Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Want to be a Teacher in a Cybercharter School?

Thinking about picking up a little extra cash, using your teaching certificate before it expires, and, in the words of the leading online K-12 corporations, teaching an "award-winning curriculum that engages young minds with a rich combination of online interactive and offline hands-on learning" and enjoying "a new kind of powerful, personalized connection" with students"? Well then, maybe you should take a job teaching in the Colorado Virtual Academy or the Arizona Virtual Academy or Pennsylvania's Agora Cyber Charter School.

Or maybe not. Just listen to the experiences of a few of these teachers who cast their lot with a cybercharter.

In the interview, eight of the ten questions they asked me were about how I would go about finding new students and convincing their parents to enroll them. I stopped the interview and asked them to clarify precisely what position I was being interviewed for.

I worked at Colorado Virtual Academy [COVA] as a teacher; here is what I know for sure. The teachers for K-8 do not teach; they are secretaries, customer support, and marketing reps for COVA. The parents do 98% of the teaching or the kids teach themselves using a "first class" curriculum.

As a former teacher at COVA myself, I can tell you that COVA treats the teachers there like garbage. They get paid pitiful wages and get no respect from the administration or the school board. COVA is nothing more than glorified home school. COVA is merely concerned with the bottom line and with test scores.

COVA's student achievement is affected by class size — enormous (almost criminal) class sizes. I was both a K-8 and a high school teacher. At the K-8 level, I had 75 "homeroom" students and supported 300-350 students in my content (which is impossible, but very, very lucrative for K12). At the high school level, the numbers were higher with 350-450 students to teach in my content. K12 and COVA will say that those numbers reflect beginning-of-the-year enrollment and do not take into consideration attrition. Not true. My numbers didn't change much all year and I basically became a full-time grader when at the high school level (not a teacher!) . I was also told at various times by the principal at the middle school level that I needed to "teach all content areas" and get used to supporting students in every area (math, science, history, etc.) and across many grade levels (K-5th grade or 6th-8th grade in all content areas). This is how K12 makes money. They load up class sizes and hire as few teachers as possible (and the pay averages out to be about $10 an hour).

What I really need to do is get them on the phone, open my computer, open their computer and walk them through it. That would take an hour plus. You can’t do that with 250 students. You can’t.

They treat teachers with the utmost disregard and couldn't care less about their students educational needs. Their only concern is appearances and test scores, which they have tried to manipulate in many different ways over the last seven years.

The teachers at COVA are qualified teachers, but are used as nothing more than customer service representatives in order to market the program and smooth over panicked families who discover that they have made the wrong choice concerning their student's education.

And what if you don't have a teaching certificate or yours lapsed? Find the right state and it could be no problem. When one of the cyber-charter giants applied for a charter in San Francisco and was turned down, a charter was subsequently issued by the California State Board of Education (after, in the words of one reporter, a little money was spread around). Now, California has a law on the books that says any teacher in a charter school in California must be certified to teach in the state. Many certified teachers in California make a decent living. This apparently did not fit well with San Francisco's Flex Academy's business plan. So Flex Academy hired a couple of teachers certified in California and entitled all the rest of the "teaching" staff "teaching assistants." But in the end, it may not matter since so many of these cybercharter teachers are basically recruiters and marketers any way.

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

Friday, December 14, 2012

When Guns are Outlawed Only Outlaws Will Have Knives

At this very moment the news wires are carrying two stories.

Someone – now dead presumably – entered an elementary school in Newtown, CT and murdered nearly 30 persons including 18 children. A semi-automatic gun was used to do the deed, so it is being reported at this moment.

"A man wielding a knife attacked students Friday at a school in central China, leaving 22 children and one adult injured, according to state-run media reports. The attack occurred at the gate of an elementary school in the village of Chengping, in Henan Province. Police arrested the attacker, who they identified as local resident Min Yingjun, 36. Children as young as six were among those hospitalized after the attack, suffering injuries including slashes to the ears and head."

My cousin is the Secretary of the National Rifle Association. I have never shot a gun. Someone is certain to remark in the hours and days after the Connecticut tragedy that a madman will some how find a weapon and wreak havoc, whether with a gun, a knife, or a club.

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

Back in the dark ages of computer video games, there was great excitement over the geography-teaching game called “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” A series of clues would be revealed, and the game player would have to guess where on earth the virtual Carmen was residing. Try it. “Carmen is sipping a cappuccino at a sidewalk café and is about to enjoy a plate of pasta. Just beyond the town square near the banks of the River Arno stands a tower, tilting precariously at about 4 degrees. Where in the world is Carmen? Ans.: Pisa, Italy.

See, it's easy. OK, try this one.

Carmen is sitting at Starbucks enjoying a latte macchiato surrounded by her fellow customers engrossed in their iPads and iPhone 5s and laptops of various persuasions. For miles around her the neighborhoods feature multi-million dollar estates, home to successful entrepreneurs and "early-retirees." Down the street, one finds school buildings designed by world-class architectural firms, and in them the children of the rich study assiduously under the tutelage of experienced, highly educated teachers making $75,000 a year and up. On international tests, 40% of these children score at the advanced level in Math and Science. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

Ans.: Well, if you have been following the results of TIMMS and PISA — not the city in Italy but the paper-pencil test — you have no doubt guessed that Carmen is enjoying her latte in Singapore.


Carmen could be sitting in Highland Park (IL) or Greenwich (CT) or San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara (CA) or Alexandria (VA) or any of a dozen more cities and metropolitan areas in the United States that can out-test any nation on the globe.

Why then, would anyone think that the secrets to success are to be found in the schools of Singapore (with the highest percentage of millionaires of any nation in the world), or Hong Kong, or Northern Ireland (oh, yes, Northern Ireland scored just below Japan on the TIMSS 2011 math test)? And Finland fell back to near equality with the entire U.S. on 4th and 8th grade Math. What about all those experts we sent to Finland since the last international assessment in search of the Holy Grail?

When will we stop playing these ridiculous games like “Where in the World Are the Greatest Schools?” When will we stop acting as if a few paper-and-pencil tests will reveal the secrets to economic progress and world domination? When will we begin to treat education as the complex relationship among families, children, and educators that it truly is?

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

“White” is to “Black” as “Blanco” is to _________?

NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) has released the results of the assessments of our nation’s children’s vocabulary knowledge and the blaming, speculating, and teeth gnashing may commence. Fortunately, the NAEP experts did not attempt to compare the vocabulary achievement of American pupils with that of school children in Belarus; that sort of meaningless game is the province of PISA and the international assessments. (See my posting on “More Things Wrong with International Assessments Like PISA” from this past June.)

Nonetheless, one step removed from comparing the U.S. with Singapore on reading comprehension is the tendency—allbeit obsession—of the media and general public to compare NAEP results at the state level. (Incidentally, Singapore has the highest percentage of millionaires in its population of any nation in the world; this is worth noting since more TIMSS international comparisons have just been released for science and math. Oh, and Finland fell back to equality with the U.S. OMG! Call back our emissaries to Finland who went looking for the secrets of success!)

Newspapers in Arizona were filled with agonizing reports of the state’s inferiority on the NAEP vocabulary items. The Arizona average for Grade 4 was 211 (on some scale invented by the NAEP technicians that is supposed to track achievement across the life-span) whereas the national average was 217. No one really knows what 217 vs. 211 means in terms of how many questions difference that implies on a 50-question test, or whether the national average 4th grader speaks like an Oscar Wilde while the average Arizona 4th grader mumbles like some nincompoop.

Consider this. About 54% of the nation’s public school students are White and 22% are Hispanic (or Latino, as we use the term in Arizona). But in Arizona, 43% are White and 42% are Latino. It has to occur to anyone with enough brains to read a newspaper article that among those few hundred thousand Arizona Latinos are multitudes of children who are monolingual Spanish, or bilingual Spanish-English, or who live in homes and neighborhoods where mainly Spanish is spoken. Their vocabulary is likely split somewhat between English and Spanish, and an all-English vocabulary test is just another obstacle thrown in their paths and an insult to their intelligence.

What would the nation’s vocabulary score average if the nation had the same demographics as the state of Arizona? That is, what if the nation were 43% White, 6% Black, 42% Latino, 3% Asian-American, and 6% Native American? Well, the answer is a simple weighted average of the national means using the Arizona demographic weights:

.43(228) + .06(200) + .42(200) + .03(230) + .06(203) = 213.4

That’s just 2 points off of the Arizona average vocabulary score. “Within the margin of error,” as they say on the TV newscasts.

So hold your jeremiads, politicians; and cool your sales campaigns, charter school owners. The sky has not fallen; Arizona’s public schools have not checked out. And the media need to exercise just a bit more arithmetic and common sense.

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

ALEC and Friends

It should be obvious to anyone interested in education policy that all of the action these days is happening at the level of the states, and that the action is being directed by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC, for those who haven’t heard, is the nexus between dozens of large corporations and state legislators. The corporation lobbyists write the bills they want passed and a collection of ALEC task forces hand them over to the ALEC membership—state legislators—who carry them home to be introduced and frequently passed in largely Republican dominated state legislatures.

Why do the legislators carry water for the corporations? I never cease being amazed at how cheaply legislators’ support can be purchased. Junkets to fancy resorts, a few cigars, fine dining, and a chance to rub elbows with Fortune 500 CEOs who someday just might remember the name of a cooperative politician from South Dakota or Alabama.

Bill Moyers’s recent exposé of ALEC and its operations shined some light on operations that almost entirely take place behind doors closed to the public. ALEC’s membership is composed of about 2,000 dues-paying state legislators and a hundred or more large corporations. ALEC’s role in voter suppression efforts in the 2012 presidential election was so repugnant to some corporations that they pulled out of the organization. They earlier saw nothing repugnant in any of ALEC’s main thrusts: privatization of public institutions, tort reform to limit corporate liability, and union busting. Look for some to quietly re-enter ALEC when the dust settles from the election.

ALEC’s impact on state education policy has been considerable. They have focused on online courses and online schools. Their member legislators have dutifully carried back to their home states bills that remove limits to the number of charter schools in a state, that permit charter schools to be entirely online (cyber-charters), and that require a certain number of online courses for any high school student to graduate. These bills are written by lobbyists for Connections (now owned by the publishing conglomerate Pearson) or K12 Inc.

Moyers referred to Arizona as a “wholly owned subsidiary of ALEC.” And indeed it is. This is just another reason why one must look to the desert to see the direction of the nation’s education policy. Arizona has 15% of its Kindergarten through grade 12 public school population in charter schools. It is home to two of the largest cyber-charters in the nation. Of the 90 senators and representatives in the Arizona legislature, more than half (49) are members of ALEC. (This is in contrast to the Colorado legislature where only 15 of its 100 members belong to ALEC.) Two-thirds of the AZ Republican leadership serve on ALEC task forces.

State education policy is being written in the ALEC Education Task Force. Now the title “task force” connotes a small working group that comes together, thinks a problem through, and floats its ideas to a larger body for consideration. How many members of ALEC serve on the Education Task Force? 114 — One-hundred-and-fourteen! Of course, the ALEC task forces are working groups in name only. In reality they are conduits through which corporations funnel their self-serving legislation to states.

The tally of ALEC Education Task Force members by states follows:

Alaska 1
Arkansas 2
Arizona 6
Colorado 3
Connecticut 3
Florida 1
Georgia 6
Idaho 2
Illinois 3
Indiana 3
Iowa 2
Kansas 3
Kentucky 6
Louisiana 3
Maine 1
Maryland 1
Minnesota 4
Mississippi 6
Missouri 4
Montana 2
Nebraska 2
Nevada 2
New Hampshire 3
New Mexico 3
North Carolina 4
North Dakota 3
Ohio 4
Oklahoma 4
Pennsylvania 1
South Carolina 1
South Dakota 3
Tennessee 5
Texas 4

California, Washington, Oregon, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Vermont and about 10 other states have no members on the ALEC Education Task Force. Many states with a heavy presence on the Task Force currently wish to secede from the U.S.

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

Sunday, December 2, 2012

“Judge us by our results”

When Anne Ryman, reporter for the Arizona Republic, pointed out to Michael Block that his Basis charter schools had purchased $9.8 million of their $13.7 million allocation of state money from his own private profit-making company, the latter was unruffled. (Conflicts of interest are no big deal in Arizona government.) He also refused to answer questions about salaries or about whether family members were also employed by Basis Inc. Instead, he rather arrogantly and dismissively replied to the reporter’s questions, “Judge us by our results.”

Let’s do that. Let’s judge Michael and Olga Block’s brainchild, Basis School of Tucson, by its results.

At first glance, Basis Tucson charter school looks like a world beater. More than 90% of Basis Tucson students pass the AIMS test (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards). High percentages of the students earn college credits by passing the College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) exams. And the Basis schools philosophy leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind that it intends to compete with the best: “BASIS seeks to educate American students at an internationally competitive level. With raised academic expectations, implemented through an accelerated curriculum that pushes students to reach their highest academic potential, BASIS prepares middle and high school students to compete with their peers in countries with highly performing educational systems, such as Finland, Canada, Japan, and Korea.” And no less an august ranker of nearly everything, US News, confers the title "Sixth Best High School in America" on Basis Tucson.

Mr. Block would seem to have an argument for why he and his wife have every right to enrich themselves privately with Arizona taxpayers’ public money.

But wait just a second. Arizona’s traditional (non-charter) public schools are filled with thousands of students who knock the top out of the AIMS test and who score high on the AP exams. So what is so special about Basis Tucson charter school?

The word on the street since day #1 of the Basis Tucson charter school is that any parent seeking to enroll his or her child in the school was warned off if there was any hint that the child would not score high on the barrage of tests a Basis student would eventually face. Limited English speaking child? “Your child might find our school very demanding.” Special needs child? “We may not be able to accommodate the child’s special circumstances.”

And once the students who did pass muster were admitted, the curriculum they faced was laced with paper-and-pencil tests. Fail enough of these and you might want to consider one of those traditional public schools.

Let’s check the enrollments at Basis Tucson for 2011-2012.

Total number of students 700  
Asian 148 21%
African Amer.:28 4%
Hispanic 138* 20%
White 370 53%
*61% of the students in the Tucson school district are Hispanic.

Total number of ELL, Migrant, Free Lunch, and SPED students: 0

Enrollments by Grade

Grade 5:121
Grade 6: 125
Grade 7: 125
Grade 8: 102
Grade 9: 58
Grade 10: 57
Grade 11: 34
Grade 12: 21
Total ADM: 675

So the picture becomes clear. After careful selection of students entering Grade 5, those not turned away have their brains tested out of them, and fewer than two dozen make it to graduation. Among other questions is this: What is US News thinking of, for crying out loud?

Let me hand pick a hundred students, shift and winnow them for seven years with all manner of testing, and then you can judge me by my results. My claim to being one of the nation’s leading schools would be bogus indeed.

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How to Screw Up Graduation Rates

When the U.S. Department of Education released its new and improved league standings of state high school graduation rates, many in Arizona were surprised to learn that the state was below the national average. A fraction more than 78% of the 9th grade cohort was holding a diploma four years later. This is hardly surprising considering the very large number of students entering the 9th grade with little background in the English language.

And Arizona’s treatment of these students does nothing to improve their chances of graduating. Having adamantly refused to endorse bilingual education for limited English speaking students, politicians and their designees have instead backed a program of English Immersion—which is edu-speak for doing absolutely nothing at all to address these children’s language needs. English Immersion as it is practiced in Arizona is four hours a day of language instruction in a sink-or-swim environment. The teachers are not bilingual, since truly bilingual teachers possessing that special talent would be able to demand higher pay. The methods resemble ESL (English as a Second Language), which have yet to be described to me as anything other than ordinary methods one would use to teach anything.

Having spent a year or more in four-hour-a-day English Immersion, the Latino students have missed out on earning credits in core courses needed for graduation. But on top of this sits the AIMS test, one of the worst high school graduation high stakes tests in the nation. Irrelevant, incompetent, and viciously punitive: the AIMS test has got it all. Latino students fail the AIMS test in large numbers. Only one in four Latino students graduates from Arizona high schools in four years. It’s no wonder Arizona is below average on Arne Duncan’s graduation score card.

Craig Barrett, ex-CEO of INTEL, knows the solution to this problem. Just invest in career technical education and everything will be fine. “Teach them the math they need to know to be an auto-mechanic or contractor, for example, and they will stay engaged, interested and graduate.” Contractors? Where will they get the money to purchase insurance and be bonded? This comment sounds like failed presidential candidate Mitch Romney’s remark that our ancestors came to this country to start small businesses. (Not my ancestors, who were escaping famine, or my wife’s ancestors, who were escaping pogroms.) Craig Barrett has clearly stepped outside of Warren Buffett’s Circle of Competence. He acts these days like an education reformer, but in fact he is just a retired CEO. (Some will even dispute that he was competent in his previous life as a CEO. To quote Zoniedude’s comment on this blog from July 7, 2012, “… when Barrett was head of Intel, the rival corporation AMD made great strides in taking market share away from Intel. To counter AMD, Barrett employed illegal monopoly practices rather than successfully compete. After he left, Intel regained most of that market share and became a much more competitive corporation.”)

But let’s go back to the Arizona graduation rate, and the AIMS test, and Barrett’s comments about pumping more math into the heads of those future contractors and auto mechanics. Several years ago, Cheryl Edholm and I did a little study. You can read it here. It was entitled “The AIMS Test and the Mathematics Actually Used by Arizona Employees.” We took the math items off the AIMS test—the high stakes graduation test—and showed them to 43 managers of businesses in ten sectors of the Arizona economy: Health Care (6), Law Firms (3), Food Industries (3), Wholesale (3), Government Agencies (6), Retail Sales (4), Construction (3), Banking (4), Service Industries (7), and Engineering (4).

These managers were shown the following AIMS question, among others, and asked “Do your employees use this type of mathematics in their daily work?”

Q1. Of the following choices, rational numbers, integers, whole numbers, irrational numbers, which of these could not be classified as the number representing the number of people in a room?
Only 4 out of 43 managers answered affirmatively. Of the six AIMS questions presented to the managers in the Legal and Food Service industries, none was said to be of use to their employees. Edholm and I concluded back in the day of soaring hopes for high stakes graduation tests that the test was useless, had nothing to do with life after high school, and would only result in high drop-out rates.

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

Sunday, November 25, 2012

No Degree? No Problem.

When Michael Bashaw applied for a charter from the Arizona Charter School Board back in the late 1990s, no one asked for his credentials. Did he have any sort of training or education that would prepare him to direct an K-8 school with hundreds of children enrolled? Nobody cared. And why would they ask such questions when the Vice-President of the State Charter School Board herself was a young woman whose only job after receiving her BA in political science from Arizona State University was as a "researcher" at the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute ("Where Freedom Wins").

Bashaw got his charter and opened Fountain Hills Charter School in the upper-scale suburb some 30 miles from the center of Phoenix. Fountain Hills Charter is still operating today with 125 students nearly 15 years later.

When Anne Ryman published her shocking expose of corruption in the Arizona charter school system last week, Basahw's story was not even gory enough to make it into the newspapers. But gory indeed it is.

Bashaw, it has now been learned, has no academic degrees. Check that. He has three degrees: a BA, an MA and a PhD, all awarded by St. Regis University. But Director-Dr.-Professor Bashaw acquired his degrees starting in about 2002. He acquired them the old fashion way: he bought them. Suffice it to say that the owners (Dixie E. and Stephen K. Randock) of St. Regis University of Spokane, Washington, now sit in federal prison. St. Regis U. was shut down by the feds in 2005.

When confronted by a local TV station, Bashaw explained that he only bought the degrees in connection with a bet with a friend, which he lost. [One wonders, what were the terms? "I'll bet I can defraud the idiots who run the AZ charter school system"?] The stakes of the bet must have been substantial because Bashaw spent thousands of dollars to be addressed as Dr. Bashaw.

One man's malfeasance—I doubt that any felony was committed—is not as important as what we are learning more and more every day. The Arizona charter school system is an unregulated joke that costs the tax-payers of the state hundreds of millions of dollars. And it has always been so.

Back in the late 1990s, when Michael Bashaw was ramping up Fountain Hills Charter School, another charter school was almost making the news. Citizen 2000 Charter School was an immediate success, judged by enrollments. It appealed to the loyalty of the small African American community in Phoenix and by its second year of operation its enrollment had grown to more than 1,000 students. But it never made it through that second year. One morning in November, parents arrived to drop off their children only to find a note on the door informing them that Citizen 2000 was no longer in operation ("Don't bring your children tomorrow; no teachers will be here.") Its director, one Lawndia Venerable, had hit the road for Chicago. Left behind were her sister (the Assistant Director of the school), her mother (whose mortgage in the fashionable Biltmore subdivision was being paid out of school funds), her divorce lawyer (who probably failed to collect on a few billable hours), and thousands of disgruntled parents and "Citizens." Venerable also admitted to John Merrow that she used the school's money to buy jewelry and renovate her house. Apparently she was not feeling afraid of being prosecuted.

Shortly after Venerable's exodus, I was being deposed by an Assistant Attorney General for the state in connection with a FOIA request from the Arizona Republic to the AZ Department of Education. During a break, I asked the state's lawyer if they intended to pursue the Citizen 2000 case. "No," was his answer.

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

Sunday, November 18, 2012

May I Have the Envelope Please. And the Pulitzer for Education Reporting Goes …

... to Anne Ryman of the Arizona Republic for her investigative journalistic report of November 18, 2012, entitled “Insiders benefitting in charter deals.”

Seriously, this is one of the finest pieces of education reporting I have seen in years, maybe decades. In a 3,200 word article on the front page above the fold, Ryman exposed the unbelievable corruption in the Arizona charter school system. Of course, Arizona leads the nation in charter schools—leads it right into the cess pool, that is. With 535 charter schools and 14% of all public school children in charters (including more than 15,000 in cyber-charters), Arizona entrepreneurs are discovering untold opportunities to line their pockets with public monies intended to educate children.

Through exhaustive research that must have taken months and involved numerous FOIA requests and pouring over multiple IRS tax returns, Ryman tallied more than $70 Million having gone to board members and family members of charter school operators. The blatant disregard of rules and regulations governing conflicts of interest between the schools and administrators’ family members and cronies staggers the imagination—indeed it is difficult to imagine it existing in places with any modicum of ethical governance.

“Non-profit” charter schools are purchasing materials and services from companies owned by their own board members at staggering costs. Desert Heights Charter School with 720 students has paid out $1 Million over several years to Waterhouse Management, which company is owned by a board member. Primavera Technical Learning Center, a cyber-charter with more than 3,000 students in Grades 6-12, has purchased more than $42 Million of “curriculum” from American Virtual Academy. The directors of the school are also the owners of American Virtual Academy. It gets worse. Read the article.

Does anyone in power in Arizona really care? Of course not. ALEC writes the laws, and probably the regulations too. Their friends, the legislators, turn their heads. And Arizona law conveniently permits charter school owners to apply for exemptions to the competitive bidding regulations for purchase of goods and services. Ninety-percent of the schools have received such exemptions.

This convivial arrangement of laws and entrepreneurs’ financial interests is what Alex Molnar of NEPC labeled “crony capitalism.” Capitalists who rant about government intrusion into the affairs of business actually seek out government regulations that favor their businesses over all others. Take Michael and Olga Block, for example. (I will come back to these individuals in a subsequent blog piece.) These creators of the widely honored Basis charter schools of Tucson and Scottsdale—non-profit schools, as are all charter schools in Arizona—just happen to be the only two principals in a for-profit company that is selling the Basis schools nearly all their goods and services. Last year the Blocks’ non-profit schools paid the Blocks’ for-profit company almost $10 Million. They even contracted for some bookkeeping to a relative in the Czech Republic—Olga was raised in Czechoslovakia. Michael Block is a current or former —I don’t care which—economics professor at the University of Arizona, a free-market ideologue, and great good friend of the Goldwater Institute: Where Freedom Wins (indeed it does). What delicious irony that the laissez faire economist turns out to be just another crony capitalist!

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Infinite Campus ... No Place to Hide

Children's activities and their performance are surveilled while in school as never in the past. The campus is everywhere and even follows them home.

An aggressive and successful software company is selling database systems—euphemistically called Student Information Systems (SIS)—to schools that provide daily updates to a child's parents via the Internet of what happened at school that day. Here's how the Infinte Campus company describes its contribution to American education:

Infinite Campus is focused on the future. We have provided a continuously evolving student information system (SIS) since our first customer implemented in 1996 – at no additional cost to customers. We are now the largest American-owned SIS managing more than 5 million students in 43 states. Our suite of products is designed for efficient use of student data allowing educators to focus on what really matters: improving education for students.
Is it really all this rosy for students and their families? No, not quite. Among other charming features of the Infinite Campus is the fact that a late assignment—late by a day or even hours—is usually coded as an "F" for the course. Once the assignment is turned in, the "F" may be changed, or it may not, at the discretion of the teacher. And in the meantime, the parent checks Infinite Campus on the web, and all hell breaks loose at home. Children might be punished by their parents for their "failure"; in No-Pass—No-Play schools, students may be excluded from extra-curricular activities (some of which are the only reason students are tolerating the incessant punishment of modern schooling).

Homework has become, at the least, an irritant in millions of homes in America, and, at worse, the cause of family strife and even abuse. The call to common sense sounds like this:

A child who has been boxed up six hours in school might spend the next four hours in study, but it is impossible to develop the child's intellect in this way. The laws of nature are inexorable. By dint of great and painful labor, the child may succeed in repeating a lot of words, like a parrot, but, with the power of its brain all exhausted, it is out of the question for it to really master and comprehend its lessons. The effect of the system is to enfeeble the intellect even more than the body. We never see a little girl staggering home under a load of books, or knitting her brow over them at eight o'clock in the evening, without wondering that our citizens do not arm themselves at once with carving knives, pokers, clubs, paving stones or any weapons at hand, and chase out the managers of our common schools, as they would wild beasts that were devouring their children.
Think that the disruptions of homework are a modern problem? The above quotation is from the article "Against Homework" that was published in Scientific American in 1860.

In the early part of the previous century, a writer in the Ladies’ Home Journal called homework "barbarous." One hundred years ago, Los Angeles joined other school districts in abolishing homework for Kindergarten through grade 8. Today, the situation is worse, and hardly anyone opposes more and heavier homework—hardly anyone in the U.S., that is. In October 2012, President Hollande of France called for the abolition of homework in the schools of his nation. But the U.S. appears to be doubling down on homework in the hope that PISA scores will rise and ipso facto the balance of trade will shift and the nation's economy will surge forward leaving China and India (this century's economic threat) in the dust.

In this hysterical atmosphere, people—including educators—are acting like fools. I rarely get personal in this blog, but forgive me if this time I get something off my chest.

I have two grandchildren in the public school systems of Colorado: one in grade 6, the other in grade 10. Both are frequent victims of the Infinite Campus and the campaign to defeat the world's other economies. Last night my daughter received an email from her daughter's (my granddaughter's) grade 6 teacher; Rosie was failing Language Arts. The accused was called before the court and confronted with the accusation. Rosie protested, claimed she most definitely was not failing, and pulled up her record on Infinite Campus. The Language Arts grade was a C+. My daughter immediately emailed the teacher asking "What's up?" This morning's mail brought the response.

Dear [Rosie's Mother]
I have sent emails to all parents whose children are currently earning a C, D or F in Language Arts indicating that they are failing the class. This is my way of motivating the students who still have a chance to earn an A or B in the class.
As is often said, you can't make this stuff up.

It would be easy to attack the actors involved here: a teacher with a bizarre sense of how to motivate children; a principal, perhaps, pushing the staff toward higher and higher test scores to avoid public humiliation; a company peddling software that they think focuses educators on "what really matters."

But the larger point is this: Educators, parents, and even young children are caught up in the madness of the age of accountability. Childhood is dead. Everyone is constantly surveilled. There is punishment enough for all.

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Why Do School Support Elections Fail?

Like many other states and municipalities, Arizona's ballot yesterday had an amendment which, if passed, would have brought significant financial support to the state's K-12 public schools. Amendment 204 would have retained an existing sales tax law—set to expire in 2013—that would have continued to bring millions of dollars—in the form of a 1 cent per dollar tax—to the public schools. The proposition lost by a vote of 65% Opposed, 35% In Favor. Pretty much a resounding rejection.

Moreover, 28 school bond override elections in Maricopa County (essentially the Phoenix metro area) resulted in 14 losses for the districts, in spite of the state legislature having cut public school funding in Arizona by hundreds of millions of dollars since 2008.

Why are school financial support elections going down in flames for public education?

One reason is surely Citizens United. More than $1 Million was spent by one or more "shadow supporters" to defeat Proposition 204. A California court forced some of these unidentified groups to reveal their sources just before the election. The money to defeat Proposition 204 came largely from a group with the name Americans for Responsible Leadership. Unraveling the laundry list of persons and organizations that were responsible for injecting $11 Million into the Arizona race (Prop 204 was just one issue targeted) is like attempting to solve a Rubik's Cube. The money for the donation made by Americans for Responsible Leadership came from Americans for Job Security. That money had in turn been passed through The Center to Protect Patient Rights, a non-profit directed by Arizona-based Sean Noble, a former congressional aide who has been tied to the movement of millions of dollars among political action groups. Americans for Responsible Leadership claimed to be the intermediary and not the true source of the $11 million in contributions. In October 2012, Noble and the Center to Protect Patient Rights contributed $55.4 million to other nonprofit political groups. The Los Angeles Times identified several connections between the Koch brothers and the Center to Protect Patient Rights. Did you follow? You weren't supposed to.

But the Koch brothers and all their secret identities are only the proximate cause of the rejection by Arizona voters of proposals to support the state's public schools. The ultimate causes, it seems to me, lie in demographics and the majority's attitudes toward minorities.

I have been inclined to name Arizona the bellwether of the 50 states, leading America to its future. Arizona's demographics are roughly this: lots of young Latinos, and lots of old White people. And given rates of fertility and immigration of the past few decades, Arizona is now what America will be in another 30 or 40 years. Just take a look at the distribution of the Arizona population in the 2010 Census when the numbers are broken out by Age and Ethnicity/Race:

Frankly, this distribution is stunning. Up to age 25, minority children (overwhelmingly Latino) outnumber Whites, and by the time you reach age 60, the population is overwhelmingly White. In fact, up to age 19, minority children outnumber White children by more than 300,000 persons. Roughly 60% of the school age population of Arizona is ethnic/racial minority, with Latinos being the vast majority of that group.

Why do school bond elections and other support proposals fail in Arizona and will fail increasingly throughout the U.S.? Because an aging White middle class is unwilling to support the schools that educate "other" people's children.

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

My State Superintendent is ...... elected.

Fourteen of the 50 states choose their State Superintendent of Schools by election. The superintendent is appointed in the other 36—appointed by the governor or various boards or otherwise. Appointed state superintendents tend to be professional educators; elected state superintendents are more likely to be politicians.

My State Superintendent is most certainly a politician. In Arizona, the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction is the third highest elective office in the state—after governor and attorney general. Not surprisingly, the Superintendent office has attracted the attention of ambitious politicians who view it as a stepping stone to higher things. The result is that the office has frequently been abused, and the public schools have been the victims.

Perhaps no one has been more abusive than one Tom Horne, State Superintendent of Public Instruction for Arizona from 2003 to 2010. Horne has a law degree from Harvard and prior to his superintendency, he served for four years in the Arizona House of Representatives. During his superintendency, the large Latino contingent of the Arizona public school population came in for some hard times. Horne opposed bi-lingual education at every juncture, and even arrogantly made a point of "learning" Spanish in three months to demonstrate to bi-lingual advocates that they should quit whining about needing special treatment of non-English speaking children.

In 2010, Horne was elected State's Attorney General. His political star was soaring. That star crashed ignominiously a couple weeks ago when Horne was charged with a hit-and-run class 3 misdemeanor when two FBI agents, who were following him in connection with a potential indictment for election fraud, witnessed him crashing into the rear fender ($1,000 damages) of a parked car while exiting the parking garage of his chief assistant's apartment house at mid-day. The FBI had concluded earlier that his assistant, whom he had brought with him from the Department of Education—one Carmen Chenal—was more than an assistant. Public opinion has sided with Horne's wife. Horne is accused by local newspaper columnists as having dragged a retinue of cronies into the Department of Education, and subsequently having dragged them with him to the Attorney General's office.

Horne's legal troubles did not start with his having left the scene of an accident in 2012. Back when he was elected State Superintendent in 2003, a colleague and I received an email from a friend at Boston College that read in effect, "You guys elected Tom Horne?!" According to this friend—who was a fellow student of Horne's at Harvard Law School—Horne was nearly indicted for stock fraud while in law school and did in fact receive a lifetime ban by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In the last 15 or so years, Horne has received six speeding tickets including one in a school zone.

This man's future is unclear. His string of political victories in Arizona may have run out. He recently contributed an op-ed piece to the Arizona Republic. He wanted to list his achievements in office to counter what he considered unbalanced negative coverage of his unfortunate contretemps. His defense reminded me of a possibly apocryphal court case. A young man was accused of having murdered his parents, all four siblings, and the family dog. In the accused's defense, his lawyer produced the dog in the courtroom, alive.

Aren't there already enough pure politicians trying to run public education?

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Teacher Union Busting: The New Indoor Sport

Following the lead of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker perhaps, school districts in Colorado have recently joined in the new sport of busting teacher unions ... you know, teacher unions, those powerful juggernauts of ruthless, self-serving socialists who will do anything to obtain higher salaries and shorter work days. Adams 12 School District in the north suburbs of Denver announced on Thursday that all teachers salaries would be cut 2% for the coming school year. No negotiation, no warning, just a 2% cut. According to administrators, who didn't take a cut, financial exigency demanded this reduction in expenses. Five hundred teachers took to the streets and the 10 o'clock news. No fear registered on the faces of the school board members.

Meanwhile, in the Douglas County school district the very next day, it was announced that henceforth the board would no longer negotiate with the teachers union nor pay salary to a couple of teachers who were serving as union reps or employees. Douglas County has made its reputation on and off as a leader in experimenting with merit pay for teachers.

Times are tough, ... but especially for teachers.

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Value-Added Teacher Evaluation and Other Fairy Tales

Anyone who cares about teachers and how they are being treated in the age of Hyper-rationalized Accountability needs to view the following video that presents the results of an important research study in a manner that interested persons everywhere can understand:
ASU presents: EVAAS, Value-Added and Teacher Branding

The video presents the findings of research conducted by Audrey Amrein-Beardsley and Clarin Collins of the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. Amrein-Beardsley and Collins's research was published this year in the journal Education Policy Analysis Archives under the title

The SAS Education Value-Added Assessment System (SAS® EVAAS®) in the Houston Independent School District (HISD): Intended and Unintended Consequences
How much longer will the fiction of value-added teacher evaluation continue to beguile politicians and even educators who should know better?

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

Sunday, June 17, 2012

More Things Wrong with International Assessments Like PISA

On February 17th, I posted to this blog some thoughts on the ubiquitous "international assessments" of achivement. From the access logs I can tell that such topics command wide attention. Unfortunately, the attention paid to criticisms of the international assessments is merely the other side of the coin: far too much is made of these virtually meaningless exercises. Why does anyone think that comparing how many kids in the U.S. vs. Slovenia or Singapore solve a math problem will inform the movement toward better schools? Outsiders always think that what they are observing is simpler than it is in reality, whether they are watching someone play a trombone, or hit a tennis ball, or teach a child to read.

The point I was making last February about international assessments had to do with the gullibility of not just the general public but of professional educators themselves. People swallow without a second thought the comparison of a few dozen nations on a test of reading comprehension! Seemingly no one questions the claim that a test can be written in two different languages while controlling for its difficulty. But it is a claim that is patently false. I wrote in February:

There is something far more wrong with these international assessments and comparisons than anyone seems interested in talking about. Think! ... The obvious question is “In what language is the test written?” And the obvious answer is “In the language of that nation.” But who is drawing the obvious conclusion? How in heaven’s name can you construct a reading test in dozens of different languages (English, Hungarian, Norwegian, and yes, Finnish) and be confident that the test is equally difficult in all of these languages? Well, the answer is that you can’t. It should be perfectly obvious to anyone who thinks about it for more than five minutes that it is impossible.

... A recent article in the Scandanavian Journal of Educational Research by Inga Arffman carries the title “Equivalence of translations in international reading literacy studies,” (Vol. 54, No. 1, 37-59). The paper summarizes a study that examined the problems encountered in translating texts in international reading assessments. And in spite of the fact that Arffman is a faculty member of the University of Jyväskylä in Finland—which has every motive possible to believe that PISA Reading assessments are the most valid tests in the history of psychometrics—the conclusion of the research is that ' will probably never be possible to attain full equivalence of difficulty in international reading literacy studies....' Amen.

And now a few months later comes a great reference from the work of Jerry Bracey — our now departed and forever respected colleague to whom we all owe a continuing debt of gratitude for his marvelous critiques of scientistic buffoonery in education. (I thank David Berliner for bringing this reference to my attention.)

Posted by Susan Williams on February 24, 2012, to a Teachers College Record blog.

Gerald Bracey's research in the 1990s ... exposed the hidden "competitive edge" of Finland's schools: the Finnish language is eentsy weentsy compared to the English language. We have far, far more vocabulary words than they do.

So when a standardized test is internationalized — translated into Finnish, in this case — it gets really easy for the Finnish kids. ... But they're really not outdoing us.

Bracey used the example of an international test question in which students were to tell whether these two words are synonyms or antonyms: pessimistic and sanguine. Only 50% of Americans got that right. But 98% of Finnish kids did. Oh! Are they that much smarter? Are their schools that much better? Noooooo. Finnish has no equivalent for the word "sanguine," so the word substituted for it was a dead giveaway — optimistic. Duhhhh!

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Loss for Cyber-Schooling or Just a Regrouping?

On Monday, May 14, Arizona Republican Governor Jan Brewer vetoed SB 1259, the bill written by ALEC and K12 Inc. lobbyists that would have greatly expanded the give-away of Arizona taxpayer dollars to outside profit making corporations. In short, SB 1259 would have required every school district in the state of Arizona to provide a minimum of two online courses per year to any grade 7 – 12 pupil requesting such. The company supplying the cyber-courses would be reimbursed at 100% of a pro-rated per pupil expenditure. Full-time online students in Arizona currently number nearly 40,000, most of the money flowing through online charter schools to K12 Inc. SB 1259 would have opened up a market for the corporations many times larger than the full-time charter market.

What made SB 1259 fly through the Arizona Legislature and onto the Governor’s desk was an accountability provision promising to guarantee mastery of course content. Each online course would have to be accompanied by a final exam that was matched in difficulty to the state-developed AIMS test. Presumably, after sufficient psychometric magic had been performed, the new course-level final exam would “pass” no one who would not “pass” some associated AIMS exam. But this accountability provision was nothing but window dressing. A standardized test is a test that is administered under standardized conditions. Those taking it are allowed the same amount of time to finish and are treated equally in terms of accessories (i.e., one student may not be administered the exam without the aid of a smart phone while another is allowed to consult the internet for help in answering a question.). This obvious condition to impose on any test that deserves the name “accountability” could be met by sending all online students to a testing center to have their exam proctored. A private company could even set up testing centers all around the state and make itself a handsome profit (off of money that might otherwise have been sent to K12 Inc in Herndon, Virginia). Instead, modifications to SB 1259 before it reached the Governor’s desk stipulated that the final exam in the online course would have to be taken by the student in the presence of a “non-family member.” This feeble stab at instituting an accountability measure is simply laughable.

So why did Brewer veto SB 1259? The ostensible reason was that the Governor considered it inappropriate for the state "or an entity on behalf of the state [to approve] online courses or curriculum." This refers to a “master list” of courses that would have been created by the Arizona Department of Education for delivery to students through the online program. Courses currently offered by online providers (read “K12 Inc.”) would be “grandfathered” onto the master list.

What might be the real reasons that Brewer vetoed the bill?

The development costs for creating all those final exams and linking them to the state’s AIMS test could have proved too costly for either the state or the outside companies. It is unlikely that the accountability provisions in the final drafting of the bill originated with its sponsors; they probably were added by Democrats in committee. K12 Inc. might have wanted the Governor to kill the bill so that ALEC and their lobbyists could take another run at it in a future session.

Another reason for scuttling SB 1259 could involve the new State Superintendent of Public Instruction. A technophile politician by the name of John Huppenthal recently replaced a non-educator political opportunist who ran successfully for State Attorney General. Huppenthal, a former systems analyst for one of the state’s major utility companies, may have ambitions of his own for developing a state-owned cyber-schooling capability. K12 Inc. has attempted to kill off state-operated cyber-coursework in other states (Arkansas, Tennessee) to protect and expand its market. Brewer’s veto could signal a battle between states and corporations for control of the cyber-schooling market nationwide. If so, it will be a battle where students and taxpayers lose, no matter what the outcome.

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

Monday, May 7, 2012

Houston, You Have a Problem!

Education Policy Analysis Archives recently published an article by Audrey Amrein-Beardsley and Clarin Collins that effectively exposes the Houston Independent School District use of a value-added teacher evaluation system as a disaster. The Educational Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS) is alleged by its creators, the software giant SAS, to be the “the most robust and reliable” system of teacher evaluation ever invented. Amrein-Beardsley and Collins demonstrate to the contrary that EVAAS is a psychometric bad joke and a nightmare to teachers.

EVAAS produces “value-added” measures for the same teachers that jump around willy-nilly from large and negative to large and positive from year-to-year when neither the general nature of the students nor the nature of the teaching differs across time. In defense of the EVAAS one could note that this is common to all such systems of attributing students’ test scores to teachers’ actions so that EVAAS might still lay claim to being “most robust and reliable”—since they are all unreliable and who knows what “robust” means?

Unlike many school districts which have the good sense to use these value-added systems for symbolic purposes only (“Look at us; we are getting tough about quality.”), Houston actually fired four teachers (three African-American, one Latina) based on their EVAAS scores. Houston fired Teacher A partly on the basis of EVAAS scores that looked like this:

EVAAS Scores for Teacher A by Year & Subject

The above scores are just a representative sample of the wildly unreliable scores that Teacher A accumulated over four years in several subjects.

As if this pattern did not alone exonerate Teacher A, her supervisor’s rating of her performance based on classroom observations were highly negatively correlated with the EVAAS scores. Amrein-Beardsley & Collins report that 1) teachers insisted that their teaching methods changed little from year-to-year while their EVAAS scores jumped around wildly, and that 2) principals reported having been pressured to adjust their supervisory ratings of teachers so that they were in agreement with the EVAAS scores. After all, did the administration want to admit that they had spent a half-million dollars of an elaborate mistake?

The whole Houston story as reported by Amrein-Beardsley & Collins is gruesome in the extreme, and I recommend that you read it in its entirety. For me, the story sparked recollections of disasters from thirty years ago that I chronicled in a chapter in a book edited by Jason Millman and Linda Darling-Hammond. (Glass, Gene V. (1990). Using student test scores to evaluate teachers. Pp. 229-240 in Jason Millman & Linda Darling-Hammond (Eds.), The new handbook of teacher evaluation: Assessing elementary and secondary school teachers. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE Publications.) You can read the entire chapter here.

In the mid-1980s, I was able to find six school districts in the entire country that claimed to have based teacher compensation on the test-score performance of their teachers. Each of the six showed the same pattern of behaviors that I summarized thus:

    Using student achievement data to evaluate teachers...
  1. nearly always undertaken at the level of a school (either all or none of the teachers in a school are rewarded equally) rather than at the level of individual teachers since a) no authoritative tests exist in most areas of the secondary school curriculum, nor for most special roles played by elementary teachers; and b) teachers reject the notion that they should compete with their colleagues for raises, privileges and perquisites;
  2. always combined with other criteria (such as absenteeism or extra work) which prove to be the real discriminators between who is rewarded and who is not;
  3. too susceptible to intentional distortion and manipulation to engender any confidence in the data; moreover teachers and others believe that no type of test nor any manner of statistical analysis can equate the difficulty of the teacher's task in the wide variety of circumstances in which they work;
  4. ...elevates tests themselves to the level of curriculum goals, obscuring the distinction between learning and performing on tests;
  5. often a symbolic administrative act undertaken to reassure the lay public that student learning is valued and assiduously sought after.

Most of what I saw in the mid-1980s is true today and is true of the present-day EVAAS system in Houston. Regrettably, point #5 is not so true. Not content to use these systems as mere symbolic window dressing, Houston has actually fired teachers based on their students’ test scores. Is HISD the bellwether of a dawning scientific age? Is it the district with the courage of its convictions? Should the nation look to Houston for leadership in insuring that teacher evaluation must be hard-headed and results-based?

Well, coincidentally, Houston was one of the six school districts that I investigated for my chapter in the Millman & Darling-Hammond handbook. And here is what became of Houston’s early-day effort to reward teachers for their students’ test-score gains.

Rod Paige, who eventually became Secretary of Education for Bush 43, became superintendent of HISD in 1994. But Houston had had a system of teacher incentive pay based on student test scores before Paige ever arrived. Since Paige was also an officer of the HISD from 1989 to 1994 and had co-authored the districts “Declaration of Beliefs and Visions,” his influence may have been responsible for the teacher incentive pay system that antedated his superintendency.

Teachers in Houston elementary schools were being given monetary bonuses—not base salary increases—when the entire school reproduced the previous year’s average test plus an additional increment, say, last year’s growth + 2 months grade-equivalents. The bonuses amounted to a few hundred dollars for each teacher. After a couple years in which the bonuses effectively replaced cost-of-living increases in the salary schedule, the test score gains were bumping up against the ceiling of the test. One or two schools missed their bonuses and tensions were rising.

In the meantime, the flow of money did not go unnoticed by the building administrators. Now principals are “instructional leaders,” or so the story goes. How they find time (or the expertise) to lead teaching while insuring the safety of students and staff, enforce discipline, direct traffic, and field complaints from angry parents is a mystery to me; but perhaps I don’t know what an instructional leader really is. So the principals banded together and approached the HISD administration and asked for their reward for making the test score gains. Only this time, the rewards were $10,000, $12,000, and sometimes $15,000—we’re talking 1985 dollars here too. Within a year or two, a couple of building principals were discovered having taken the test answer sheets into their offices and engaged in some erasing and marking. The entire system blew up and status quo ante was reinstituted.

Are things different now? Has some genius or some software company come up with a new system that is truly “robust and reliable”? And has a system been found that teachers and administrators acknowledge is legitimate and fair so that they will not be tempted to take whatever steps might be necessary not to become victims? And when will we see the value-added system that can be applied to politicians and school board members or even to researchers who invent value-added measuring systems? Or, as such persons regularly argue, is the value of their work so much more complex than that of a teacher of young children that it could not possibly be captured by a clumsy quantitative index?

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

Monday, April 30, 2012

New Orleans and Old Libertarians

Washington Post Op-Ed page staff writer Jo-Ann Armao enthused at length on Friday about the miraculous things happening in the erst-while very public schools of New Orleans in this post-Katrina era. In between gulps of Kool-Aid, Armao wrote about wonderful "turn-arounds" of schools once imprisoned in the grasp of evil teachers unions and inept traditional administrators.
Most of the buzz about the city’s reforms focuses on the banishment of organized labor and the proliferation of charter schools, which enroll nearly 80 percent of public school students, up from 1.5 percent pre-Katrina. But what really distinguishes New Orleans is how government has re­defined its role in education: stepping back from directly running schools and empowering educators to make the decisions about hours, curriculum and school culture that best drive student learning. Now, state and school-district officials mostly regulate and monitor — setting standards, ensuring equity and closing failing schools. Instead of a traditional school system, there is a system of schools in what officials liken to a fenced-in free market. Families have more choice about where their children can best succeed, they say, and educators have more opportunity to choose a school that best aligns with their approach.
OK. The stage is set. The free market in public education has come to post-Katrina New Orleans. And what has resulted? Armao goes on:
Since 2006, New Orleans students have halved the achievement gap with their state counterparts. They are on track to, in the next five years, make this the first urban city in the country to exceed its state’s average test scores. The share of students proficient on state tests rose from 35 percent in 2005 to 56 percent in 2011; 40 percent of students attended schools identified by the state as “academically unacceptable” in 2011, down from 78 percent in 2005.
Nothing short of a miracle, if you believe it; but only a fool would.

Milton Friedman, in one of his last public utterances before he died, called Katrina an "opportunity." "Most New Orleans schools are in ruins as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity.” What he meant, of course, was that the tragedy presented the opportunity to privatize and "charterize" the New Orleans public school system. Friedman was being perfectly consistent with what he had written in 2002 about the use of "crises" to open the door to favored reforms. "Only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That … is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive … until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

There is much that is shocking in Friedman's insensitivity and cynicism, not the least of which is that his comments imply that mere "perceived crises" (not necessarily "real"?) can present the opportunity to implement a radically different political philosophy. We have had enough of "manufactured crises" in the business of education reform.

But back to Armao. Yes, things might be different in the New Orleans public schools, but attributing those differences to free-market reforms is ludicrously naive. What happened from pre- to post-Katrina was a dramatic shift in the city's demographics. Between the 2000 Census and the 2010 Census, the population of New Orleans changed like so:

New Orleans Population Change, 2000—2010, by Race
Race 2000 2010 % Change
Non-Black 156,000 137,000 –12%
Black 329,000 207,000 –37%

More than one in every three Black persons in New Orleans was displaced from the city by Katrina, because they lacked the resources to return after the hurricane or because they lived in the wards most severely affected by the flood. About one in ten non-Black persons (overwhelmingly non-Hispanic White) was similarly displaced.

Any attempt to draw a conclusion about charter schooling or free-market reforms from pre-Katrina vs post-Katrina test score comparisons would be a good exercise for a Freshman course in logic. That the Op-Ed page of the Washington Post fails at such an exercise should be both surprising to readers and embarrassing to the editorial staff.

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

When Will the Cyberschooling Giants Start Acquiring EMOs?

For the past few weeks, I have been corresponding with some film producers who—encouraged perhaps by the commercial success of "Waiting for Superman"—have an inkling that some very important things are happening with public education in America...some things like crony capitalism, and an economy shifting to public risk and private profit. Recently they asked me whether the virtual schools trend was important. I offered the reply copied below.

Is the advent of online schools for elementary and secondary school students one of the biggest stories in public education today?

The emergence and growth of cyberschools at the k-12 level is a great story because it tugs at the heart strings: little kids—6, 7, 8 years old—staring at the PC screen for hours, alone or with a sibling, their intellectual development entrusted to a parent whose moral outrage is not matched by their intellectual curiosity or mastery of even the simplest school subjects? Yes, that is truly awful. My daughter once had neighbors who were homeschooling their children, and she could see that the kids spent most of the day in the backyard on a trampoline. And homeschoolers are among the biggest source of customers for the cyberschool companies—homeschoolers and potential dropouts.

But cyberstudents still constitute a very small slice of the total k-12 population. One could argue that they are currently getting more attention than they deserve because their situation is so striking. If their numbers reach 300,000 students, that’s just 0.6% of the public school population (300,000/50,000,000). Nonetheless, the brazenness of the commercial companies—primarily K12 Inc.—does make cyberschools a compelling story.

Incidentally, you may want to look into whether the military recognizes an online school diploma. Last I heard, it did not.

Although k-12 cyberschools are still a tiny slice of the public school population, charter schools are not. In some states—Arizona for example with 540 charter schools enrolling 135,000 students; Colorado with 185 schools and 80,000 students—charter schools are enrolling about 10% of the public school population. And although that movement started out with idealistic visions of brilliant young teachers and highly motivated students, it is devolving into a shoddy business with increasing numbers of charter schools operated by profit-making Education Management Organizations (EMOs).

Now the cyberschool companies use the charter school laws to make their money. It’s obvious if you think about it. So can alliances and mergers between the biggies—K12 Inc and Pearson (Connections)—and the EMOs be far in the future? For a report on the state of the EMOs, see .

Currently in the U.S., there are approximately 5,500 charter schools enrolling more than 1.7 Million students. That works out to about 1,700,000/50,000,000 = 3.4% of all the k-12 school children in the nation. Now if we strike a “price” of about $10,000 per student—the current average expenditure in the U.S. for a k-12 student—we can see that the charter school business is a $17 Billion market (“B”, not “M”). In 2010-2011, EMOs managed about 1,900 charter schools enrolling approximately 750,000 students in Kindergarten through grade 12. These three-quarter million EMO-managed charter school students represent a $7.5 Billion market for the cyberschool industry. K12 Inc., the big shot in the cyberschool business, has annual revenues just more than a half billion dollars.

What should we expect then? Obviously, the big players—K12 Inc. and Connections—must already be looking to acquire some of the small EMOs. Stock-holders expect such things, particularly when a major player like K12 Inc. disappointed them mightily in November 2011 when its stock price dived 50% from $37/sh to $18/sh, not coincidentally after the October release of a critical policy brief by the National Education Policy Center focused on cyberschools generally and an article in the New York Times focused specifically on K12 Inc.

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Conservatives, ALEC, and Vouchers Lose—Temporarily—in Arizona

Governor Brewer (R-AZ) caused a bill to be killed that would have greatly expanded the Arizona voucher program. Enacted a few years ago, the program gave vouchers, pegged at 90% of the average per pupil expenditure, to handicapped children’s parents that could be redeemed at any private school. The Arizona Supreme Court routinely approves of such legislation. In Fall 2011, only 75 vouchers were issued statewide. Perhaps most private schools would rather not deal with handicapped students, and those that do deal with them well cost considerably more than $8,000 per year. So legislators came back this session with a bill to expand the program to included “gifted” children. Since all God’s children are gifted in one way or another, the bill killed by Brewer would have enormously expanded the program and created a market niche for private schools: the “gifted” children of middle-class families.

Giftedness has such an absurd history in American education that basing any legislation on it is a joke. The pressure exerted by parents on administrators to label their child “gifted” results in multiple definitions–soon “gifted” is expanded to “gifted and talented”–so that ultimately the wave of giftedness has to be controlled by placing a statistical limit on the use of the label. (Many years ago while studying the distribution of “emotionally disturbed” students across states, I noticed that Utah had the highest rate of EMD pupils in the nation. That did not comport with my own stereotype of the Beehive State, so I investigated. I found out that the vigorous efforts of professionals in the state had prompted the Utah Legislature to place a cap of 3.5% on the percentage of students who could be labeled EMD, and lo and behold, 3.5% of the students in the Utah public schools were diagnosed as emotionally disturbed.)

Bills like the attempted expansion of the Arizona voucher program are probably lifted directly from the model legislation disseminated by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is the source of most of the business-friendly legislation making its way around the country these days. Wikipedia says quite accurately that “The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a politically conservative 501(c)(3) nonprofit policy organization, consisting of both state legislators and members of the private sector, mostly representing corporations. ALEC's mission statement describes the organization's purpose as the advancement of free-market principles, limited government,federalism, and individual liberty.” ALEC’s budget amounts to roughly $7 Million a year, but only 1% of that total comes from state legislator members; the rest comes from large corporations. Among ALEC’s recent pushes has been the attempt to get legislatures to pass voter identification laws in preparation for the 2012 general election. For example, potential voters in Texas will be able to cast their ballot in November if they present identification in the form of a gun permit but not a college student ID card. Coca-Cola and Pepsi withdrew their financial support of ALEC this week.

Governor Brewer has promised her conservative backers that she will revisit the expansion of the voucher program question this summer after the state budget is set.

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

Thursday, March 29, 2012

High Button Shoes and Education Reform

As a very young child, I was fascinated by my grandmother’s collection of button hooks. It was the mid-1940s and high button shoes had been out of style for decades. She collected the hooks that were used to pull the tiny buttons through the holes that ran up the sides of the ladies’ shoes back in the early 20th century.
Often made of silver with decorative handles of porcelain or glass, the hooks made for an attractive display.

Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, his long-time partner at Berkshire-Hathaway, also had a connection to shoe buttons. Munger’s grandfather had managed to corner the market on shoe buttons back around 1900. The grandfather exercised a virtual monopoly over their production and sale. Emboldened by his business acumen, the old man grew to believe that he not only knew more than anyone about shoe buttons but that he knew more than anyone about anything—and he preached and proclaimed at length on such. Munger and Buffett named the syndrome the Shoe Button Complex, and they encountered it frequently in their dealings with successful business practitioners.

Now Buffett struggled assiduously to avoid developing the Shoe Button Complex. As one of the richest persons in the world, the temptation to succumb would surely have been great. He was careful to restrict his actions and speaking to what he called his Circle of Competence. He recognized that there were a limited number of things he could know well, and he did not presume to act as though he was expert of those things lying outside the Circle.

Buffett’s recognition of his Circle of Competence led to some surprising decisions as he approached and passed his 80th birthday. He did not understand the emerging digital technology, and while the masses were losing their shirts trading high tech companies, Buffett was buying stocks in railroads and underwear manufacturers. Poseurs with enormous Circles of Competence scorned the old man when he reminded them that in the past 120 years in the U.S. more than 1,000 automobile manufacturers came and went, leaving just four. Buffett’s rise to the top of the list of the world’s billionaires left him with a problem as he saw the end of his career approaching. How does one with a small Circle of Competence give away tens of billions of dollars to some good end?

Bill Gates and the Shoe Button Complex

Buffett startled the world when he announced a few years ago that he was leaving his great wealth to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Buffett spoke thus in addressing the question of why he turned over his philanthropy to the Gateses:

Bill Gates is the most rational guy around in terms of his foundation. He and Melinda are saving more lives in terms of dollars spent than anyone else. They’ve worked enormously hard on it. He thinks extremely well. He reads thousands of pages a year on philanthropy and health care. You couldn’t have two better people running things. They have done incredible work, they’ve thought it through, their values are right, their logic is right. (p. 768 in The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life)
Well, Buffett’s decision presents us with a conundrum. If he is not competent to determine the worthwhile recipients of his beneficence, then how is it that he knows that the Gates Foundation is dispensing beneficences in a worthwhile way?

Education is an arena particularly prone to attracting Shoe Button Complexes. Everyone has been to school; everybody thinks they know what is wrong with schools.

And so we come to the question, How is the Gates Foundation doing these days? This question is of more than passing interest on account of the fact that the Foundation is dispensing roughly $400 Million a year to education related causes. Moreover, some utterances by the benefactors have raised eyebrows among groups that have long made the search for understanding education their preoccupation. For example, Melinda Gates startled her interviewer on an NPR program in 2007 when she seemed to suggest that 100% of high school students should continue their education into college.

(Interviewer) I just want to ask you about a statement on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Web site that I read, which is that, "All students in the United States can and must graduate from high school, and they must leave with the skills necessary for college, work, and citizenship." I think everyone would agree that they better leave with the skills for citizenship because everyone can vote at age 18, and we urge them to. College. Can we reasonably expect 100 percent of high school students to become college students?

(Melinda Gates) Yes, I think we can. And, in fact, I'm here today in the Chicago school district visiting with students – huge number of Latinos and African-American populations, and guess what? I'm in schools where 95 to 98 percent of these kids are going on to college, and it's because they started freshman year with teachers who believe in them and said, 'These kids can do it.' …

(Interviewer) That would be a dramatic increase of the share of high school students, if 100 percent went on to college. I mean, you would be effecting an enormous social change if you could reach – (Melinda Gates) Correct, and that is the idea.

(Interviewer) How many years do you think it would take to achieve that particular – (Melinda Gates) I think it is going to take us quite a while. I think that this is a long-term effort and I think it's one that the foundation is going to be at for a very long time. ... (See the entire transcript here.)

We may be looking at a Circle of Competence problem here. And the situation may not be much better with her husband, who teeters dangerously close to the edge of a Shoe Button Complex. Bill Gates has referred to Diane Ravitch as “public enemy #1” of effective education. Whether either Diane Ravitch or the nation’s schools fall within his Circle of Competence is questionable. A few years ago when Gates testified to Congress on the current state and future of American education, he spent most of his time complaining about difficulties in obtaining visas and green cards for young tech employees of Microsoft. That his interest might be stronger in promoting the health of this business than in promoting the development of the nation’s children may be understandable. After all, what does the richest man in America really know about the needs of the nation’s children—the vast majority of whom will hold a half dozen low-level jobs during their lifetimes in industries like recreation, food services, child care, health care, and the like?

Now my own Circle of Competence does not extend much past some understanding of what is happening to K-12 public education in America. Thanks to Ken Libby of the National Education Policy Center and his analysis of the Gates Foundation grants to U.S. education, we have at hand new information about what Bill & Melinda Gates consider to be efforts to improve schooling that are worthy of their own and Warren Buffett’s support. The following table shows Libby’s breakdown of where Gates Foundation money for education went in the three years from 2008 through 2010.

Category Total $
Charters $73.1M 7
Alternative Public Schools $97.8M 9
Private Schools $47.4M 4
Small Schools $30.1M 3
School Reforms $61.4M 6
Government Agencies $9.0M 1
Advocacy $116.8M 11
Think Tanks $10.0M 1
Research $78.6M 7
Development $112.6M 10
College/Career Ready $52.4M 5
College Completion $145.4M 13
Common Core $18.5M 2
Early Learning $46.8M 4
Conferences $10.0M 1
STEM $26.0M 2
Human Capital $104.0M 9
Media $17.0M 2
RTTT & i3 $4.7M 0
Other $40.2M 4
Total $1,101.8M 100%

I leave it to the readers to make their own interpretations of the mind-set that lies behind these kinds of allocations. As for me, that mind-set shows little faith in the development of better education for the vast majority of America’s children, particularly children in poverty. It is a mind-set that comes about from drinking the Kool-Aid that the “market” will lead America’s schools to the promise land.

Consider the following example of how money from the Gates Foundation is being spent. A proposed law in Florida named Parent Empowerment was pushed this legislative season by a California-based group called Parent Revolution. Parent Revolution is funded by Gates, the Eli Broad Foundation, and the Walton Foundation. If Parent Empowerment became law in Florida, then 51 percent of the parents in a public school could sign a petition that would give them control of a school and give them the power to decide whether to close it or turn it over to a charter management organization. It is not difficult to see who the true beneficiaries of this bill would be. In fact, the parent Empowerment bill could have been written by lobbyists for the education management industry. (See Diane Ravitch's report on the true parents uprising that defeated this bill that was nonetheless backed by former governor Jeb Bush and current governor Rick Scott.) (Also, see the NEPC report on the EMOs for a revealing look at the breadth of this industry.)

The Gates Foundation support of dubious enterprises didn't start with the Parent Empowerment bill. As Diane Ravitch recently remarked, "The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation puts up the money to ensure that ["Waiting for Superman"] this morality tale of good reformers and bad teachers is shown to state legislatures, to civic groups, to people living in housing projects. The movie itself is financed in part by an evangelical billionaire (Philip Anschutz) who contributes heavily to libertarian and ultra-conservative causes."

The Shoe Button Complex in Arizona

Jan Brewer, Republican governor of Arizona and famous for issuing a tongue wagging to President Obama, appointed Intel ex-CEO Craig Barrett to chair a council—Ready Arizona--to study and recommend public education reform for the state. It is unclear what Barrett knows about education. One suspects that we are encountering another case of the Shoe Button Complex. Barrett is urging businesses to push school reform. His public utterances strike familiar chords: the future of the entire state rests on the test scores of little kids; more science and math majors will attract businesses to the state; it’s a global economy. After all, the public schools are “suppliers” of labor for businesses. And at Intel, “if a supplier didn’t meet our specifications, we would call the supplier and say, ‘Meet our specifications or we will fire you.’” Apparently, Barrett shares his fellow Republican Mitt Romney’s pleasure in firing people.

Of course, what Barrett is actually and unknowingly talking about is crony capitalism: Linking government and business in relationships that favor the economy. Whether the intellectual, moral, physical, and aesthetic well-being of young people is benefited by their education probably never occasions to Barrett and his ilk. Or perhaps "well-being" to Barrett means having acquired a taste for consumerism and a job to support it. In fact, most industry leaders would like to see specialized training pushed down as early in the curriculum as possible so that high school graduates appear in their HR departments job-ready, trained at public expense. And if training kids for Intel just happens to involve piping a bunch of online courses into Arizona public schools, well so much the better since Barrett also serves on the board of K-12 Inc., the nation’s #1 supplier of cyber-courses. Whether the former CEO of Intel knows everything there is to know about selling microprocessors AND education, or whether this is merely another manifestation of the Shoe Button Complex remains to be seen.

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

Monday, March 19, 2012

How the Rich Get Richer—Arizona’s Tuition Tax Credits

The Arizona Tuition Tax Credit has been the subject at this blog on a couple of occasions. In its early form it drew the incredulous attention of scholars who questioned both its legality and its fairness (See Welner & Moses in References).

In 1998, the law allowed tax payers to direct up to $200 of their state income tax indebtedness to a public school to be used for extra-curricular activities. (The $200 extra-curricular thing was really just a sop to opponents of the main section of the bill, which now allows a $2,000 tax credit contribution to a private and/or religious school for tuition.) Glen Wilson calculated that in the first year of the program approximately $6 Million were contributed to a total of about 900 public schools. The per student donation was $8.80--nothing much to get excited about. But the program has grown amazingly large. Modifications of the law have raised the contribution limit to $400 for a couple filing their tax return jointly and permitted the money to be spent on character education programs.

Tens of millions of dollars of state tax indebtedness are now directed to public schools in Arizona. As one might expect, the money is hardly distributed equitably. Let’s take a look at a half-dozen schools in a single school district (Scottsdale Unified School District) that differ greatly in the socio-economic level of their attendance areas, and, as a result, differ greatly in how they are benefiting from the tax credit program. In the table below, four K-5 elementary schools and two 9-12 secondary schools are shown along with their enrollments, total contributions, per pupil contribution and typical housing prices of their attendance areas.

Total $
# Pupils$/Pupils
House Prices
Tonalea (K-5)$15,150550$28 $25,000 to $200,000
Tavan (K-5) $23,800770$31$200,000 to $300,000
Hopi (K-5)$70,300770$91$1,000,000 to $2,000,000
Kiva (K-5)$87,350770$113$500,000 to $5,000,000
Coronado (9-12)$121,5001,300 $93$100,000 to $200,000
Chaparral (9-12) $404,9501,900 $213$500,000 to $5,000,000

Tonalea and Tovan draw students from lower middle-class attendance areas and collect roughly $30 per student, while Hopi and Kiva are collecting 3 and 4 times that much. The former state superintendent of schools sent her children to Kiva, where one took a trip to Catalina Island on tax credit funds in the earliest days of the program. At the secondary school level the inequity is huge—more than a $100 per student difference in contributions. Coronado is a low-income high school receiving less than $100 per pupil under the tax credit program while Chaparral enjoys contributions topping $200 per student.

And so once again our legislators and their constituents have brought the Matthew Principle to the service of their children and their neighborhoods. “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath .” (Matthew 25:29)


Moses, Michele S. (2000) Arizona Education Tax Credit and Hidden Considerations of Justice. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 8(37). Retrieved March 19, 2012 from

Welner, Kevin G. Taxing the Establishment Clause: The Revolutionary Decision of the Arizona Supreme Court in Kotterman v. Killian. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 8(36). Retrieved March 19, 2012 from

Wilson, Glen Y. (2000) Effects on Funding Equity of the Arizona Tax Credit Law. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 8(38). Retrieved March 19, 2012 from

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University