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 cafĂ© 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 exposĂ© 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