Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Dr. Raymond, Please Meet Mr. Kenneth Boulding

Wikipedia describes Kenneth Ewart Boulding as “… an economist, educator, peace activist, poet, religious mystic, devoted Quaker, systems scientist, and interdisciplinary philosopher. “ Indeed, Ken Boulding was all of those things and many more. At the University of Michigan in the 1950-60s, he founded the General Systems society with Ludwig von Bertalanffy. Born in Liverpool in 1910, he was educated at Oxford (Masters degree).
His textbook, Economic Analysis (1941) was virtually the introduction to Keynesianism to American academics. He never obtained a doctorate, though surely he never felt the want of one due to the many honorary doctorates he received. In his long career, he served as president of the Amer. Econ. Assoc. and the AAAS, among other organizations. He died in Boulder in 1993.

I was very lucky to be situated at the University of Colorado when Boulding left Michigan in 1967 to join the Economic Department at Boulder. I had joined the faculty there in 1966. Within a few years the word spread that this new fellow in Economics was someone to listen to. Twice, in the early 1970s, I sat through his undergraduate course in General Systems. The undergraduates had no idea how lucky they were; I was enthralled. Boulding was a Liverpudlian, and that coupled with a pronounced stammer made listening to him lecture extremely demanding. But somehow the effort produced greater concentration. I can recall so many of the things he said though more than 40 years have passed. “”The invention of the correlation coefficient was the greatest disaster of the 19th century, for it permitted the subtitution of arithmetic for thinking.”

From 1969 through 1971, I was editing the Review of Educational Research for the American Educational Research Association (AERA). In the office, I enjoyed a few small privileges in connection with the 1971 Annual Meeting. For one, I could invite a speaker to address the assembled conventioneers. I invited Boulding. An expanded version of his talk was published in the Review of Educational Research (Vol. 42, No. 1, 1972, pp. 129-143). I have never read anything else by an economist addressing schooling that equals it.

Here is the merest sampling of what he wrote:

Schools may be financed directly out of school taxes, in which case the school system itself is the taxing authority and there is no intermediary, or they may be financed by grants from other taxing authorities, such as states or cities. In any case, the persons who receive the product-whether this is knowledge, skill, custodial care, or certification-are not the people who pay for it. This divorce between the recipient of the product and the payer of the bills is perhaps the major element in the peculiar situation of the industry that may lead to pathological results. (pp. 134-135)
Boulding originated the notion of the “grants economy” in which A grants a payment to B who delivers a service or product to C. Of course, this turned on its head the paradigm used by most economists, who imagine C paying B for services or products. When Boulding referred to this grants economy underlying schooling as leading to “pathological results,” he was referring to the fact that the schooling industry is “not normal,” i.e. does not follow the course of classical economic models. In the years ensuing since Boulding’s early forays into this notion, the grants economy has become increasingly important to understanding a nation’s economy.

Boulding was considered a bit of a rebel. David Latzko wrote of Boulding that “The narrow bounds of the economics discipline could not contain his interests and talents.” Perhaps this accounts for why many traditional economists have not followed him where reality leads. Perhaps this is why Dr. Margaret Raymond could pronounce so recently that “And it’s the only industry/sector [schooling]where the market mechanism just doesn’t work.” In fact, the “market mechanism” fails to work in many sectors.

But back to Dr. Raymond. Margaret Raymond is the head of the Hoover Institution’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes. As key researcher in charge of the first big CREDO study of charter schools that dropped on the charter school lobby with a big thud: charter schools no better than old fashion public schools, some good, some really bad. And then more recently, CREDO under Raymond’s direction conducted a study of charter schools in Ohio, a locale that has known its problems attempting to keep charter schools out of the newspapers and their operators out of jail. What did this second CREDO charter school study find? Charter schools in Ohio are a mess.

All of this bad news for the charter school folks caused Dr. Raymond to go before the Cleveland Club and confess thusly:

This is one of the big insights for me. I actually am kind of a pro-market kinda girl. But it doesn’t seem to work in a choice environment for education. I’ve studied competitive markets for much of my career. That’s my academic focus for my work. And it’s the only industry/sector [schooling] where the market mechanism just doesn’t work.
Of course, it is positively absurd to think that schooling is the only “industry” in which free markets just don’t work. And Dr. Raymond didn’t give up entirely on the free market ideology for education — she would probably have to find a professional home outside the Hoover Institution if she did. She went on to tell the Cleveland Club that more transparency and information for parents will probably do the trick.
Frankly parents have not been really well educated in the mechanisms of choice.… I think the policy environment really needs to focus on creating much more information and transparency about performance than we’ve had for the 20 years of the charter school movement.
So parents just aren’t smart enough to be trusted to make choices in a free market of schooling, and they need more information, like test scores, I presume. I’ll leave Dr. Raymond at this point, and recommend that she and her associates at the Hoover Institution spend a little more time with Kenneth Boulding’s writings.

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, December 9, 2014

Mirabile Dictu! State Departments of Education are Political!

Brad McQueen is a teacher in Tucson, Arizona. He’s suing the State Superintendent of Instruction. I’ll try to make a long story short.

McQueen was appointed to the Department of Education standardized testing committee. The State Board of Education adopted the Common Core in 2010. But McQueen spoke out against the Core in a book entitled The Cult of Common Core. And he followed that up with some negative comments about Common Core in a podcast on a Tucson radio station and in an article in a Phoenix newspaper. This proved to be a little too much insubordination for the Superintendent’s office, according to emails flying around between Associate Superintendents: “FYI regarding a teacher named Brad McQueen. He is on a roll criticizing AZCCRS [Arizona College & Career Ready Standards]. … just thought you might want to check your list of teacher teams [from which teachers are selected to serve on committee].” The Deputy Associate Superintendent to whom the email was addressed replied that a note had been placed in McQueen’s file. Shortly thereafter he was uninvited from Department of Education committees. McQueen wants a) the negative notes purged from his file, b) to be reinstated to the committees on which he served, and c) attorney fees.

McQueen’s case struck a resonate chord in my memory. Back in the 1990s, I was invited to serve on an AZ Department of Education committee. Our committee was to advise the Department on a test that would be given to persons seeking a teaching credential in the state of Arizona. The contract for test development had been let to a company in New Hampshire. The test was a paper & pencil multiple-choice test in which the examinee was presented with a classroom situation and asked to pick the best action to take. We warned to company about the arbitrariness of cut-score problem, to no avail; they assured us that the Angoff Method would be used. That this assurance gave us no comfort was passed over with no comment.

But let’s back up. There were 6 or 8 of us on the Technical Advisory Committee. The Chairperson was a professor from the University of Nevada Las Vegas who specialized in measurement. He flew into Phoenix in the morning for the meetings and flew home that evening; round trip air-fares between Phoenix and Las Vegas in those days were about $70. Two or three representatives of the New Hampshire company were present at every meeting of our committee.

Our committee eventually arrived at the point where we said that we could not vouch for the technical adequacy of the proposed test unless a validity study were done. In other words, let’s have observers spend some time in the classrooms of certified teachers, rate their performance, and then see if the paper-pencil test can distinguish the better teachers from the poorer one. This position taken by the committee did not sit well with the people from New Hampshire. It would cost money — money not written into the contract. But our committee stood firm, for a while.

Before the next meeting of the committee could be called, we members received a letter from the Associate Superintendent of Instruction. Our services would no longer be needed. We were being dismissed. The reason? The Department could no longer afford to fly the Chairperson into town from Las Vegas. In point of fact, the Department was spending more money on bagels and coffee for the committee’s breaks than they were spending on the chairperson’s plane ticket.

Shortly thereafter, word spread that the Department had reconstituted the technical advisory committee under the chairmanship of a professor from East Lansing, Michigan. None of the previous committee members was serving on this new committee, and this new chairman’s views on high-stakes testing were known to be much less critical than ours.

No one sued. Life went on. I suspect that most of us simply accepted the fact that this is how things are done in an office in which the head is the third highest elected position in the state government. Maybe we should have reacted how Brad McQueen has done, twenty years later.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Another BASIS Charter School Mother Speaks

I received this feedback from a mother of a former student at a BASIS charter school. The note was stimulated by an earlier posting on this blog about problems at BASIS schools. I haven't asked the person's permission to post her thoughts here, so they will appear anonymously.
Dear Dr. Glass:
This morning, I read your post of Jennifer McDowell's encounter with BASIS, Inc., Charter School. My daughter, who is an exceptionally gifted student but also has moderate asthma, attended the school for three years. I was so relieved to read, for the first time, a more realistic viewpoint of the school, as for the last two years, I have tried to explain to others how the national high school ranking for the school as published by U.S. News is only reflective of test scores for a much smaller student body than in most public schools, and the ranking also does not reflect quality of education for the majority rather than the minority. My daughter currently attends a larger school, however, the school's sole purpose is not to compete in the number of AP tests and scores the students take and develop the school's curriculum based on those AP tests, but rather on how to best educate the entire, and larger student body that is very diverse in many ways including physical and intellectual abilities. Thank you for your post.


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, December 2, 2014

Dear Teacher, You Are Not the Most Important Thing in the Universe

The Arizona Republic has a very conservative Editorial Board for a very conservative newspaper in a very conservative state. So when they address the subject of teacher preparation, it’s no surprise that they parrot folk wisdom about schools and teachers.

In addressing Arne Duncan’s new guidelines on teachers colleges, the Editorial Board strikes its closing notes by perpetrating one of the more pernicious myths about teachers and schools.

Plenty of research has come to a common-sense conclusion: Nothing is more important to the success of a student than a highly qualified teacher. But we don’t have enough of them, nor will we as long as teacher colleges are not held accountable.
Now that’s a statement that packs a big load of deceit into just 43 words. First, it’s highly doubtful that the Arizona Republic Editorial Board has made itself familiar with “plenty of research” about education. Second, in their review of “plenty of research,” apparently their faith in the ability of test scores to hold teachers colleges “accountable” was never shaken?* But worst of all is the repeat of that tired wheeze that nothing is more important than a teacher.

What makes the All-Important-Teacher myth so pernicious is that teachers themselves occasionally and the general public usually take it as a compliment when in fact it is an attack on teacher tenure and professional autonomy.

The facts of the matter are that teachers are not the most important thing determining what a child gets out of school. What a child brings to school is much more important. Jim Coleman showed this in 1966 in Equality of Educational Opportunity, and though he softened his position slightly in 1972 when he accorded a bit more important to schooling that he had 6 years prior, out-of-school influences remained dominant in determining how much kids learned during their years in school. Parents, home and neighborhood conditions, physical health, language use and language complexity in the home, whether the student lives in a psychologically and physically healthy environment with access to competent medical care, access to books, games and activities that prepare the student for school, and even genetic endowment can greatly contribute to or restrict a child’s development. What walks in the door on Day #1 has more to do with what leaves on Day #2340 (180 X 13) than what transpires during the few hours of students' lives that they are in the classroom, attentive, and capable of absorbing what that teacher is talking about.

Teachers are wonderful human beings. For many children, teachers are the most caring and competent individual whom they will encounter during their lifetime. But teachers cannot undo the damage inflicted on youngsters by a society in which nearly half of all births are to unwed mothers and in which more than 20% of children live below the poverty level (income below $23,000 for a family of 4).

So, my fellow teachers, beware. Don’t fall for the false compliment that you are so important — so important that you should be fired if your students’ test scores are lagging behind, so important that your school’s graduation rate is a moral and a civil rights issue, so important that you should be replaced by an inexperienced liberal arts major on a two-year resume building junket.

*Just take a look at Bruce Baker’s analysis of the absurdity of judging teachers by their students’ test scores.

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.

Friday, November 28, 2014

David Berliner Tells Arne Duncan How to Do Teacher Education Right

Improving Teacher Education

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Obama administration want to improve teacher education. Me too. I always have. So I went to the president of the university I was then working at and showed him university data that I had collected. I informed him that a) we were running the cheapest program on campus, even cheaper to run than the English Literature and the History programs; and b) that some of our most expensive programs to run, computer science and various engineering programs, produced well-trained graduates that left the state. But teachers stayed in the state. I told my president he was wasting the states resources and investing unwisely.

I told him that with the same amount of money as we spend on the students that leave the state I could design one year clinical programs so every teacher does clinical rotations in the classrooms of schools with different kinds of students, rotations modeled on medical education.

I said more money was needed to pay the teachers recognized as expert, say Board certified teachers, so I could place teachers in training to observe the regions’ best teachers. I said that more money would also allow me to design video labs for viewing great teaching and for doing micro-teaching so that future teachers could experience, in safe environments, how to teach. In such micro-teaching classroom they would receive feedback on how they taught from the students they just taught and from supervisory teachers who work in the laboratory. I modeled my proposal for a lab on the then newly outfitted kinesiology laboratory of which the university was quite proud.

I said that more money would allow me to buy a five bedroom house in the lowest income community and have teachers who volunteered to spend two weeks there under the tutelage of the communities leaders — their priests and ministers, their concerned parents, the social workers there. The teachers would be the guests of the community and we would pay the community leaders to feed the teachers, to take them on tours around the neighborhoods so they can learn about the strengths of these communities, not their deficits.

I said more money would allow me to provide a one-year support system for all new teachers placed in our region. The support would be provided by clinical professors of practice that visited each new teacher from our university about every ten days. Their job would be to help the new teachers emotionally (teaching requires a great deal of emotional labor), to help them schedule time (teaching requires enormous time commitments) and to provide instructional support. I estimated that would cut the rate of teachers leaving the profession by half. A savings of significant amounts of state and local monies.

The president listened to my proposal and when I was through, he politely threw me out of his office! Charles Baron policy director for Democrats for Education Reform, quoted in the New York Times said it well: “I think you need to wake up the university presidents to the fact that schools of education can’t be A.T.M.s for the rest of the college or university.” Although so much is wrong with the policy recommendations of Democrats for Education Reform, in this case they sure have it right!

David C. Berliner
Emeritus Regents' Professor
Arizona State University

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of Arizona State University.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Arizona Appeals Court Rejects Charter School Lobby's Claims

A Maricopa County (Phoenix) Superior Court earlier rejected arguments by the charter school lobby that they should receive per pupil allocations equal to those of the traditional public schools. I wasn't present when that issue was argued in court, but I can imagine how lame the arguments for equal funding must have been. Charter school students are funded at an amount about $1,300 below the funding of traditional public school students. Differential funding of charters is common in most states.

The plaintiffs argued that the Arizona Constitution requires a "general and uniform" system of public education. "Uniform" to them meant same dollars. The argument must have sounded pretty hollow to the court when it is obvious to all that charter school offer greatly reduced programs, seldom hire support staff, usually provide no transportation, and pay teachers below scale — all the while overpaying school directors and favored staff (like relatives).

So when the plaintiffs appealed the lower court's decision to the Arizona Appeals Court, they got the same reception: lower court decision upheld on November 18, 2014. The plaintiffs had no case, but they had plenty of chutzpah.

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.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Are Charter Schools Greenhouses for Innovation and Creativity?

The rationale for the charter school movement went something like this: "Public education is being crushed by bureaucratic regulation and strangled by teacher unions. There is no room left for creative innovation; and tired, old, traditional educators have run out of energy and ideas. Let free choice reign!" It sounded good, especially to people who were clueless about how schools actually run. How have things actually worked out? What new, revolutionary ideas have come out of the charter school movement that can teach us all about how to better educate the nation's children?

Recently I had the pleasure of traveling to a southwestern state to spend a day discussing 50 Myths and Lies that Threaten America's Public Schools with a large group of teachers, school administrators, school board members, and college of education faculty. These occasions are always enlightening for me, and I always come away from them with an enhanced sense of confidence in professional educators.

Among the audience were two young people who took advantage of one of the breaks to initiate a private conversation with me. They had read the 50 Myths book and felt that my co-author and I had dealt unfairly with the charter school topic. To put it bluntly, Berliner and I had written that in our opinion the vast majority of charter schools were underperforming traditional K-12 public schools and that the charter school industry was shot through with fraud and mismanagement. I don't think that the fraud allegation applied to these two young people, and I doubt that the mismanagement charge did either. And they clearly felt that I was uninformed.

The young man graduated just a few years ago from Yale with a degree in history. The young woman was a UCLA alumna with a sociology degree. He was Academic Director of a pair of local charter schools serving poor, urban children; and she was Director of Research and Assessment. Both had left positions with KIPP very recently. I didn't ask why. They felt they were doing great things in the inner-city. I advised them to leave the charter school industry and work in the public schools. They said that charter schools are public schools. I said that I doubt it.

The afternoon session wound up with a free-wheeling "open mike" audience discussion about "50 Myths." My young charter school friends took one more try.

Young Man: "You seem to ignore the fact that charter schools offer parents 'choice." And 'choice' is what they are asking for."

Me: "Why is 'choice' an unconditional good? A crack addict chooses drugs. Consumers make bad selections all the time, and unregulated markets are notorious for offering people options that are not in their best long-term interest."

Young Man: [Silence]

Young Woman: "Charter schools are places where we can innovate and create new ways of doing things. That freedom will let us all learn how to run better schools."

Me: "Give me one specific, concrete example of what you have created that we can learn from." Young Woman: [Silence]

Young Man: "I'll give you one. We are adopting the International Baccalaureate for our two schools. Every kid will get an IB diploma."

A woman in the front row turned in her seat to address the young people who had just spoken.
Educator: "We introduced the International Baccalaureate in your district ten years ago. Families can choose to enroll their children in it if they wish. We have had to carefully counsel them because the IB is not a curriculum for all students."
So much for innovation and creativity in the charter school industry.

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.

Friday, November 7, 2014

What Have Charter Schools Taught Us About Education?

Of course, the theory — if you care to call it that — behind the charter school movement is that if you take off all bureaucratic regulations and allow the free market to operate there will be unleashed a tsunami of energy and creative innovation in the charter sector that will teach all of public education how to do a better job.

Incredibly, the Rupert-Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal still believes such nonsense.

What have charter schools taught the true public school sector?

  • You can raise test scores by discouraging poor or special needs kids from enrolling;
  • You can raise test scores by pushing out kids who do poorly on tests;
  • You can make yourself look desirable by lying about "waiting lists";
  • You can manage your public image through marketing & public relations;
  • You can run an economically efficient school by hiring inexperienced, uncertified teachers.

But the charter school movement hasn't shown anyone how to run a better 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, October 28, 2014

Facts Behind the Arizona School Finance Case

Arizona schools are currently suing the state for unpaid bills. The case goes like this:

In 2000, the voters passed a referendum that mandates regular increases in state funding to account for inflation.

For several years around the Great Recession, the Legislature cut funds and ignored the inflation mandate.

The schools claim that the Legislature is $1 billion in arrears.

The matter will be settled in a Phoenix courtroom.

In, interviews for television, lawyers for the state hold out the frightening prospect that an unfavorable decision from their perspective might actually result in a INCREASE IN TAXES! To bolster their position, they claim that avoiding a tax increase would necessitate a reduction in services, for example, the Legislature would have to cut the budget of Child Protective Services (an agency that was recently discovered to have not followed up on more than 6,000 reported incidences of child neglect and abuse).

The schools position is that "a law is a law" even if instituted by a referendum; and, anyway, doesn't everyone know that Arizona K-12 schools are horribly underfunded and have been for decades? Actually, the claim of poverty for K-12 education in Arizona is a bit of an exaggeration. The state is highly "urbanized" — in fact, one of the most urbanized in the U.S. because a very high percentage of the population lives in two metropolitan areas (Phoenix & Tucson). This results in a dearth of small rural schools that suffer "economic inefficiencies of small scale."

So the funding of K-12 education in Arizona is not nearly as bad as people think, nor is the state's economy in such bad shape that it can't afford to meet its legal obligations.

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.

Monday, September 29, 2014

How Charter School Owners Feather Their Nests & Other Conflicts of Interest

Many people in one of my home states — Arizona — seem to have no concept of a conflict of interest.

When charter schools were authorized in Arizona in the mid-1990s, it wasn’t long before a young woman “researcher” at the Goldwater Institute was appointed Chairperson of the State Charter School Board. And that very same Chairperson quickly issued a charter to a non-profit foundation — that was really an artifice created by K12 Inc. — that created the Arizona Virtual Academy (AVA), a huge cybercharter. Then Arizona Virtual Academy soon hired that very same Chairperson as its Director, who decided that all materials and services of the AVA would be purchased from K12 Inc. And before long and shortly after the Chairperson resigned from the State Charter School Board, K12 Inc. hired Chairperson into the position of Senior Vice President for Education, and Policy & External Affairs. So you see, this person is not only the director of one of the largest online Charter schools in the nation, but she also serves as a vice president of the company from which her charter school purchases nearly everything. (Incidentally, AVA is the cybercharter that got caught outsourcing essay grading to India.) Anybody have a problem with this? Not in Arizona.

One of the first brick-and-mortar charter schools in Arizona was named Citizen 2000. In the middle of its second year of operation, its 1,000 enrolled students showed up for class only to find a note of the door informing them that Citizen 2000 was closed for business. The Director was on her way to Chicago for good. She had been paying her divorce lawyer out of school funds, paying her mother’s mortgage, and had hired her sister as assistant director at an exorbitant salary. I was being deposed in a FOIA case by an Assistant Attorney General at about that time, and I asked whether the state had plans to pursue a case against the former Director of Citizen 2000. “No, we’re not interested.” Fine, so seemingly nobody in Arizona cares about conflicts of interest.

However, now and then the powers that be in Arizona will come down on some small fry in an attempt to prove that they are policing double dealing. Years ago, an assistant superintendent of public instruction got canned because he was running a textbook company on the side while subtlely suggesting to teachers and administrators that he knew where they could buy some really good textbooks. More recently, a school board member in a suburban Phoenix school district was nearly indicted when it was discovered that the board on which he sat was contracting with his HR company for some minor services.

Why then, is a blind eye turned to massive conflicts of interest in the charter school domain?

Consider the case of BASIS charter schools. If you have spent the last 15 years in Antarctica without internet access and no subscription to US News and World Report, then you probably haven’t heard of the BASIS charter schools. BASIS operates about a dozen charter schools, mostly in Arizona but also in San Antonio and Washington, D.C. BASIS is the creation of Michael Block, a retired econ professor from the University of Arizona. To read what the media write about BASIS, this econ prof has discovered the magic bullet, the secret to taking ordinary students and turning them into National Merit Scholars with their pick of any Ivy League college. But the truth is that BASIS charter schools — which claim to admit students only by lottery — put out a sales pitch that scares the bejeebers out of any parent whose kid isn’t already National Merit potential and then flunks out 90% of the students with a daunting gauntlet of tests from elementary grades right up to high school. By the time of graduation day at a BASIS charter, the elementary grades have been winnowed down from 200 to two dozen students. Based on graduates test scores and college acceptance rates, gullible outlets like US News and World Report rate a couple of BASIS schools in the top ten in the nation. Ridiculous, of course.

Some conflict of interest concerns have been raised about BASIS schools in the past. It was discovered that BASIS had been outsourcing bookkeeping services to Block’s wife’s relatives in the Czech Republic. Small potatoes. The really big potatoes are only now coming to light. BASIS has heretofore operated as a private corporation. Even though their revenues come almost exclusively from public money, they have refused to divulge even the most basic financial information. But for some unknown reason, BASIS Scottsdale — another one of the top ten high schools in the U.S. — has been operating as a non-profit for the first few years of its existence. Consequently, they must file an IRS Form 990 and report some financial information. IRS Forms 990 are publicly available. Voila!

And here’s what BASIS Scottsdale’s 990 Form looks like for fiscal year 2012. You can download a copy here.

It would take two accountants and three lawyers to decipher Form 990 for BASIS Scottsdale. But to an even moderately skeptical eye, a couple things stand out.

  • BASIS Scottsdale took in more than $32,000,000 in taxpayer money, close to 93% of its total revenues.
  • Roughly half ($18,593,866) of the revenues were paid as “Salaries & employee benefits.” The other half was paid for “Other expenses.”
  • Then on page 38, one finds that BASIS Scottsdale charter school is purchasing its employees and “management services” from its parent company’s Director, Michael Block:
The $18,593,866 that BASIS Scottsdale paid their teachers is exactly the amount the school paid its Director Michael Block to lease employees from his private company. And in addition, Block received more than $7 million for “management fees.” (In the prior year, Block received $14.5 million for the “subject specialists” he leased to the school and $5.2 million for management.) How much managing does one little school of a couple thousand kids require?

So we see that more than $30,000,000 was paid out to a private vendor who happens to be the owner of the very charter school paying out the cash, and there is no transparency whatsoever on how that money was spent. Obviously, much of it went into the pockets of uncertified “subject specialists” (as BASIS prefers to call its teachers), and some of it went into the pockets of “managers.” How much of it went into Michael Block’s pocket will remain unknown. One can speculate that all the other BASIS charter schools are similarly leasing “subject specialists” from Michael Block Unincorporated and buying management services at the same store. We’ll never know.

Perhaps even doing business in the shadows is still too much accountability for BASIS schools, because their newest venture is a BASIS school in Silicon Valley which will be wholly private. Ironically, when BASIS Scottsdale was launched a few years back, it was advertised as a private school; but when the fall term came around and fewer than 10 students had enrolled, it quickly converted to charter school status. Crony capitalism is always safer than that nasty free market.

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.

Monday, September 22, 2014

STEM Shortage? Baloney

We said so in 50 Myths & Lies that Threaten America's Public Schools.

Now Hal Salzman joins the chorus of skeptics questioning the myth that the U.S. has a shortage of graduates trained in Science, Technology, Engineering & Math. In his article in U.S. News, Salzman says:

"All credible research finds the same evidence about the STEM workforce: ample supply, stagnant wages and, by industry accounts, thousands of applicants for any advertised job. The real concern should be about the dim employment prospects for our best STEM graduates: The National Institutes of Health, for example, has developed a program to help new biomedical Ph.D.s find alternative careers in the face of “unattractive” job prospects in the field. Opportunities for engineers vary by the field and economic cycle – as oil exploration has increased, so has demand (and salaries) for petroleum engineers, resulting in a near tripling of petroleum engineering graduates. In contrast, average wages in the IT industry are the same as those that prevailed when Bill Clinton was president despite industry cries of a “shortage.” Overall, U.S. colleges produce twice the number of STEM graduates annually as find jobs in those fields."

"Cries that “the STEM sky is falling” are just the latest in a cyclical pattern of shortage predictions over the past half-century, none of which were even remotely accurate. In a desert of evidence, the growth of STEM shortage claims is driven by heavy industry funding for lobbyists and think tanks. Their goal is government intervention in the market under the guise of solving national economic problems. The highly profitable IT industry, for example, is devoting millions to convince Congress and the White House to provide its employers with more low-cost, foreign guestworkers instead of trying to attract and retain employees from an ample domestic labor pool of native and immigrant citizens and permanent residents. Guestworkers currently make up two-thirds of all new IT hires, but employers are demanding further increases. If such lobbying efforts succeed, firms will have enough guestworkers for at least 100 percent of their new hiring and can continue to legally substitute these younger workers for current employees, holding down wages for both them and new hires.

"Claiming there is a skills shortage by denying the strength of the U.S. STEM workforce and student supply is possible only by ignoring the most obvious and direct evidence and obscuring the issue with statistical smokescreens – especially when the Census Bureau reports that only about one in four STEM bachelor’s degree holders has a STEM job, and Microsoft plans to downsize by 18,000 workers over the next 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 NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

William Mathis on "Economics, Education and Sitting Bull"

"William Mathis is Managing Director of the National Education Policy Center, a former school superintendent and member of the Vermont state board of education. In this essay, his opinions and analysis reflect something remarkable about the culture and politics of the State of Vermont. At root, he also asks questions about the nation’s economic policy, equality, and the very purpose of universal public education. ​  

“Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.”

~Sitting Bull

Facing the extinction of Sioux culture, Sitting Bull realized that their hope – their only hope – was in the life they made for their children. Confronted by this reality, he saw that education was something far more than the narrow teaching of a set of test-based, academic skills. Education must impart the knowledge of the ways of the society, of fruitful interactions, of sustaining and nurturing cultural beliefs and rituals, of language and of the economic order, if you will, of a group of independent but related nomadic tribes. (And when the Anglo forces won, they established Indian schools to stamp out this culture).

The existence of any society demands the adoption and embracing of a common set of beliefs, mores, laws and rules. Yet, in a world where vision often reaches no further than the length of an arm holding an electronic screen, such unifying concepts appear as alien and archaic as a buffalo hunt. In times of great fragmentation, in a world which has such massive destructive power, and where hostile forces can easily reach around the globe, the need for national and international cooperation for the common good becomes even more vital.

In a different age with different challenges, our founders understood this necessity. Vermont’s Constitution says that schools must be maintained for the “encouragement of virtue and the prevention of vice.” In the language of the day, virtue meant civic virtue, the building and strengthening of society. Vice was actions that subtracted from the good of all. This resonating and grander purpose of education overshadows the anemic ranking of test scores that obsessively dominates the attention of contemporary reformers. Such simplification also appeals to a media whose own existence is, ironically, reduced to the race for quantifiable rankings, substituting the easily measurable for the important.

The weak narrative of numbers is echoed by U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan:

The fact is that we are falling further behind our international competitors educationally. In the U.S., we are still just talking about the steps many leading countries are actually taking to prepare their students for a competitive global economy. Falling behind educationally now will hurt our country economically for generations.
Leaving aside his inflated claims, Duncan's is a far smaller vision than Sitting Bull’s. Duncan argues that we should beat other nations; Sitting Bull focuses on people acting together. The Secretary focuses on what we should do for the economy; the Chief concentrates on what we should do together for the children.

The measure of our society is reflected in the health of our schools. The well-being of society can be measured in the quality and the equality of the education we provide all of our children. The United States is one of the very few nations that spend less on needy children than on the affluent. The achievement gap is not primarily a product of low quality schools; it directly mirrors the educational opportunity, educational spending, and economic gaps in our nation. Unfortunately, over the last forty years, the achievement gap has widened. The gap was smallest when our policies focused on building the strength of our schools rather than on just testing them.

Thomas Piketty’s seminal work, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, tells us that when the rate of return from invested wealth outruns the rate of growth in production wealth (as now in the U.S.), then democratic society, economic vitality and social justice are threatened. Not surprisingly, those who profit from such an arrangement work to protect their advantage. Unfortunately, wealth inequalities contributed to the 2008 Great Recession and slowed the recovery as lower and middle-income segments of society stagnated. And no Western or industrialized nation has a greater wealth or a greater achievement gap than the United States. Regrettably, the strongest predictor of test scores is not school quality; it is the socio-economic status of the children.

While Vermont does have a high per-pupil cost (which is a topic for another day), the state’s hidden and greatest outcomes for education may not be in our very high test scores as much as in the social indicators: the highest graduation rate, the second highest well-being of children, and low youth risk behaviors. A healthy society is our best return on investment.

As we enter the 2014 election cycle, there will be any number of claims about educational spending accompanied by a blizzard of opaque analyses and exotic extrapolations. Piketty cautions us against reading too much into such elaborate statistical explanations. Often, they are obfuscations masking the shifting of burdens to middle and lower-income citizens – which has the effect of making the problems worse.

Sitting Bull also said, “Inside me are two dogs. One is mean and evil and the other is good and they fight each other all the time. When asked which one wins, I answer, the one I fed the most.” As for the coming debates, we will certainly hear from the fighting dogs. Then, we choose which dog we feed. Hopefully, we put our minds together to see what life we can make for our children.

William J. Mathis is the managing director of the National Education Policy Center, University of Colorado Boulder. The views expressed here are his own.

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.