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