When will I use science?

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/24/us-usa-neanderthal-cloning-idUSBRE90N05720130124

Previously I wrote a blog piece on Algebra as it is the fundamental and critical aspect of education which allows one to most ‘likely’ excel.  Algebra is the quintessential  beginning of abstract thinking with which students move on to a more open, questioning mind.  Math is the language of science…..

With common core standards coming down the pike in the U.S. public education system, it behooves us to think about how one will use science knowledge, which is based on the language of maths. I would like to broadly apply how science benefits us and assists in a life well lived. Above and beyond, I would like to put the kibosh on some of the ardor people find in misconstruing hypothesis for theory for fact and calling it knowledge, an abhorrence to even novice scientists.

Daily I use the most basic concepts of hypothesis vs. theory vs. fact vs. opinion when I listen to the news. I am not so naive to believe there is anything as perfect as flawless journalism and keep my mind open – to reasonable ideas. Some things which come across me in conversation, computer, newspaper, etc. are just ridiculous and make me pause to wonder who amongst people I know or am acquainted with might be a ‘believer’  (see URL above).  I pause as the actual thought in my brain is something along the lines of, “Did you complete Algebra?” and I need to restrain myself from saying what is making me smile.

If we are to actually ‘arrive’ in the 21st Century, we will need to start thinking as though we are in the 21st Century and stop relying on misguided beliefs which brought us The Salem Witch Trials, The Scopes Monkey Trial and the five (or ten or 60 ) second rule which was recently clarified by Jillian Clarke at University of Illinois, Urbana -Champaign.   In each instance, people wished to ‘believe’ something not only on the limited knowledge they had on hand at the time, the bigger issue was the lack of continuing to ASK QUESTIONS, which is what all good/great scientists do.

Those who are unwilling to experiment are not ready to accept science as science RARELY calls something a fact:

Just as in philosophy, the scientific concept of fact sometimes referred to as empirical evidence is central to building scientific theories and fundamental questions regarding the natural phenomena of Naturescientific method, scope and validity of scientific reasoning.

In the most basic sense, a scientific fact is an objective and verifiable observation, in contrast with a hypothesis or theory, which is intended to explain or interpret facts.

Various scholars have offered significant refinements to this basic formulation (details below). Also, rigorous scientific use of the term “fact” is careful to distinguish: 1) states of affairs in the external world; from 2) assertions of fact that may be considered relevant in scientific analysis. The term is used in both senses in the philosophy of science.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fact#Fact_in_science

Being closed-minded is limiting ones ability to be creative, ask important questions and think through various ideas (Shrodinger’s Cat). Closing off the power to think is the antithesis to what anyone would wish to do if they wanted self efficacy, empowerment and a better world.

Examples where understanding and using scientific knowledge abound. I will select a few to think about and digest so the conversation can not be waylaid into something other than improving science education and scientific thought in the U.S.

There are many people who are hateful of GMO foods. If you ask these people to compare/contrast the technology used to create gene therapies for people with medical conditions, they are in favor of genetic manipulation. When asked to have discussion/dialogue on these two different yet related  concepts, most people are unable to have said conversation as they lack the basic understanding of genetics and epigenetics although they are sure anything with genetic manipulation must be bad…..unless it cures a health condition.  This should then lead into a conversation on ethics which is every part as necessary since the ability to perform a genetic change/alteration is not permission to do so (even though Der Spiegel felt a certain scientist must be running around looking for a womb to implant Neanderthal DNA recently inserted into an ova….).

As health care changes and improves, people should be allowed more and stronger input into their end of life.  In fact, people should be able to select and elect how they wish to die. Being able to understand the choices requires some degree of science knowledge and ones own risk tolerance. An example is when some one has cancer and is given options of treatment: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, nothing. Each choice has a set of risks and rewards and contains a certain determination regarding how ones life will end from cancer. Some people choose to do surgery if it is clear the doctor feels they can get the tumor out with good margin, they are young enough that anesthesia will not unduly harm them, the surgery can be life-sustaining for a period of time. Some people choose not  to do something so invasive and opt for chemo or radiation. Some people opt for all three until they can no longer take the side effects. Some people do ‘none of the above’. In each case, each person should get to decide for themselves what they feel is best for their quality of life. This is difficult if some one does not understand how the various factors come into play AND know each choice is equally valid and depends upon the person.  The misconstruction of this conversation, where  a doctor and/or medical team educates a patient so they can advocate for their end of life is known as a death panel in some circles…….

We should all be able to make decisions as to the quality of life we live. In this case, we should get to choose if we would like to be able to live long lives where we are healthy and relatively disease free  OR  would  we like a shorter life with more indulgence or even something in between. In order to make the choices, we do need to know what the various activities we do or choose not to do have to do with actuarial tables (those things insurance companies use for so much of their decision-making on risk).  An example would be nutrition. Since both diabetes and obesity are on the upswing, understanding the underlying genetic propensity AND epigenetic factors would help us to some degree in choosing what we eat as living with diabetes is not pleasant.  If we were to actually know the food groups – protein, fats and carbohydrates, we could do better in evaluating information on food packaging which is listed in this format.  We have spent at least my life time talking about milk, meat, vegetables, fruit, beans, legumes, plant, animal, fat……without really ever putting it into a context of what is fat for, what is protein for, simple vs. complex sugars in our diet and how vitamins help us process nutrients. It is difficult to tell some one not to drink soda when they do not understand how the body uses sugar.  Why is this so? Look at a school text-book, which is how most science is taught. You will note sugar (if it is even referred to as carbohydrate) is for energy. This seems logical if you don’t know better and leads to thinking a soda will help a person get through the day, not what the body has to do to process the sugar.

We have created a nation of people taught to read a science book, answer a few questions and move through life. When Harvard University began studying science misconceptions in education, they put together The Private Universe Project. One film was quite telling – it included interviews of Harvard and MIT grads on graduation day in the 1980’s NOT being able to  explain photosynthesis   http://www.learner.org/vod/vod_window.html?pid=77      You watch the movie and immediately understand science has to be something more important and less of a ‘special’ activity.  If we are to get past people thinking we can just go out and find a womb to implant a Neanderthal, we might do well just to learn photosynthesis.

We can do better – we have to leave the books and multiple choice testing behind.  If Algebra is a gateway…..science most definitely is the road we need to walk.

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Why ‘grading’ the teacher is not only wrong, but ineffective. Part II of II Blogs

Gawande, Atul, Personal Best, The New Yorker 3 October 2011  p. 44, 46-50, 51-52

This is Part II of two blogs begun March 2012 which addressed Dr. Gawande (New Yorker Magazine Article). He has a  quest for ‘coaching’ to continue developing  into his Personal Best.  I felt it necessary to analyze the article written by Dr. Gawande in order to address a professional sense of self-reflection, that of a professional surgeon.  Dr. Gawande so thoroughly addressed his personal role in medicine AND all the other potential factors  of medicine that I was compelled to use this as an example.   Dr. Gawande admitted the fault of being human and demonstrated humility in  not being  God.  He noted that the human condition is imperfect yet there is a way to learn and continually improve ourselves over time,  most often with self-reflection and insight from others as it is difficult to view ourselves while being ourselves.

Only by carefully observing other professionals outside the field  of education can we begin to develop a consciousness of  professionalism, what it means to good, better, best, great and so forth and look for tools to apply to the teaching profession.  Focusing only on education assumes the worst case scenario – teachers are distinctly different in the world of humans, but instead of being viewed as deities, in America, they are viewed as pure evil by many, often including their own administrators and the government at state and federal levels.

When we see what others do, we get past the misanthropic view of one group of people (non- teachers)  regarding teachers and notice more of  the similarities between teachers and other professionals.  Once back from the brink of insanity,  we can address the multitude factors which effect the outcomes of education, which are not strictly the result of teacher quality.  Many outcomes in education have everything to do with poverty, parental involvement and  self motivation/will.

If we were to blame only surgeons and doctors for ALL medical outcomes, no one would have surgery any more. It is both a science and an art.  There is not ‘perfection’, rather there are gradations of success based on a whole slew of issues above and beyond the doctor/surgeon.  We may seek perfection –  this involves coaching and improving professional practice.  It is NOT the golden bullet to prevent all problems.  Doctors can not account for your DNA, what you choose to eat, how you choose to take care of yourself.  Doctors have to work with what is presented to them and hope that with their best ministrations, they obtain a positive outcome as they take an oath to do no harm.  In the case of doctors, we need to look from within regarding outcomes of surgery,  because we came to the doctor damaged.

When we grade a teacher, we wish to push results and outcomes on people whom have the least control over what goes on in a child’s life. Teachers have only 40/168 hours, including sleep. Take out sleep (which is substantially important) and you have 40/118 hours assuming kids sleep a 10 hour night. In both cases, 40 hours is very little and yet so much is expected.   Teachers, like doctors, have to work with what is presented to them and hope that with their best ministrations will produce positive outcomes in nine months of the school year of eight-hour school days.  Let me be clear – most kids do not sleep even eight hours a nigh.t Not all school days are actually eight hours so the numbers I present are skewed by things such as testing, minimum days, staying up late at night for a variety of reasons and a multitude of other issues (lockdowns, snow days, illness, etc.).  Grading a teacher on amount of time of ‘influence’ alone is inadequate.

In order to explore  various ideas within education reform, I also sought out different pieces of writing from others who address the ideation of grading teachers.   It is not enough to say something is a  bad or good idea, rather one needs to support different views and perceptions so the discussion can center on what is best for children, not what is best for our sense of power over things we lack control.

As Dr. Gawande indicates, coaching is costly and rarely something schools can afford. It is awkward – in the hospital and in the classroom.  Obtaining coaching can be (and often is viewed outside sports and singing) seen as an admission of failure instead of the converse – an admission of willing to improve.  When coaching is used as punishment in education, it automatically infers substandard performance.  To change the perception of coaching in education will be no different or easier than the exact experience Dr. Gawande addresses at the end of his written piece.   Demonizing teachers does not improve their quality – it does slowly wear them down and destroy them which could not be good for students.

I am done picking at the bone of grading teachers with  a public which hates  teachers, who think denigrating and demeaning teachers (public humiliation/bullying/ exposing student success or failure on our backs) is reform.   This bone is from a  recently dead animal which was left rotting on the street, run over by a car and bits of it are smashed into the concrete. The piece of bone left has tendons and muscle hanging from it, smells of horrible decay and clearly would be of no use to the mammal it came from so we need to start over and not be so willing to kill.  Bloodsport does not ever portend to good.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/04/opinion/sunday/confessions-of-a-bad-teacher.html

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203458604577263603261494594.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

http://scholasticadministrator.typepad.com/thisweekineducation/2012/03/more-wk-value-added-.html#more

http://schoolsofthought.blogs.cnn.com/2012/03/06/my-view-when-did-teacher-bashing-become-the-new-national-pastime/?hpt=hp_bn1

So, to use a quote:

New Yorker Magazine cartoon (5 Dec 2011) by Victoria Roberts: “There’s an elephant in the room and no zookeeper.”

Let’s try to find a better course of action because grading teachers is not working the way we assumed it would.  Here is a smattering of examples of alternative perspectives.  What would be awesome is if the people who hired teachers had as much interest in teacher success as their own rise to power.

Almost all men can stand adversity, but if you want to judge a man’s true character, give him power.   (I have been unable to find the source in order to attribute this quote – if you know it, please comment!)

http://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/the-8-qualities-of-remarkable-employees.html?

http://scholasticadministrator.typepad.com/thisweekineducation/2012/03/thompson-how-is-teaching-different-from-all-other-professions.html

http://scholasticadministrator.typepad.com/thisweekineducation/2012/03/thompson-address-behavior-first.html

http://www.kqed.org/a/radiospecials/R201203292000

https://whereiskatima.wordpress.com/2009/06/28/zagat-type-ratings-at-schools-all-for-it/

When society begins supporting ways for teachers to improve their personal best, obtaining the caliber of teachers  wished for will be in reach.  Brigham and Women’s Hospital in MA and Harvard University are fortunate to have such a self reflective staff member AND some one so willing to share their personal experiences in order to help others.  By supporting Dr. Gawande and his willingness to strive for better, these institutions and patients benefit greatly all the way around.

We would do far more to improve education by creating a positive environment for teachers.   It is our choice – surgically destroy education with reforms that have little to nothing in offering actual  improvement or healing what happens in the classroom by owning our locus of control and assisting teachers in achieving their personal best.

Different and Better Rule Proved Wrong

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/28/education/28school.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hpw

While the author of the article and all the Harvard groupies are looking at the size of the school population, I am reflecting on change which takes immense courage.  Unless you read the article carefully, it is difficult to catch Susan Szachowicz as teacher before becoming Dr. and principal of the school. 

Dr. Susan Szachowicz perhaps demonstrated all her strengths as a teacher, not an administrator.

Then Susan Szachowicz and a handful of fellow teachers decided to take action. They persuaded administrators to let them organize a schoolwide campaign that involved reading and writing lessons into every class in all subjects, including gym.

The change which Brockton HS needed was not from above, but within.  Kudos to the then administration for allowing the teachers to be the change they wanted to see.  This small and subtle idea is what is so often neglected in schools, districts and even in our own government.  Instead of allowing teachers to be changemakers, administrators and above believe their advanced degrees and mandates are of greater value and import than what teachers in the classroom know.  It is this very friction that 3/5 new teachers leave the profession. 

Dr. Szachowicz and Paul Laurino, then the head of the English department — he has since retired — began meeting on Saturdays with any colleagues they could pull together to brainstorm strategies for improving the school.

The group eventually became known as the school restructuring committee, and the administration did not stand in the way. The principal “just let it happen,” the Harvard report says.

In the above quote lies the evidence to demonstrate teachers care and will rise to the occassion and the challenge.  In the next quote is the proof of how internal change works:

After that early triumph, remaining resistance among the faculty gave way, Dr. Szachowicz said. Overnight, the restructuring committee gained enormous credibility, and scores of once-reluctant teachers wanted to start attending its Saturday meetings, which continue today.

Within the interceding paragraphs in the article are all the normal conundrums of a troubled school and yet, the teachers did the change.

Brockton never fired large numbers of teachers, in contrast with current federal policy, which encourages failing schools to consider replacing at least half of all teachers to reinvigorate instruction.

But Dr. Szachowicz and her colleagues did make some teachers uncomfortable, and at least one teacher who refused to participate in the turnaround was eventually dismissed after due process hearings.

The scuttlebut of unions?  Apparently not such a large issue.

But Dr. Szachowicz and her colleagues did make some teachers uncomfortable, and at least one teacher who refused to participate in the turnaround was eventually dismissed after due process hearings.Teachers unions have resisted turnaround efforts at many schools.
Teachers were not treated as incompetent and unable to manage time. Teachers were not sanctioned – their time was respected, something so unique and original it defies explination, most especially at a large school.
But at Brockton, the union never became a serious adversary, in part because most committee members were unionized teachers, and the committee scrupulously honored the union contract. An example: the contract set aside two hours per month for teacher meetings, previously used to discuss mundane school business. 
The committee began dedicating those to teacher training, and made sure they never lasted a minute beyond the time allotted. “Dr. Szachowicz takes the contract seriously, and we’ve worked together within its parameters,” said Tim Sullivan, who was president of the local teachers union through much of the last decade. 
AND

The committee changed many rules and policies.

The school had an elaborate tracking system, for instance, that channeled students into one of five academic paths. It was largely eliminated because the “basic” courses set low expectations for poor-performing students.

Athletics had traditionally been valued above academic success, and coaches had routinely pressured teachers to raise the grades of star players to maintain their eligibility. Dr. Szachowicz said she put an end to any exceptions.

And, the characteristic all teachers know and employ when allowed:

 The report noted one characteristic shared by all: “Achievement rose when leadership teams focused thoughtfully and relentlessly on improving the quality of instruction.”

This article puts all the ‘evidence’ to shame, including charter schools which are anti union, administrators who believe they solely have all the answers and that is why they are the top dog of the school, all the big money outsiders who have convinced the public they know what reformn looks/feels/smells/sounds and tastes like and it requires all the ivory tower eduwonk types to start thinking about the possibility Lamarck may in some ways be correct…….not everything must be Darwinian in nature.

P. S.  If anyone knows the name of the then principal and superintendent, please pass it on to me.  Those two people deserve recognition for amazing foresight at a time when most administrative types follow along.

 

 

 

Shouldn’t we use data for the intended purpose?

http://articles.latimes.com/2010/aug/14/local/la-me-teachers-value-20100815

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/business/economy/05view.html?hpw

When I first heard about The Los Angeles Times doing investigative reporting regarding student annual test scores and the relationship to teachers ability or perceived lack there of, I was listening to NPR and had to get out of the car for work.  The initial way I heard the details caused a mild sense of both frustration and anxiety and then later, when driving home and not hearing any more about the topic, I began to think there was more to this story, which is why NPR did not say much – they were researching and investigating before they reported more details.

Like NPR, I believe the devil is in the details and how one presents an idea and the anticipated outcomes should also include a peek at the potential unintended consequences.  There are two sides to this issue – neither of which is good in any light and both sides of the problem actually having relatively nothing to do with student education so I decided to to talk about the real issues underlying what is going on in hopes some one, some where will read this blog and a light bulb may go on and people will rethink the issue before publishing the mushy data. I am not in the teachers camp nor the school district camp – I am in the camp of the students and trying to determine how the data could be best used appropriately to the value of improving education and student outcomes.

First of all, I keep seeing the word correlation but not causality.  If a person is trying to obtain their PhD at a reputable university, correlation is not considered causality and so, not quite a tight case. The misuse of this word is important in evaluating research and so the lack of seeing the word causality was the first warning flag this was not a circus coming through town, rather a disaster looking for a cliff to launch off of – quickly. I am supporting this with the following out take of The Wall Street Journal:

In a paper last year, University of California, Berkeley economist Jesse Rothstein showed that there is a strong correlation between teachers who score well on these value-added measures one year and how much their students gained the prior year. That implies that teachers who do well in these systems are benefiting from favorable classroom assignments.

 I started thinking about how many lawsuits would begin to clog the courts from now until eternity dealing with any teacher who received tenure and then was booted (or politely asked to leave for the good of the organization in the case of charter schools) based on an accumulation of test data being published in the L.A. Times AND the number of harrassment, libel, etc. suits.  Although I find Michelle Rhees one of the least promising aspects in public  education, at the very least she did not go public with the teachers she fired – for whatever reasons. Kudos to Michelle for not going the extra step of adding insult to injury and, more than anything, avoiding crazy litigation.  There are going to be many principals, assistant superintendents, supes, school board members, etc. called into question for anyone fired after the fact and I would not want to be the person who had signed off on any paperwork stating a teacher was tenured and then, magically, NOT.   My best example includes Principal Suzie Oh and teacher Karen Caruso at Third Street School in Los Angeles.

It seems as I research this issue, everyone, including teachers, is in agreement to use the data for good purposes and many people are worried about the correlation with lack of causation to the point they do not believe individual teachers should be identified publicly.  My own alma mater, Teachers College at Columbia University, funded the project but would not get involved in the analysis….that was odd to me yet also another warning about mis-interpreting data and being the university caught up in the clap trap.

I could not find inciteful comments from any of the big and reputable education schools/education departments – Stanford, the Ivy League, University of Wisconsin, University of Washington, etc.   Amazingly, the charter schools which feast on data have also seemed to step from the fray by making no comments. It would seem to me The Los Angeles Times could get one education contingent on board other than economists (especially since Freakonomics is now a movie) before they become the Lost Angeles Times from the union outrage.

I have now read numerous teacher comments, opinions issued by various key players (all noted in my post tags and the affiliations of the individuals I found in print) and talked with my teacher colleague friends and my own consensus is, be careful what you wish for.  LAUSD may see the data as the best way to clean house and start over while I see something akin to a witch hunt (witch hunts NEVER turn out well according to history).  Publicly shaming teachers is most likely in violation of something regarding confidentiality as the names of students from their classes can be brought into play, and I would not want to see that, however, the courts would.  The can of worms for that issue could get very ugly.

Yes, the data potentially has many beneficial aspects and it can put the whole school district on notice, as a whole entity.  The data can focus laser attention on specific schools and specific grades.  Whatever else the data is used for in the realm of public humiliation so principals, parents, school districts and so on have scape goats in the post NCLB country we inhabit, it does not bode well.  Better to re-run the data and find some causality before going public and destroy the many lives of the very people who only a mere two years ago were slated to get help in improving their practice.   The visual of the ‘frog in the blender’ – the frog’s back against the container and the claws hanging on to the edge while the blade whizzes about is what comes to mind.

Update 10 November 2010: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/10/education/10teacher.html?_r=1&hpw

“Who got the ‘F’? L.A. Times,” chanted the crowd, which was made up mostly of students, teachers and parents from Miramonte Elementary School, where Mr. Ruelas taught fifth grade.

Although the above statement is rhetorical in nature, it bears thought – was it the school principal who failed in adequately coaching Mr. Ruelas?  Was it the HR department for hiring him in the first place? Was it the school board for allowing the LA Times to publish such gut wrenching, anguishing data OR was it the parents of the students who failed to succeed due to bad parenting

We will never know how many students in the class Mr. Ruelas taught were poorly parented and failing Grade 5 for reasons other than his ability as teacher – that data is secretly and securely locked away to protect the underage children.  What we do know is Mr. Ruelas was being held accountable to undo approximately 10 years of bad parenting and potentially five years of bad teaching prior to his arrival on the scene.   There is no other name for this than harrassment. LAUSD and The LA Times ‘failed’ in their professionalism in order to grab public attention.

x(squared)2 + 2x – 8 = 0

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/10/education/10remedial.html?hpw

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/business/economy/05view.html?hpw

Until this morning, I was beginning to think it would not be in my lifetime where anyone thought to compare results, outcomes and unanticipated consequences of educational change in the classroom.  My friends who are teachers and/or  adjunct professors at various community colleges and universities  have shared the sentiment in the above article with me. At first I assumed it was the typical teacher/professor gripe upon grading assignments which indicated we did not teach what we thought we taught and then realized this was not the case.  The complaint was coming from too many different people in too many different places and TOO OFTEN to be an off moment (teachers and professors are merely mortal after all).

At least in a few places, schools of all kinds are being held accountable to what they produced, not just how much they produce……because, in reality, the marketing talk from all schools, especially  charter schools should be much more transparent.   Being able to graduate high school in America is such a low bar it really is not much to be proud of anymore for students or the teachers who help the students get to graduation.  It has been said to me by many teaching friends, there just is not that same level of fulfillment of achievement when students graduate each year.

“You’re always very excited with the kids who are crying on graduation day, assuming they are going on to bigger and better things,” said Josh Thomases, who oversees academic programs for the city’s education department. “But heretofore that assumption has been largely untested.”

“For the school’s own survival you are going to help kids get over that hurdle,” he (Mr. Gaskins) said. “But they may not have a solid enough base to really show they’ve mastered the subject.”

In most school systems, what happens to students like Ms. Croslen after they obtain their diplomas is of little concern. But the New York City Department of Education acknowledges that despite rising graduation rates, many graduates lack basic skills, and it is trying to do something about it.

Considering the data mining we can do for everything else in this country, tracking high school graduates should be simple – probably less complex than anything Fedex or UPS does on a daily basis.

This year, for the first time, it has sent detailed reports to all of its high schools, telling them just how many of their students who arrived at the city’s public colleges needed remedial courses, as well as how many stayed enrolled after their first semester. The reports go beyond the basic measure of a school’s success — the percentage of students who earn a diploma — to let educators know whether they have been preparing those students for college or simply churning them out.

Illinois began tracking how its high school graduates fared in college several years ago, after dismaying reports about freshmen floundering at state schools. Officials in Denver and Philadelphia are now following suit.

Until this article, I was always speculating, based on what I ‘felt’ which was not even a good qualitative measur,e but it was in my gut.   I DO NOT feel vindicated, in fact, I feel horrified to know so few were concerned until now about the quality of students we have been letting graduate.  As I have stated before in other blogs, betraying students and their parents trust in what they believe they are learning is the biggest disgrace of all.

Unfortunately, many teachers and principals are okay with the numbers racket and not being truthful because, at the end of the day, as I have been told, it is just a job and I should not take it so seriously.  For me, education is a serious affair since the students I teach will one day be tailors for NASA uniforms in space exploration, mechanics for electric cars, neurologists with lasers, farmers to feed a nation healthy and local food, etc.  Teaching is not just a job – it is a calling, but not for game players.  I have given up teaching jobs which required too much playing with the grades and/or lying  for the simple reason I have to go home and live with myself and see myself in the mirror in the morning.  My experience with charter schools indicates it is about the API and AYP numbers, which is how the school is judged, not the ultimate outcome of what the students graduating high school go on to achieve.  Thankfully, Arne Duncan and President Obama have indicated I was onto something by stating what is important is how many young adults we GRADUATE FROM COLLEGE.  Now, those are numbers I will watch.

When People Lie About Numbers…..

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/29/education/29scores.html?_r=1&hpw

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/01/education/01schools.html?hpw

and the most recent update:  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/16/nyregion/16gap.html?_r=1&hpw

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/business/economy/05view.html?hpw

even more updates

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/11/education/11scores.html?ref=education

and more updates

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/20/education/20grades.html?hpw

For many years I have personally, publicly and professionally questioned the efficacy and reliability of school testing in the spring.  Anything multiple choice automatically reeks of not know ing much due to the ‘chance’ issue (college statistics is a great course for understanding this phenomenon).  Depending on where one sets the ‘line’ for a pass also has a great deal to do with mediocrity – set the line high and few pass, set the line low and many pass.  The line becomes the definition of success rather than the representation of the line.  This is what NCLB and charter schools brought us – a moving line with justification.  Charter schools never go public to demonstrate how they did exceedingly well compared to the surrounding school district, county, state when something like this occurs – they can not demonstrate the success they have been portraying.

By order of the principal, codified in the school’s teacher handbook, all teachers should grade their classes in the same way: 30 percent of students should earn a grade in the A range, 40 percent B’s, 25 percent C’s, and no more than 5 percent D’s. As long as they show up, they should not fail.   Lynn Passarella

As the case in New York, noted above, demonstrates, standardized testing has its limits and to base much credence on these tests is an attempt to fool the public.  The way the test issue is addressed even seems like something Michelle Rees of Washington D.C. fame would say.  As if calibration of test scores is an acceptable answer for cheating students of an education by expecting less of their parents (in this case, many parents thought their parenting was GREAT and this is why their children were ‘proficient’) is acceptable, at least it is a different place to put the pile of blame (rotating the blame around also confuses people).

It would seem that the ‘great experiment’ of education we have played on our students has had some unintended consequences which will be difficult to undo or re-do as the case may be. Rather than feeling vindicated in any way, I am deeply troubled that I was correct in what I have said over the years and had to pay a high price for what I believed.  Not only am I (and many teachers across the country) paying the price now by evaluation systems completely lacking in inherent integrity, I will pay later when the self same students who were professed to be proficient and are not, do not get to college and succeed. I only have half of my working life left……not enough time to turn around what has been going on for 50 years. 

It takes approximately 50-100 years to undo 10 consecutive years of not or improperly educating a population. You do the numbers.

As of 10 PM Pacific Time on 1 August 2010, it does not appear anyone is taking this issue to seriously – see NYTimes article number two above.  I do have to give kudos to all the spin doctors, especially from charter schools who are and will continue to use this issue as a grand manipulation instead of owning up to the fact they tried to play the game better than the rest –

At the main campus of the Harlem Promise Academy, one of the city’s top-ranked charter schools, proficiency in third-grade math dropped from 100 percent to 56 percent.

“There are two reactions those of us in this business can have,” said Geoffrey Canada, the chief executive of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which operates the school. “One is to complain, and it’s human nature to do that. The other is to say we need to do something dramatically more intensive and powerful to prepare our kids. We are going to look at the mirror and say we have got to do better.”

In New York City, charter schools, a touchstone of school reform, had been outperforming traditional schools on state tests. But due to steep losses, they are now even with traditional schools on the English test, though they maintained an advantage in math. Statewide, the proficiency rate for charter schools is now one point lower in math and 10 points lower in English than at traditional schools.

Again, what I find so deeply disturbing is how the lies have played out on students and parents and all I can think of is Caveat Emptor, which seems so hollow since charter schools ARE public education.  If this were Wall Street having to rewrite numbers, heads would roll.  The good part of this (there is always a silver lining) is surely employment for PR will increase exponentially to solve this problem.

Veneer

This morning became a somewhat involved research project and philosophy review, mixed with morality and sprinkled by determining my level of desperation for full time employment.  As with all good thinking and then writing, it is important to make sure you are using the correct vocabulary for what you are explaining/describing.  In addition, it is important to have appropriate verbiage by other learned people who are more adept at explaining difficult concepts you wish to explore. 

 Since this is the age of ‘technology’ and this piece is not being submitted for grade or transcript (more on this specific reference later), I chose to use the lesser, immediately available computer resources.  I am not attempting to diminish the quality of the content supplied via on line sources;  I want people to understand the nature of the selection of sources.

One of three definitions supplied by Merriam-Websters Online Dictionary for the word veneer:

 a superficial or deceptively attractive appearance, display, or effect : facade, gloss <a veneer of tolerance>

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_Sigma

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_quality_management

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_conflict_theory

The ruling class exploits and oppresses the subject class. As a result there is a basic conflict of interest between the two classes.

When I think of veneer, I tend to immediately use the Ikea example – great, cheap and purposeful but ultimately disposable furniture which tends to have a limited life span.  Typically Ikea uses a nice quality veneer to finish off anything with wood and often times they do use whole wood (not processed ply or particle) and it serves the immediate purpose well – although the amount of ‘free’ Ikea this, that and the other on Craigslist can cause concern around the concept of disposable – not as disposable as a baby diaper but less disposable than Duncan Phyfe.  

Using the analogy above of Ikea, I tend to look at charter schools through this lens.  Charter schools meet the American societial need of instant gratification through a deceptively attractive appearance (most notably the ‘web site’), often at a previously used school site or industrial facility which has been modified to meet the standards of today in relationship to everything from asbestos, lead paint to technology and fire doors.   There is an organized display of student work, print outs and graphs of grades, citizenship and other ephemera, but the school is, well, a school with a veneer.  

I would feel differently about charter schools if, and this is the huge if, they were not a business model.  A not for profit business model is

 A non-profit organization (abbreviated as NPO, also known as a not-for-profit organization) is an organization that does not distribute its surplus funds to owners or shareholders, but instead uses them to help pursue its goals. – Wikipedia

Since charter schools operate as a business venture, they are most tied to standard business practices which can include profitablity or return on investment. Although I don’t believe any charter school has been able to ‘reinvest’ its monies into its own programs (hence the never ending search for funding), the return on investment component is actually an emotive model with no data to support it.  Charter schools operate under the ideology that they make society better by educating more students and put more appropriately educated and trained people into the workforce (via college and/or tradeschool). 

There are exactlyfour measures of success which can be evaluated at any school (regular public, charter public or private): (1) grades and standardized test grades (2) student longevity at a particular school (3) staff longevity (4) ending up with extra funds at end of the school year.  All schools are implicitly expected to prepare students for future success and community membership by obtaining a job via a trade or professional designation.

All other factors vary greatly since charter schools are often not just community schools, but schools of choice and parents figure out how to get their child to a school of their choice in the same manner as a private school.  Charter schools use the same state standards, textbooks, curriculum and off the shelf literacy and math intervention packages.  Currently, most schools of all types now use similar food purveyors.   Although charter schools state the economic and racial facts of their school, these are based both on composition by immediate community members and those parents who get their children to said school so there may not be the same variability of a school in an area which serves a larger, broader community.

Once you get past the previous two paragraphs, a charter school is veneer based on how well their development department can do fund raising and how well the marketing department can attract attention.  Being a not for profit even sounds ‘nice’ although it is a form of a business model in the same vein as a religious organization (Jewish, Muslim, Christian, B’hai, Bhuddist and so on, to give examples) who uses any monetary resources to further their own ideology by putting the money back into their own business venture.

Although charter schools are supposed to be governed by community members and not the school district, these lines are often blurred through political issues, facility sharing, economies of scale and other factors which help businesses function within budget.   Since almost no one knows what a charter school is (including teachers at the school and parents of students attending the school) except an ‘alternative’ it is rare to find oversight of any degree and most of the oversight comes in the form of business as opposed to educational since it is difficult to regulate and make any sense of a determination about a school with less than five years of test scores. 

 In the gray areas of whether a charter school is a school or a business, many, many interesting things happen and it is this lax environment where many charter schools thrive and provide a particularly virulent ideology which actually, due to the veneer, sounds wonderful but belies some moderately distasteful issues.   http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/26/education/26charters.html?ref=charter_schools

 This piece caught my attention a week ago and I am inserting it here to help others understand the charter school navigational issues BEFORE I address my experiences  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/04/us/04bccharter.html?ref=education

When you read the article mentioned above, you should note the following:

CAVA schools rely on the honor system because, short of fingerprint or facial recognition, there is no way to be sure who is tapping at the keyboard.

K12 reports that its students test “near state averages,” according to documents filed with the S.E.C. Last year, at CAVA’s San Mateo school, 57 percent of students achieved proficiency or above in English; 33 percent were proficient or advanced in math. Nearly 30 percent of the high school students drop out, which is higher than the state average of 24 percent.

Oversight for California public charter schools falls to the authorizing districts. Although the Jefferson Elementary School district reviews CAVA’s curriculum and its budget, it lacks the manpower to verify the records.

“We have to take their word for it (grades),” said Enrique Navas, assistant superintendent of business services at the district. “It’s a paper review.”  *

He added that there was minimal overhead and minimal (financial) accountability.-Luis Huerta **

*  and ** are important for the following: If San Mateo USD can not afford to do the ‘paper review’, I can guarantee, Oakland, SFUSD, etc. lack the manpower and money to do the paper review, which means, trust becomes a big deal……… http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/11/education/11cheat.html?hpw   and if teachers and principals cheat, I can guarantee parents cheat.   And, I might add, the cheating is not just with on line charter schools as I have had experiences with free standing charter schools where teachers and administrators cheat to improve test scores.

Cheating is interesting in that it is not just test scores which are manipulated. Cheating can be grades given (inflated), cheating can be giving credits/units at high school, college and so on.  Cheating, as defined, is  (1)  to deprive of something valuable by the use of deceit or fraud
(2)  to influence or lead by deceit, trick, or artifice  (3)  to elude or thwart by or as if by outwitting.

Charter schools use a very proper and good natured veneer, full of purpose and nice colors to cheat in multiple ways.  I will address the ones I have been privy to so I can get back to the issue of grades and/or transcripts noted in the opening.

(1) In Oakland, a charter school where the principal specifically told the RSP teacher in a staff meeting (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) it was okay to talk to a parent and assure her it was okay that her daughter, who was special needs, not struggle with the standardized testing and could request in writing for her daughter not to take the test.  It was also noted the RSP teacher could speak to parents of other students in similar circumstances.   Said charter school is now working at amping up its special ed program as it somehow found out a school can not have parents dismiss an IEP at a charter school, merely because the school is a ‘school of choice’ and lacks funding for adequate implementation of an IEP.

(2) Perpetual release question review and special test prep just prior to spring testing.

(3) Tubing by teachers and principal. If you do not know what this is, please read NY Times article above. It is common practice in public schools and has been done as long as I have been teaching.

(4) Grade inflation, whereby you( in my case math and science teacher)  are instructed by your principal at end of semester(s) to ‘manipulate’ the data in such a way the numbers show more students ‘passing’ and moving on to next grade, even when they may be in a literacy and/or math intervention program.  There is a program called Grade Pro which will let you configure the grade cuts such that on a scale of 1-10, you could make a cut at 8.95 instead of 9 and that would put at least one more student over the top….., offer a struggling student an alternate assignment to make up within 48 hours of grades being done – an assignment that can, in effect demonstrate a semesters worth of learning but not be too difficult.

(5) Independent study packets which are not graded for quality of answers (as in, does the student get “it”) but a type of crystal ball ‘global’ I feel method is applied because the population is not in one place very long and they need to get their high school diploma credits.  A student can obtain a diploma IF TEACHERS ATTEST to their passing the content and essentially use any type of ‘assessment’ they choose.  Passing the CAHSEE, spring testing, etc. are other items whereby the CAHSEE can be taken over and over until passed to provide the documentation of at least 4-8th Grade level literacy and math (algebra).   Passing the CAHSEE is a new requirement for a high school diploma, however, it can be obtained without ever effectively going to school.  I witnessed this particular foible this past week while looking into a potential new job.  When I realized what the game was about (the independent study school is specifically for parolees), I could not participate as it merely reinforces the victimization of the very same population ( this school did it around the veneer of restorative justice) which has been played by the system forever. Further reinforcing the system is about jumping through hoops, not really being functionally literate or having math skills, is not what I am about, no matter how nice the veneer.

(6) Resetting the baseline of test scores by creating a ‘new’ school, for example a charter school.  It takes one year for each grade to get a baseline. The next year is when growth must begin to be demonstrated. Resetting the baseline is great for school districts which have schools that are on the list of not having adequate AYP growth as it gives a reprieve to the students and staff whether or not the staff is actually reconfigured.

(7) And the best scam of all, the one charter schools are really successful at because they are in fact a business which does grant writing for additional funding – fudging the evaluation data ( Funders want to know that their dollars actually did some good. So decide now how you will evaluate the impact of your project. Include what records you will keep or data you will collect, and how you will use that data.)  to the organization who ‘fronted’ the money for your program.     Charter schools are wonderful at the touchy/feely veneer and great at creating manipulated statistics alongside standardized test scores to ‘demonstrate’ how much good the funding was for the students.  As a general rule, charter schools cull the data at the last possible minute, have the development director make it nice (and make nice to the organization which supplied the money) and provide self referential anecdotals.  

At the end of the day, it is actually my wonder if charter schools do anything differently or better except for marketing, fund raising and veneer.  Since I have only been able to find data regarding how many students are in college at various points through www.completecollege.org,  I am not sure charter schools are better. What I do know is they are equally culpable of cheating and in some cases, since they have more at stake, more egregious in areas of data.

Sadly, I have been accused of not being a ‘player’ because I will not go along with the various games at school of grade inflation, manifestations of ‘cheating’ or just making the data sing.  Due to this issue, if I were to name names of specific people and schools who do, I would have the equivalent of a fatwah (by some local school districts) placed on me for speaking freely and truthfully about my experiences both within charter schools and regular public schools.  You become dangerous if you actually ask questions and ‘know’ what is going on.  So, when the burden gets to be too much, I leave rather than succomb to the pressure and games I am asked to play to get those numbers and test scores up.  Being moral has a correlation with being unemployed….

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/business/economy/05view.html?hpw