000+ a year tuition and turning kids away. But the Basis Scottsdale ad campaign produced a mere 7 takers by the time school was to open in the fall, and the founders quickly converted Basis Scottsdale from private to charter. "Free" tuition for all comers — "free," that is, to everybody but the taxpayers. Crony capitalism at work.

And today, crony capitalism has struck again. Tesseract private school, with a couple locations in the Phoenix Metro area, has announced that they are shutting down a large part of their operation. High school will be dumped and other parts of the operation will be consolidated. The reasons are dwindling finances and declining enrollments. Perhaps Tesseract leaders have too much integrity to convert to a charter school, or they don't wish to besmirch their brand name.

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 the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Charter School Fraud in Arizona: Just a way of doing business

Arizona is a national leader in charter school activity for the simple reason that its Republican-led legislature has successfully blocked almost all attempts to introduce some fiscal accountability into the system. Consequently, such accountability has had to grow up outside state government as citizen initiated efforts. One of the foremost of these is Arizonans for Charter School Accountability, the creation of Jim Hall, a retired public school administrator.

Jim appeared May 6th on the 10 o'clock news for the Phoenix CBS affiliate. Here's a link to that video: While many public schools struggle, some charters profit.

What is sadly amusing about the televised piece is that the charter school featured at the beginning and portrayed favorably is the very same charter school featured in this blog in February. The Challenge Charter School in Glendale, AZ, has only 600 students, loses the vast majority of them by middle school, and pays the owner, his wife, and his daughter $430,000 a year in salary and benefits! If this is as good as it gets in Arizona, things are indeed in dire straits.

Here's a sample of the kind of reporting that Jim Hall is archiving on his organization's Facebook page:

[Slightly paraphrased for clarity] Leona Group's Sun Valley High School is located in Mesa, Arizona. Nine modular buildings were built in 1995 on 3.7 acres. They sold the school to themselves (a non- profit they created) in 2006 for $7,000,000 and now spend a $1 million a year paying the mortgage and maintaining the campus. They spend $1.2 million on all instruction and support for students. Administration costs come in at $1.2 million. 37% of their budget goes to kids. How can they get away with making all this money? It's an alternative school with low academic expectations, little parent involvement, a four-day week, and 144-day school year.

Compare this with your local public high school. Look at the campus compared to modular buildings. Consider the 180-day school year and all of the programs, sports, clubs, drama, band, and calculus classes they offer. They get the same amount of state funds that Leona gets.

Leona Group, which operates a dozen or so charter schools in Arizona and 60 schools nationwide, operates in the manner of the charter school economy: form a non-profit foundation to get a charter, then purchase teachers, curriculum, and management services from your own profit-making company. And if the state allows, start buying real estate and renting it to yourself.

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 the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Politicians tell educators, "Shut up! You have no freedom of speech."

Audrey Amrein Beardsley has reported how the New Mexico state secretary of education has told teachers to keep their mouths shut and say nothing to disparage the state's Common Core testing. As Amrein Beardsley reports, "Rumor also has it that Hanna Skandera [state secretary and former Jeb Bush protege] has requested the names and license numbers of any teachers who have helped or encouraged students to protest the state’s 'new' PARCC test(s). As per one teacher, 'this is a quelling of free speech and professional communication.'"

But New Mexico can never wrest the crown of Most Backward State Government from Arizona. In the 2015 legislative session, the AZ House passed an amendment to Senate Bill 1172 that places a gag order on any school employee who publicly protests legislative action. The bill "prohibits an employee of a school district or charter school, acting on the district's or charter school's behalf, from distributing electronic materials to influence the outcome of an election or to advocate support for or opposition to pending or proposed legislation."

It is always amazing to see how fragile the First Amendment truly is. There is no need to enjoin speech with which everyone agrees. But disagree with politicians in power, and you'll find out quickly how little regard they have for the Constitution.

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 the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

David Berliner's Views on the Teaching Profession

Asked recently about his views on teacher associations, David Berliner, Regents' Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University, had this to say:
When a profession as large and necessary to society as teaching is insulted by state and federal Secretaries of Education, judged negatively by the nation's presidents and governors, see their pensions cut, receive salaries that do not keep up with inflation, often cannot afford to live in the communities they work in, cannot always practice their profession in ways that are ethical and efficacious, are asked to support policies that may do harm to children, are judged by student test scores that are insensitive to instruction and more often reflect social class differences rather than instructional quality, see public monies used to support discriminatory charter and private schools, yet still have a great deal of support from the parents of the children they teach, then there is a strategy for making teachers' lives better. It is called unionization. The reasons for unionization could not be plainer. New and veteran teachers should band together and close down school systems of the type I have described. It will be difficult, of course, and some teachers will no doubt be fired and jailed. But if teachers do not fix this once noble profession, America may well lose its soul, as well as its edge.
The Teacher Educator, 50, (1), 2-3.

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 the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Can the "Opt Out" Movement Succeed?

There's a movement growing across the nation. It's called "Opt Out," and it means, refusal to subject oneself or one's children to the rampant standardized testing that has gripped public schools. The tentacles of the accountability testing movement have reached into every quarter of America's public schools. And the audience for this information is composed of politicians attempting to bust unions, taxpayers hoping to replace high-salary teachers with low-salary teachers, and Realtors dodging red-lining laws while steering clients to the "best schools." Those urging parents and students to refuse to be tested cite the illegitimacy of these motives and the increasing amount of time for learning that is being given over to assessing learning.

At present, the Opt Out movement is small — a few thousand students in Colorado, several hundred in New Mexico, and smatterings of ad hoc parent groups in the East. Some might view these small numbers as no threat to the accountability assessment industry. But the threat is more serious than it appears. Politicians and others want to rank schools and school districts according to their test score averages. Or they want to compare teachers according to their test score gains (Value Added Measurement) and pressure the low scorers or worse. It only takes a modest amount of Opting Out to thwart these uses of the test data. If 10% of the parents at the school say "No" to the standardized test, how do the statisticians adjust or correct for those missing data? Which 10% opted out? The highest scorers? The lowest? A scattering of high and low scorers? And would any statistical sleight of hand to correct for "missing data" stand up in court against a teacher who was fired or a school that was taken over by the state for a "turn around"? I don't think so.

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 the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Management by Pinheads

Management by numbers proves to be management by pinheads. Nothing exposes so clearly the naïveté and lack of understanding of managers and boards as when they start believing that complex human organizations can be managed by numbers: quantitative goals and numerical quotas; and in the case of educating children, drop-out rates, attendance statistics, promotion percentages, or test scores.

Beverly Hall died yesterday (March 2, 2015) after having been diagnosed recently with stage 4 breast cancer. Beverly Hall had a distinguished career as an education administrator that led her to one of the most prestigious positions in the nation: Superintendent of the Atlanta, Georgia public schools. Her service there was recognized with several honors: National Superintendent of the Year in 2009 and, later, the Distinguished Contributions to Service award of the American Educational Research Association. Hall was celebrated far and wide as a new breed of administrator. In her own words, she was a “data driven” manager. Decisions often rested heavily on the test scores of the classes and schools of the people who worked under her. Atlanta schools were the jewel in the crown of Management by Numbers … until it all came crashing down.

Hall was ultimately indicted for overseeing the scheme that inflated test scores of thousands of students in an attempt to create the fiction that she had “turned around” a failing school system. The criminal case against Hall will obviously be dropped. To be sure, Hall was at least guilty of some pretty shady activities, and she put her subordinates in circumstances where equally shady dealings were required to maintain one’s employment (a la Michelle Rhee and the Washington D.C. school system). But equally guilty is an ethos permeating organizations of many different kinds that holds that the management of complex dealings with human beings can be reduced to simple arithmetic.

Take my local school district, for example: Scottsdale (AZ) Unified School District. Recent actions (February 10, 2015) by the school governing board have resulted in a system of quantitative goals and bonuses for the district superintendent. Among these goals are 1) maintaining a 90% graduation rate, 2) remaining in the top 10% of the state’s districts on whatever the state standardized test will be, 3) reducing the teacher turn-over rate by half a percentage point, and 4) ensuring that 85% of the district students meet the state benchmarks in reading and math. Exactly what the superintendent’s bonus will be if these goals are met has not been disclosed to the media.

Anyone who knows the first thing about how schools run will recognize immediately that numerical goals like the ones favored by the Scottsdale Unified school board can be “gamed.” Counsel a few students away from some of the more challenging courses, put out a few broad hints about grading scales in those tough science courses that are flunking too many kids, or give a little extra time on those state bench marking tests, and voila the goals are met and the bonus is in hand.

It’s not just in Atlanta where "gaming" management-by-numbers systems is common. It has happened over and over in education at all levels. In one infamous incident in the 1980s, school principals in Houston were caught erasing and correcting answer sheets in their office in order to receive hefty bonuses for achieving annual growth targets. But one might have expected the Scottsdale Unified governing board to know better. After all, Phoenix is where in 2014 the head of the Veterans Administration hospital was caught falsifying wait list data in order to meet numerical goals and receive a large monetary bonus. The VA head was fired; it was a scandal that attracted national attention.

In the social sciences there is something known as Campbell’s Law — attributed to a former colleague of mine, the social psychologist Donald T. Campbell. It goes as follows: “"The more any quantitative social indicator … is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor."








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 the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Arizona Has No Concept of a "Conflict of Interest"

Last Friday, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber resigned from office because of allegations that he used his influence to get employment for his fiancee. In Arizona, such conflicts of interest would not even raise an eyebrow. A few years back, Arizonans saw the Chairperson of the State Charter School Board award a charter to a non-profit foundation (which was really K12 Inc., the online school provider), then be hired by the foundation to head the Arizona Virtual Academy, and then be hired by K12 Inc. as a vice-president for something-or-other. She continues to occupy the latter two posts.

Arizona simply doesn't recognize things called conflicts of interest. I could list dozens concerning public education. A staff member the Board of Regents once told me that in Arizona if you declare your connections, then you can no longer be accused of having a conflict of interest. Perhaps this qualifies as some minimal level of ethical behavior.

A new flagrant conflict of interest has just become apparent to me. A man named Greg Miller is president of the Arizona State Board of Education. There is also a man named Greg Miller who is CEO of Challenge Charter School in Glendale, AZ, a suburb of Phoenix. Matching up photos of the Board president and the charter CEO leaves no doubt that these two individuals are one in the same Greg Miller. Mr. Miller, a civil engineer for 25 years, founded Challenge Charter School in the late 1990s and for a while served as principal. His current title is CEO. Mrs. Pam Miller, his wife, once served on a school board; the Challenge Charter Schools website lists no current duties for Mrs. Miller. But daughter Wendy Miller was appointed Principal of Challenge Charter School the same year in which she earned her MBA.

Challenge Charter School Inc. is registered as a non-profit organization so it must file an IRS 990 form, which is publicly available. Here's what that form shows as salaries of the top management for 2013.

Greg Miller, the CEO of a school "system" with about 650 students, is being compensated to the tune of $145,000 annually. His wife receives the same salary, though her duties are never enumerated at the website and her position is only described as "Executive Director/Vice-PR," whatever Vice-PR is. The Miller's daughter Wendy, who has degrees in Public Administration and Business, receives a salary of more than $120,000 for acting as Principal/Secretary. Basically, the Miller family, while working assiduously 60 hours a week each as reported on their IRS form, is taking about $425,000 a year out of the coffers for salary. This nepotism and "business" attitude of the founders has not been lost on the disgruntled parents who have reviewed the school online.

Challenge Charter School portrays itself as a highly academic school, claiming to be Arizona's first official Core Knowledge school. Like many charter schools of its ilk, the appeal of this heavy academic focus seems to wane quickly in the eyes of parents. Enrollments drop from more than 100 in 1st grade to fewer than 50 in grade 6. As with many charter schools advertising themselves as "academic" in diverse communities, Challenge Charter School is contributing to racial and socio-economic segregation in the Glendale community. The enrollment of Challenge Charter is almost 85% White and Asian, where as the enrollment of Canyon Elementary, a traditional public school just 12 blocks distant, is 70% White and Asian. But more strikingly, Canyon Elementary has 40% of its 400 student eligible for Free/Reduced Price Lunch, while Challenge Charter has less than half that percentage.

Crony capitalism, conflicts of interest, charter schools lining the pockets of amateur entrepreneurs, "quasi-private" schools being operated at public expense, an increasingly segregated state school system ... it's just education reform Arizona style.


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 the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Arizona Education Politics Getting Weirder and Weirder

It all started when Doug Ducey won the governor's race last November. Ducey, who cut his political teeth as a student at Arizona State University editing the campus newspaper, made his millions in the ice cream business (Cold Stone Creamery). Immediately upon taking office he instituted a hiring freeze and promised to increase school choice. That same mid-term election saw a virtual unknown Republican school board member, Diane Douglas, defeat ASU Education professor David Garcia for the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Douglas vowed to dump Common Core on grounds of its being federal intrusion into a state responsibility, but policy had nothing to do with her victory; if you had an R behind your name in the mid-term election, you won.

Two days ago, Douglas fired two of the top administrators of the State Board of Education -- Executive Director and Asst. Executive Director. It's not hard to imagine why; they were far down the road of installing the Common Core in Arizona schools. Although Douglas is ex officio member of the State Board, the Governor questioned whether she had the authority to hire these two persons and he reinstated them. Yesterday, the whole business erupted in a public fight between Ducey and Douglas over whether the latter has the authority to fire people in her department. After a prayer breakfast Thursday morning, the Governor was barely out the door before he gave reporters an insincere piece of his mind: "[I'm] sorry she chose to go down that path." Douglas shot back. Ducey, she said, is establishing a "shadow faction of charter school operators and former state superintendents [referring to Lisa Graham Keegan who supported Douglas's opponent in the election] who support Common Core and moving funds from traditional public schools to charter schools."

Score +1 for Douglas for speaking the truth. The Arizona Senate has moved forward quickly in this session to support the privatization of K-12 education. The Senate education committee has already approved bills that would 1) award vouchers (at 90% state per pupil expenditure) to any student whose application has been turned down to open enroll in a public school or a charter school within 25 miles of their home, and 2) award a voucher to any student on an Indian reservation. Clearly the Republicans are flexing their muscles after the November victory; such radical pro-voucher legislating has never before made it into law in Arizona. Perhaps this is the year.


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 the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Leonard Waks Explains How Most Education Reformers Operate

I don't think that Leonard Waks blogs. But he posted a long message on his Facebook page that really captures so much of the madness that currently masquerades as education reform. In the interest of promulgating his message, I have reproduced his post below — without asking him and without his permission. (Who could possibly object to having their thoughts shared far and wide?) What Waks argues here is that the modus operandi of education reform is not unique to education, but in fact is a strategy for effecting change in many other areas of modern life. Just to be clear; what follows is not my writing, but I agree with all of the ideas expressed.
Leonard Waks writes:

Most of my professional energy over the last fifty years has been devoted to attacking educational tyranny. There is a pattern in this form of tyranny.

First, a crisis is manufactured. The nation is at risk. The sky is falling. None of this is innocent; there are interests pushing crisis - those who will profit from it either by gaining bureaucratic power or commercial profit. Next, the situation is grossly oversimplified. We are committing educational suicide because our test scores are falling. (In the education case, the data were simply misinterpreted - our always low test scores were actually rising). So we fall into simplistic thinking where a single criterion variable is substituted for a balanced picture about what education should achieve.

Next a magic bullet solution is found - involving a direct approach to that single variable. The problem is test scores, so we will impose a test-prep and standardized test regime. All thinking is then reduced to "what works". My friends in the educational research community will remember how the department of education rejected all research proposals that were not about "what works" - and what works = what raises test scores.

The solution may have some impact on the criterion variable - test scores may go up. In some cases the data is simply falsified to make believe that they do.

Then a coercive regime is imposed where every school district and teacher is compelled to fall into line. Test prep galore. No child left behind = do what we mandate or lose your funding - and for teachers, do what we mandate or lose your job.

There are costs. The most significant costs are that in a test-prep environment, thinking, productive struggle, self-directed learning, teacher-student cooperative projects, the arts, and the pleasure of learning get eliminated from the curriculum. These are, however, the factors that matter most in education.

The costs, however, are mere "side effects" that are not measured. We have a single criterion of evaluation - test scores. So when the question arises about the true costs of the test-prep regime, no one knows. This is educational tyranny, and it is prevalent.

Now I do not want to make a strict analogy with the vaccine war, but I do want to call attention to some parallels. We start with a manufactured crisis. We have 100 active cases today. People might remember the Ebola crisis. We had, if i am not mistaken, zero fatalities. The crisis is not innocent - again there are powerful interests in play. (A note: I do not know the ages of the affected, or whether they had already been vaccinated. Age matters, because for older people measles is a nasty business).

Second, the situation is grossly oversimplified. We have to wipe out this deadly scourge.

Third, a magic bullet is found. vaccines "work". And no child can be left behind.

A single criterion variable is used - in this case the reduction in cases of the childhood diseases (MMR).

A coercive regime is then put in place to assure that everyone is compliant.

As in the education case, the vaccine regime has at least potential costs. For example, vaccine immunity is temporary while natural immunity from the disease is permanent. So those who get the vaccine have less (or no) immunity as adults, when, unlike in childhood, the disease is really nasty.

Some data suggests that measles is now more concentrated among adults.

The vaccine dissenters hypothesize that in addition those who have gone through the childhood diseases have better general immunity and are less susceptible to other adult diseases ranging from MS to cancer.

With the single variable approach - the reduction in the childhood diseases - no studies are made of such "side effects" as compromised adult immunity. If we ask about the costs, the answer is 'who knows?'

So to make my own position clear: I am not anti-vaccine. I am totally for the tetanus vaccine - which actually provides better long term immunity than the disease itself. I am for the polio vaccine - because polio was a really nasty business - I saw my friends dropping like flies in the summers of the 1950s, and saw the vaccine wiping polio out.

I am not a dissenter on the MMR vaccine. But I don't know enough to endorse it wholeheartedly. I want to know more about it's long term effects.

What am i against? The pattern of manufactured crisis, gross oversimplification, single variable 'science', magic bullet solutions, and coercive implementation.

~Leonard Waks


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 the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.