Where are my social dividends?










Forewarning: I do not have a strong statistical background so I am always skeptical when I read something as I need to think about and evaluate the information a bit longer than others to make sure I understand. If I miss a detail, please be kind enough to send a correction.

Charter schools are a business entity. They are considered non-profit due to how they re-apply their ‘earnings’ instead of giving the earnings to shareholders. In what one might call a twist up of words, non-profits are supposed to be for the benefit of the community which is why they have certain tax advantages, etc. This means instead of being an individual shareholder obtaining dividends, you in effect become a stakeholder in your community and should receive the type of social dividends which benefit your community and make it better.

 With this in mind, I find it important for charter schools to be accurate in reporting their statistics in the same manner a for profit corporation on the NYSE reports. There are GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) rules and any accountant should be able to read and interpret the information in the same way if the books are not cooked and the aim of the company is not to mislead the shareholders. Unfortunately, charter schools are by and large allowed manipulate the books in a variety of ways (this includes grant reporting and ADA monies) and they do. This then allows them to also manipulate and actually distort the data as there are even less people willing to spend the time on non-financial information evaluations.  Charter schools follow ‘data’ on how to appeal to specific groups of people as indicated by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey  which was conducted June 21 through July 22, 2013. This data demonstrates how different categories of parents think, hence, it is easier to market targeted materials.

 The issue at hand is how charter schools report out students who go to college, graduate college and indeed produce a social dividend for a community.  This is how all great non-profits should be evaluated. Unfortunately, charter schools have never been called to prove the social dividend. I had to question this issue as I worked for a charter school and later continued questioning the morality and ethics of charter schools based on what I now know about the background story.  The story of self promotion to those who wish to promote charter schools rarely matches the reality, thus, there must be a marketing department to distort and mis-convey the facts.

Here is another look at data from a different view.

According to Jill Tucker over at The San Francisco Chronicle, I should note there is a difference  between college ready, expecting to get a high school diploma or taking the GED.  I believe this is called journalist clarity.

In 2009, about 600 African American males started high school in the Oakland school district with Thomas and Olajuwon. Of those, an estimated 80 to 100 graduated college-ready. Another 200 were expected to get their diplomas, but not with UC or CSU admission requirements. Others took the GED, or would continue in adult school. Still others spent time in jail.

During those same four years, 31 Oakland public school students ages 11 to 19 were killed across the city. Most of them were shot and most were African American males.

I note this as college ready does not mean the same thing as going to college, completing college, obtaining a degree and providing social dividend.  For charter schools to actually do something different from any other public school, they need to produce the same amount or greater of students who actually attend college and graduate as every other public school in America is charged with getting students college ready – the goal of public education.  This being said, it should be easy peasy for Aspire Public Schools (the largest in California) and KIPP to produce statistics which demonstrate this trend.  This, to my knowledge has not occurred. In fact, what has occurred is the actual removal from Aspire Public Schools of the map showing where their graduates go to college and no evidence can be found on the website for how many students (after 20 years in business) have graduated college, producing a societal dividend substantially different from other public schools.

Out on 21 August 2013 is data from ACT showing:

“The readiness of students leaves a lot to be desired,” said Jon Erickson, president of the Iowa-based company’s education division.

The ACT reported that 31 percent of all high school graduates tested were not ready for any college coursework requiring English, science, math or reading skills. The other 69 percent of test takers met at least one of the four subject-area standards.

Just a quarter of this year’s high school graduates cleared the bar in all four subjects, demonstrating the skills they’ll need for college or a career, according to company data. The numbers are even worse for black high school graduates: Only 5 percent were deemed fully ready for life after high school.

The report’s findings suggest that many students will struggle when they arrive on campus or they’ll be forced to take remedial courses — often without earning credits — to catch their peers.

The data reveal a downturn in overall student scores since 2009. Company officials attribute the slide to updated standards and more students taking the exams — including many with no intention of attending two- or four-year colleges.

Under ACT’s definition, a young adult is ready to start college or trade school if he or she has the knowledge to succeed without taking remedial courses. Success is defined as the student’s having a 75 percent chance of earning a C grade and a 50 percent chance of earning a B, based on results on each of the four ACT subject areas, which are measured on a scale from 1 to 36 points.

My sense would be every charter school in the U.S. would wish to report out their great ACT and SAT scores for the reason it resonates to some extent the READINESS for any college coursework requiring English, science, math or reading skills.  Any charter school should be tooting their horn regarding the average scores of their students.

I do not have the documentation (hopefully as you read this, you will be able to supply it to me if you know the piece I am referring to), however, I did hear a piece on KQED which regarded how getting a student to college is not enough. In fact, not all colleges are the same and getting children of color to college if the college is not top tier, does not improve rocking the boat and changing the social dividends – in stead it perpetuates it as status quo.

Aspire Public Schools has managed to use data from CREDO (The Center for Research on Education Outcomes – Stanford University) in an odd context. When I read the full report, noted in the URL above, there is a distortion of how one would perceive what is in the full report vs. the carefully selected portions Aspire pulled out to use.

CREDO uses data to show the minute detail of how charter schools have developed their students over time in comparison to other similar schools.  In looking at the data over a 20 year time period, there is an improvement although I would be negligent in stating this improvement is earth shattering or worth of great praise. I will let the data speak for itself.

The national study shows the following for reading and math: Although there is study improvement, 56% of charter school students have no significant difference in reading scores as measured by CREDO than regular public school students. 25% have shown a significant improved difference and 19% show a significantly worse difference.   There is no specific data from Aspire as they are lumped into the national study. In either way, they neither benefit from or substantially detract from the rather sad statistics.

If I break this down, it means only 25% of students in charter schools have shown gains while 75% of students in charter schools were comparable or worse……..Is the effect of changing 25% of students enough social dividend in reading? Should the amount of students positively effected be greater as Aspire has been around for 20 years. Aspire touts how they have the best teachers, systems and data….the statistics are not demonstrating, in my mind, substantial social dividends which I could not have gotten with just improving the public schools over all.

For math, the data is even worse. 40% of charter school students showed no significant difference in gains for math, 31% of students in charter schools fared significantly worse and 29% of students fared better. This means 29% of students in charter schools nationally had improvement while 71% fared the same or worse. Again, this is not sufficient data to show any charter school has leveraged a better system overall.

When more students show no benefit or worse benefit, there is something wrong with your program. It should be the other way around.  If this were a business having to report to shareholders instead of stakeholders, this company would fold.

As a social investment, I am not seeing where charter schools are delivering the goods.

Careful where you set your aim. The charter sector is getting better on average, but not because existing schools are getting dramatically better; it is mainly driven by opening higher- performing schools and by closing those that underperform. Our analysis suggests that the standards of performance are set too low, as evidenced by the large number of underperforming charter schools that persist. The point here is that, as with students, setting and holding high expectations is an important feature of school policies and practices. More focus is required of authorizers and charter school governing boards to set high performance and accountability standards and hold charter schools to them. – CREDO

This is where the Papa John’s piece on Yahoo comes in.  You can call your ‘ingredients’ whatever you wish. You should also be willing to let outsiders examine the ingredients and most of all, you should be proud enough to add in your own data as comparison. In this instance, Aspire Public Schools has failed. I am guessing this is the same for other charter schools as there have been no interesting news flashes in any of the usual educational journals which would love to pounce on this great news.

Another aspect of this issue is how Aspire is spreading to Tennessee.  Aspire needed to do this as financially they could not make it on the same budget as other public schools in California. They were ‘drowning’ and in fact have not merited the same amount of donations year over year as they had hoped for.  The CFO has been cautious in how he couches this scenario, however, the original goal of Aspire was to EXCEED the other schools in the region on the same budget. This has not happened or at least not in a statistically relevant manner.  This relates to the piece from The New York Times on how Philadelphia is borrowing money to open the schools and people are questioning if the schools are even worth opening, which leads back to the quote two paragraphs up from CREDO.

While charter schools continue to advertise their wares, I continue to be skeptical.  I need to see the following and wish CREDO could produce the data:

Just how many students of charter schools have gone to college, how many have graduated in 4, 5, 6 years?

After 20 years, I would think Aspire Public Schools has to have some of this substantially important data.

This would tell me if the taxes I pay which pays the ADA of charter schools is yielding social dividends in my community.


Throw on some kevlar as you get ready to teach to the common core.


A close personal friend gave me this article under a truly hilarious pretense – she went back to look at the author after reading as she was pretty sure I wrote the article for  CNN.  Alas, I did not. I don’t know Ron Clark, don’t know of Ron Clark or his new book and in fact, generally do not read education pieces on CNN.  I felt complimented my friend thought I wrote this piece and at the same time, I am positive I ‘did’. It is the collective consciousness of any good teacher for the last 25-30 years.  It is the same thing we all say and the reasons indeed are why we leave/left education.

In no small part, a huge thank you should go out to anyone who was involved with bringing NCLB to life and Michelle Rhee as well as most charter school companies.  These people/groups helped those of us who ‘knew better’ to put on our walking shoes and leave. Those who remained, well, I often hear their complaints about the same issues, they are just to scared to leave the profession after so much effort and cost to get a credential. Ron Clark sounds like a wonderful man and surely his intentions are great. I can only hope he has staying power as there are many students who will benefit from him.

If anyone thought the past 20 years were challenging, Fall 2013 is going to make it all look easy peasy!  Taking parents from  M/C and T/F test scores to the actual task of  having their child write something compelling AND marshal evidence AND  think/reflect……well, get the kevlar ready teachers. I don’t think I envy a one of you.  Without parents on board, administrators are going to once again do what they always do when backed into a corner – blame it on teachers, take it out on teachers (ask them to ‘revise’ their grades as it were) and essentially kiss up to every parent they see.  Administrators, even those who once were teachers, do little to support teachers.

Teachers are in fact left in their classrooms, told what to do and how to execute it and most of all told to suck it up when the crazy (pretty much all) parents come to solve something for their children.  Teachers are expected to be everyone’s whipping boy/girl to make public education work. If it were not for unions, even limited unions, public education would not exist as anything more than a thought experiment.

Currently I do tutoring and work in ed tech doing a variety of things from soup to nuts, sponge to hose, etc. If a parent contacts me for tutoring and I find our personalities and world views do not mesh, I get to say, “I don’t think I would be the BEST tutor for your child” and walk away from the situation. It does not happen often, yet it does happen. Most of what I find as a tutor is a student who could benefit from some basic things – structure, note taking skills, proper math syntax, organized thinking or graphic organizers, better resources.  Usually after a few weeks to  a couple of months, the training wheels are off and the kid is soaring. I could not be happier if I tried.  Sometimes I find a new or very ‘experienced’ teacher who is intractable and the student suffers. I do everything I can to educate the parent, give them strength to ask for what should be done (and is really reasonable) at school and advocate.  I write notes, send copies of things.  Of the times I meet the teachers, I inevitably find the people mentioned by Ron Clark. The ones who will be walking out of the profession or those who should have and are now so bitter they do not teach well.

I attend IEP meetings and help parents get more than the minimum written on the IEP – the more specific and defined you can be, the more likely the chance of IEP being followed and incremental success. I educate parents on having another set of books at home,  how to parent conference, how to check in with teachers, what should be going on in a SPED classroom vs. a mainstream classroom and what mainstreaming looks like, feels like and how it ‘goes’.  I help parents in the vernacular of ‘teacher’ for the benefit of their child. Again, if parents do not demonstrate they are on board, I can leave. There is only so much I can do in this lifetime and parents need to work on ‘change’ as opposed to thinking all teachers need to change for their child.

There are students who need help with SAT/ACT studies, AP course work, etc. Not only have I worked with these students, I have found the number of students really able to do AP course work were students who got their game on before Grade 4 and mom and dad were not excuse makers.  Students who do not do well are those who are shocked by the amount of reading and work necessary for AP.  Students and their parents,  prepping for SAT/ACT end up learning  the sad facts regarding inference and analogy, grammar and algebraic reasoning are not something you can be taught in a cram course – it comes from reading, writing, discussing, thinking since forever. All I can offer them are strategies for how to take the test and think about it.  The time when parents would have done far more to help their child by enforcing SSR (silent sustained reading) at home, encouraged studying atop assigned homework, etc. was wasted and I can not come in and splash that information on their child – nor can Princeton or Kaplan Review. SAT/ACT prep works for students who made learning their priority, not blaming their teacher(s) when they did not succeed every time.

Change is incredibly difficult for parents as they believe they ‘know’ it all. They would never question a dentist, doctor, lawyer (even court appointed), Apple Technician at Apple Store…….yet questioning and blaming a teacher for any ‘less then perfect’ grades, etc. on behalf of their child MUST be the teachers fault as parents have been taught and shown how to scapegoat teachers (Michelle Rhee actually brought this to an art form). Teachers do more ‘change’ in a day then anyone other than flight traffic controllers and ER doctors.  Unfortunately, with all the change teachers do, parents are the ones who need to redouble their efforts the most.

I think next school year will be interesting. If nothing else, people such as Ron Clark will become ever more popular and revered for what they are saying – whether or not parents come to terms with reality. Thank goodness there are Ron Clark’s and hopefully I will be thankful there are parents who will read this and do those things necessary to change for their child’s benefit. It is a long road filled with cliffs, channels, hikes, bike rides, hang gliding, zip lining and all the rest of out doors metaphors.

Observations – Parity Across the States (NAEP)

The past four months provided a very interesting job opportunity in a way I was not expecting.  I was hired by Westat to help administer the ‘national’ exam.   While this position requires a great deal of organizational capacity, it also taught me so much about those who ‘know’ and don’t really know what is involved in educational reform.   In my mind, NAEP is a giant scientific experiment extremely well thought out as well as planned and executed for optimum good statistical analysis.  NAEP is the real deal of data.

My first observation was how many teachers and administrators in public schools (including charter) did not know what NAEP was about.

Example:  Spoke with a principal who, when asked by another principal why his school was participating in NAEP answered he ‘guessed’ he drew the short stick. (I completely understood the humor, however, I was sad he truly did not know what it was about.) We talked on the phone and I asked him why he thought the school was participating (aha – a bit of Socratic methodology) and he answered the following three items (1) his school improved test scores by 17 points (2) his school has the youngest teachers in the district/area (3) this had something to do with spring testing but he was not sure. 

 I replied that while I like his answers, the reason behind national testing was to have some test scores to provide parity  between the various states which have different state standards and different ways of measuring educational success.

Parity in sports is defined as attempting to make an equal playing field for all participants, specifically with regard to financial issues. When parity in a sports league is achieved, all participating teams enjoy roughly equivalent levels of talent. In such a league, the “best” team is not significantly better than the “worst” team. This leads to more competitive contests where the winner cannot be easily predicted in advance. Such games are more entertaining and captivating for the spectators. The opposite condition, which could be considered “disparity” between teams, is a condition where the elite teams are so much more talented that the lesser teams are hopelessly outmatched. – Wikipedia/ January 2011

 I further explained that schools which received federal funds w  ere required to participate if the necessary sample of student attributes was at their school.  We talked for a few more minutes so I could answer some paperwork questions and we each went off on our own separate journey through the day.

In a different phone call with another principal the day before, I was asked about how the school would access these test scores so they could use them to compare with their API and AYP since other schools in the district were not taking this special test. I had to explain the scores were not disaggregated down to the district level.  This particular issue kept cropping up with teachers as well, especially on assessment day. Teachers asked if they would have the scores to use by Spring……

In  the above scenarios, I was talking to people who could speak clearly about certain aspects of educational reform, albeit only those minimal measures which had been drummed into them through some grad school program/administrative credentialling program/school district.   My shock was that these were ‘good’ schools in so called ‘good’ districts so how could these administrators not have run across NAEP?  I actually asked a couple administrators where they attended graduate school.

Along the way there were also some funny stories – a school which is in a very wealthy area had a substitute teacher’s aide show up with alcohol on their breath and the principal had to deal with that issue; another school had some students order a pizza via their cell phone, except when it was delivered, the office staff realized no ‘individual’ student would order a 2 L bottle of coke.  I had a colleague talk to a custodian in Spanish, only to have the principal state the man understands and speaks English…..

In my mind I was surprised as I have known about NAEP since I was a child – I went through at least one of the testing sessions in Grade 4, possibly Grade 8.  I read about NAEP and went to a lecture regarding The Nation’s Report Card when I was in graduate school.  NAEP was the organization where  the National Science Standards were related so people could discuss trends in science ed ucation.  I was beginning to feel as if I had entered some alternate universe where educational reform happened on a different planet on an alternate flat plane.

On a more personal note, I noticed (part of the script I read requires me to ask a few questions) there is not a category for people(s) of Middle East origin.  I am not sure if this was intentional, as in who really cares what those students do (even though we seem to care about Asians) or some one with far more wisdom then myself decided these people are, well, white.  Since I do not know specifically what NAEP is looking for, I can only speculate on a ‘forced’ selection of race/ethnicity.  One question asks students to delineate Latino/Hispanic and then the next question is everything else.  I feel bad for the Philipino’s who actually know their history as they are Latino (Spain) and Asian, not either or.

I have never looked at the test questions as I continue to have a teaching credential and this, in my mind is inappropriate.  I have looked at the release questions published in booklets for parents and/or teachers and administrators who may have questions.  Not much was gleened from this process as I do not support the efficacy of multiple choice exams since there is always an inherent 25% of accuracy by randon choice on a four answer question.   As is the case with SAT prep, it is not about the right answer so much as the ability to use your mind to reason ‘out’ what are the wrong answers.  The SAT is in no way indicative of much, my favorite examples being people who bucked the system and did not complete college, such as Bill Gates or people who did poorly on the SAT and succeeded far more than anyone would have guessed, Timothy Ferriss. 

NAEP allows educators and statisticians to peer into the minds of students to take a peak at how various curriculums play out across the U.S.  Our ‘Nation’s Report Card’  is just that, a report.  In a broad way we are able to see where education seems to have traction (typically, in places with low socioeconomic distress) and where no amount of money seems to change the consequences of childhood poverty. 

I have been to schools with views which certainly must prevent even a lax daydreamer from focusing and I have been to schools which remind me all too often of things I have seen in Peace Corps and traveling various third world countries.  This previous sentence is a different kind of parity – until we have PARITY, we will not change education in any formidable manner.  It takes an abundant amount of community involvement, parental education and literacy resources (notice I did not say monetary resources) to overcome poverty.  No amount of well constructed testing is needed to prove this out – rather, we just need to travel outside our own familiar community.


Tests, Tests, Tests and More Tests – Results??? Who Knows….


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


This blog was started three weeks ago when I first captured the headlines.  I needed time to process what it was about the article that was necessarily disturbing, discomforting and revealing of how little the data in education seems to point in a meaningful direction.

At the same time this article was written, I had just begun reading the book The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, ISBN 978-0-1410-3459-1.  What I began to realize is that the test  results, while based on PAST notions of what children need to learn to be successful, are not predictive in a linear fashion of student success or even a reasonable measure of progress towards college.

If, as is pointed out in The Black Swan,  this type of data that is based on bell curve scenarios is not a quality predictive indicator, why do we persist in using it and what do we hope to obtain from the data?  If we are looking for a predictive indicator, we will most certainly be let down.  If we are looking for a measure of individual success, we will be even more let down as student learning is not linear, rather it occurs in bursts as the brain acquires enough experiences to process the over all schema.  If we are looking for qualitative measures to substantiate what we do as educators, we are applying narrative, retrospective distortion and Platonifying (over evaluating  factual information) and we will find exactly what we are seeking through interpretation.

This, in my mind, does not mean we should immediately stop all testing of students or using tests as an evaluative technique, but it should not be the exacting measure of all success or failure as indicated in the case example of Malcolm X Academy in San Francisco.   ‘

What I am understanding about myself is that I most definitely believe in Black Swans, know they exist and although we try to plan around them, realize we are victims of the perception that we can avoid what we don’t know is possible.  It is this very part of myself that quite possibly drives others crazy, much in the same way Mr. Taleb explains it in his book.

If tests are the end all of predictive value, there needs to be more than a correlation in the evidence and yet, that is all there is at this time.  I have yet to see conclusive evidence (even by the most hard core believers out there – charter schools such as KIPP and Aspire) which supports test scores translating into something such as the ability to complete/graduate college.  There are so many black swans for students who come from poverty that even the best education can not guarantee success in college – nor should that be the only outcome of an education (thank you Bill Gates). No, Bill Gates was not poor, however, he did not finish college.

There are no studies which definitively indicate a college degree will help you obtain more money during your life time, be rich, be famous, be popular.  The studies I have read indicate there is greater potentiality/possibility for some one to earn more money over their lifetime by having higher education (the higher you go, potentially the more money you can obtain).   All of this is in naught as I have close friends with a PhD who do not have the earning potential they should right now as as it is cheaper to hire a lecturer than a bona fide PhD person to place on tenure track.  I have friends who have taken a royal bath with the fall out of Wall Street even though they have an Ivy Education, including MBA degrees.  There are other friends of mine who were or had been doing moderately well except for the housing mortgage meltdown.  Most of the friends who were ensnared in this debacle would have been fine if they could wait out 10 or 15 years for the economy to right itself and housing to regain momentum instead of moving for a job.  Each item I wrote about in the last four sentences was a Black Swan none of us saw coming when we were undergrads or graduate students.

Which means, all those great grades we  (the people talked about above – and they know who they are if they are reading this blog) obtained in elementary, middle and high school, the SAT’s, GRE’s, etc. were never predictive of our success, rather all those grades and scores were predictive of our future potential.

So, my question remains, what do the results mean?  How should we use these test results to improve education? How should we deliver tests (multiple choice/written, etc.) to obtain results with more predictive value?  Can testing provide predictive value?  The questions are endless.  All I know is education has become something completely counterintuitive to what we know from Piaget, Montessori, etc.   If we really want results, we need to be more longitudinal in our thinking and cope up to the Black Swans out there which will always change the penultimate outcome of our best written and delivered lessons.