Thursday, May 22, 2014

Public Education in the News

First up, from The Columbian (via Associated Press) which is reporting that the lead attorney for the McCleary case, Thomas Ahearne, told the Washington State Supreme Court that they should hold the Legislature in contempt for not complying with their orders.

“We’re asking the court to at least hold the Legislature in contempt, to prohibit any more unfunded or underfunded mandates on our schools, and to impose even more serious sanctions if the Legislature does not reconvene and obey the court’s orders by Dec. 31 of this year,” Ahearne wrote.

In his written response to the Legislature’s report to the Supreme Court, Ahearne said lawmakers do not seem to understand that the Supreme Court was issuing an order, not making a suggestion. 

“The State did what it had been ordered to not do. It offered promises about trying to submit a plan and take significant action next year — along with excuses for why the State’s ongoing violation of kids’ constitutional rights and court orders should be excused this year,” he wrote.

He also believes that the Court compelling the Legislature to act would not violate the separate of powers.

Two stories from the LA Times.

One is the non-partisan race for state superintendent of public instruction for California which may be a foretelling of what may be coming for Washington State.  In LA, there is the incumbent, Tom Torlakson, who champions teachers and dislikes the ever-growing number of standardized tests.  He also calls for more funding.  California also refused to establish rules about linking test scores to teacher's evaluations. 

His challenger, Marshall Tuck, is a darling of big-money ed reformers and former head of a charter chain of schools,  who wants to limit job security for teachers and says before any new revenue, he would find ways to spend current school dollars better.

"These fights are very much playing out in the states, between the union wing and the education-reform wing," said Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.

The second item from the LA Times is an editorial that came to my attention via Director Peters' Board comments last night.  The editorial is titled, "Casting doubt on linking teacher evaluations to test scores."  

A new study out of USC and the University of Pennsylvania finds that value-added measurements — a way of using student test scores to evaluate teacher performance — aren't a very good way of judging teacher quality. This isn't the first study to cast doubt on what has become a linchpin educational policy of the Obama administration but there's an interesting element that lends its findings extra weight: It was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a well-known supporter of using test scores in teacher evaluations.  There's a YouTube video about the findings.

The Obama administration is pulling Washington State's waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements, solely because the state didn't follow through with this one aspect of its reform plan. Education policy is supposed to follow well-established research, not the other way around.

Fredrick Hess also speaks up in his column at EducationNext where he asked teacher and blogger, John Thompson, to talk to the Gates Foundation about using VAM measures.  From a conversation Thompson had with Steve Cantrell, the Senior Program Officer for Research and Data at the Foundation, he expressed the following concerns.
  • I explained why the predictable result of value-added evaluations, even when balanced by “multiple measures,” would be driving talent out of the most challenging schools. When a basic research study is x% inaccurate for individuals, that may be a huge success. But, who would commit to a teaching career where such a chance PER YEAR could damage or destroy it.
  • The policy issue, however, is how will they be used, constructively and destructively. How, I asked, can teachers not oppose reforms that can be beneficial before concrete checks and balances for the inevitable misuses are nailed down? Teachers must fight, politically and legally, against evaluations where the administrators who set policies unilaterally determine whether it was the fault of those policies or the individual teacher for not meeting test score growth targets.
Here's what Cantrell said:
  1.  Teaching effectiveness measures have great potential to provide teachers with feedback as they work to hone their craft and to help school system leaders understand where support for better teaching and learning is needed, whether that support is effective, and, ultimately, how to design a system of supports to get better results.
  2. John is primarily concerned about error. He believes the new evaluation systems are in the hands of administrators (and statisticians) who through intent or incompetence inaccurately judge teachers in ways that negatively impact their careers. John mentioned the need to put safeguards in place before teaching effectiveness measures are used for consequences. I couldn’t agree more. But while I certainly don’t want to see effective teachers labeled ineffective, it would be a grave mistake to simply abandon teaching effectiveness measures.
  3. To address this fear, we should ensure that efforts to identify ineffective teachers are not overzealous. It is dangerous to exaggerate ineffectiveness by assuming teachers within the bottom quartile or bottom quintile of performance are ineffective. We found in the MET project and in subsequent implementations of new evaluation systems, that the real number of truly ineffective teachers hovers around 5 percent.
  4. In the end, I believe John shares my deep concern that the great potential of feedback and evaluation systems to improve the quality of teaching will be lost if their sole purpose becomes teacher accountability.
 About Race to the Top, here's yet another story about how it costs districts more dollars to implement than they get from RttT.  From WGRZ in Buffalo, NY:

"We really haven't received any money until this year, this is the last year," said Ellicottville superintendent Mark Ward.

Ward says a measly $17,490 -- during the last year of the program was received.

What has Ellicottville spent to implement new learning standards?  20 times what it received from the government.

In Fredonia, state mandates forced the school district to add staff, so programs could be implemented.

"Because of the new teacher evaluation system, the district was forced to hire two additional assistant principals, one in our elementary school, one in our middle school, just to cover the staff evaluations," said Joseph Reyda, the director of curriculum for Fredonia Schools.

How much has Fredonia spent in added costs?  Upwards of $750,000, while only getting $55,000 from Race to the Top.

We questioned Congressman Brian Higgins about why many school districts have seen a lack of Race to the Top funding. When the funds came to the state, Higgins hailed the infusion of dollars as a good investment. 

"Clearly the federal government underestimated the costs associated with designing and implementing these programs in the individual states," Higgins said, and that, there is no more funding to help districts unless Congress approves the money.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Watching said...

Should we expect a special session, or will hell freeze over-first!

Carlyle is talking about making some type of a "grand deal". What will that look like and will charter legislation be included?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Reprinted for Michael with an edit - we do NOT allow name-calling. Please refrain from doing so. The information in the post is fine but do not call anyone - elected or otherwise - a name.

Parents can't leave it the bureaucrats to solve our problems with the schools districts. The courts are for the people to use when laws are not followed.

If you have damages you can sue for compensation under

RCW 28A.150.210
Basic education — Goals of school districts.

A basic education is an evolving program of instruction that is intended to provide students with the opportunity to become responsible and respectful global citizens, to contribute to their economic well-being and that of their families and communities, to explore and understand different perspectives, and to enjoy productive and satisfying lives. Additionally, the state of Washington intends to provide for a public school system that is able to evolve and adapt in order to better focus on strengthening the educational achievement of all students, which includes high expectations for all students and gives all students the opportunity to achieve personal and academic success. To these ends, the goals of each school district, with the involvement of parents and community members, shall be to provide opportunities for every student to develop the knowledge and skills essential to:

(1) Read with comprehension, write effectively, and communicate successfully in a variety of ways and settings and with a variety of audiences;

(2) Know and apply the core concepts and principles of mathematics; social, physical, and life sciences; civics and history, including different cultures and participation in representative government; geography; arts; and health and fitness;

(3) Think analytically, logically, and creatively, and to integrate technology literacy and fluency as well as different experiences and knowledge to form reasoned judgments and solve problems.


Watching, I want to have faith in Reuven but I do worry about deal-making on this subject.

Anonymous said...

Any kind of "grand deal" Carlyle is involved in will most certainly include neoliberal-favored policies, including charter school legislation. He's shown again and again that he is on the side of the reform/deform movement.


n said...

At our union meeting at which we had a guest speaker from WEA, we were told that the legislature told the Court that money was NOT the problem. It was capacity. Apparently, the State said it had the money but without additional classrooms - space for these new smaller classrooms - they couldn't go ahead with funding smaller class size.

I don't get it. If it is a capacity issue, why are we blaming the State? Shouldn't we and unions and parents be demanding that the District get the capacity issues resolved and let the money flow? Something doesn't add up here.

Truly, that is what we were told tonight.

High Roller said...

Any chance we'll see pre-k incorporated into the K-12 model as part of a "grand deal"?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thank you for that N. It sounds like a nice delaying tactic.

I mean, many in the Legislature don't want to give more money.

Others say the money isn't there (no revenue stream).

And now it's that districts have no space?

The districts only choices if this "no space" is true are:
- portables
- a second person (not necessarily another teacher) in the classroom
- build

High Roller, that's another interesting thought. Right now state law is that districts are responsible for K-12 (and I did remind the Board of this and Sherry Carr wrote back saying yes, this is the fact).

But again, the Obama Administration (and our own OSPI) are creating this grand chain of Pre-K-20 tracking of all public education students so it could be in the works.

Joe Wolf said...

In response to n's comment:

I'm showing my bias here, but I think if the State of WA (and the City) want to walk the walk on their legislative proposals they should fully fund them. And that includes they facilities they need to be viable.

My staff and I ran the numbers. To fully execute class-size reduction in Seattle - with today's enrollment - would require about 350 new classrooms. It amounts to 4-7 for every elementary & K-8 school, depending on the size of their K-3 cohorts.

n said...

I asked specifically for confirmation of what I had just heard because of 728 fatigue and the new petition (yes, another one) out there has no funding source either. The response was that during the original hearing, the legislature told the Court they have the money - it was not a funding problem but a capacity problem.

If true, then many have been misled. I always thought it was due to a lack of a revenue source.

I wish someone could verify it. Then, perhaps, we could work to remedy the true problem: the District stumbling over capacity issues.

Let's put portables outside every school. Something is better than nothing. Getting the District to move even one step would be helpful. How many years has it been?

Probably many points of view on this but still this was new information for me.

n said...

One more thing: they are putting librarians on the streets by cutting them back to .5 employees. Why not keep them 1.0 and turn them into teaching spaces even half a day? There must be other creative ways to get it done.

Charlie Mas said...

I would dearly love to see the Court jail the legislature for contempt. It is time for them to be held personally accountable.