Louisiana still ranks second to last in AP results

One argument that common core supporters sometimes use is that without common exams across the country, it is impossible to measure how different states are doing.  But of course there are plenty of existing tests already which do this, like the SAT and the APs.

Though I’ve got plenty of issues with The College Board, I will admit that the AP tests are decent tests.  And The College Board is pretty good about publishing its annual data, which is something that I find helpful when looking for somewhat objective numbers.

Last year I read about the miracle in Louisiana where they had a huge increase in the number of test takers.  This year, the College Board released the 2014 data, and Louisiana did it again.  They are truly closing the gap between the percent of Louisiana students taking the AP compared to the national average.

Screen shot 2014-10-07 at 10.52.54 PMWith 13.6% participation in 2014, Louisiana has catapulted to 14th from the bottom in their participation.

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This caused TFA alum John White to celebrate:Screen shot 2014-10-07 at 11.10.08 PM

 

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But participation rate is of course something that can be rigged.  All it takes is some money to give to The College Board and as many students as you want to pay for can sit and take the AP test.  What usually matters to ‘reformers’ are results.

But as the Times-Picayune noted, the percent of students passing the test declined in 2014 from about 34% to about 30%.  Of course John White had a response to that:

But detailed data showed that overall pass rate declined by 4 percentage points. Education Superintendent John White said that drop was expected, given the higher number of students taking the test.

“Because we have had such a large increase in test takers, it is possible for the number of overall success stories to go up and the rate of success to remain flat or go down,” he said.

And it is true that it is possible to increase test takers by a lot and even if both test takers and test passers increase, it is possible for the percent of passers to go down.  So if percent participation isn’t really a good measure of success, as I suggest, and if percent passing isn’t a good measure of success, as John White suggests, what metric could be used to measure AP success which cannot possibly be gamed?

Fortunately, there is one.  The College Board keeps a statistic of the percent of the graduating class who pass an AP exam.  This is a number that, for 2014 ranges from the lowest, Mississippi at 3.2%, to the highest, Maryland at 22%.

How did Louisiana rank on this metric in 2014?

aprn_2014_ap_national_6So Louisiana ranked second to last with just 4.1%.

The College Board produced graphs like this for 2012 and 2013, which can be used to see Louisiana’s progress over the past three years.

Screen shot 2014-10-07 at 10.46.55 PMIn 2013 they were also second to last.  The 5.3% was higher than the 4.1% in 2014, but the numbers can’t be truly compared because the 2014 numbers are for juniors and seniors while the 2013 numbers are just for seniors.

Screen shot 2014-10-07 at 10.36.37 PMAnd, yes, in 2012 they were also second to last.  The 2012 number is 6.3% which means that they did drop in this metric from 2012 to 2013 and they were calculated the same way.

So with all the cheering coming from Louisiana about the AP results, I’d say that what they have is an embarrassment, only better than Mississippi for the past three years.

I also found this chart ranking the ‘progress’ of the different states in AP results over the past ten years.  In it we see that Louisiana isn’t just low on achievement, but had the fourth lowest amount of ‘growth’ down there with the other miracle state, Tennessee.

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Looking for results from individual schools, I found the New Orleans newspaper made an easy to use database with the AP results for any school.  In the RSD, things are looking really bad.  The first school I checked out was the famous miracle school Sci Academy.

Screen shot 2014-10-07 at 11.19.59 PMThough they had 155 students take an AP test, only 14 students even got a 3, which was 9%.

In general, the RSD did not have many passing scores.

Screen shot 2014-10-07 at 11.17.02 PMYou’ve got to love the school that had over 200 test takers with less than 10 passers.  The leader was a KIPP school which had 16.1% of their test takers pass.

Forcing kids to take an AP course or an AP test when they are not ready for it is not ‘raising the bar’ and ‘increasing rigor.’  If I were teaching a course and 9% of my students passed the final exam, there would need to be a serious discussion about what the problem was.  In this case the problem is surely the Louisiana Department of Education forcing students to take tests to pump up their participation numbers.  But the numbers, at least the right ones, don’t lie.  Louisiana, even after all their years of being allowed to perform their experiments on the kids down there, is still second to last in AP results in the one metric they are not able to rig.

 

 

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Help Save PS 163

My daughter, Sarah, attends our local school in New York City, PS 163.  In our neighborhood there has been a lot of construction in recent years.  A Whole Foods went up about 3 years ago.  Then a large high rise apartment building.  Each time a project started, I’d see notices for community meetings about the potential dangers of these new construction projects, but I didn’t really pay much attention to them.  Construction, I figured, is a part of life in New York City.

When Sarah started school at PS 163 last year, I started attending the monthly school leadership team meetings, at which I learned that enrollment was down and because of that, there wasn’t much money in the budget for extra curricular activities.  And what was one of the main reasons that enrollment was down?  A three letter answer:  JHL.  JHL?  I had heard those letters before.  There were some petitions going around my apartment building a few years back warning about some of the issues with this project, a proposed 20 story assisted living complex.  But back then I thought it was just residents complaining that the new building would obstruct their view.

I quickly learned that the proposed location for this 20 story building was 50 feet from PS 163.  The construction, if it is permitted to happen, will take several years.  For those years, the students at PS 163 will not be allowed to use the outdoor playground because of all the dust and toxins from construction.  In addition to the typical city noises which are already sometimes an interruption to learning, the students at PS 163 will take on the added burden of hearing loud construction noise for several years.

I know that construction near school buildings is sometimes unavoidable.  There are times that construction is happening on school buildings themselves.  But in the case of PS 163 this may be the largest project to ever be so close to a school.  There have been other cases where construction has disrupted schools in New York City so much that the schools have been temporarily moved, particularly after kids complained about having trouble breathing.  But those schools that got special treatment were wealthier than PS 163

The parents of the school banded together to fight this project.  It is truly a David vs. Goliath situation, however.  The mayor does not seem to want to get in the way of construction which, I guess, helps boost the economy.  Even the New York City Department of Education has said that they will not help us fight this.

Last spring we had a press conference which got attention from most of the TV stations.  There was also an article in The Huffington Post about our ordeal.  Still, it looks like the Department of Health is likely to green-light the project anyway.

The parents have urged our local lawmakers to intervene and we are grateful to Mark Levine, Helen Rosenthal, and other city council people who are sponsoring bill number 420 which would require:

that noise shall not exceed 45 DB during normal school operating hours in any receiving classroom in any public or private preschool or primary or secondary school on lots that are within seventy-five feet from the construction site, and that noise levels at such schools sites shall be continuously monitored during normal school operating hours.

With all the talk nowadays about putting students needs above ‘adult interests’ it is amazing that a common sense bill like this will require a lot of phone calls to the council people who have not yet agreed to support it.  Parents from the school are currently making calls to the different council members, but the council members will be more likely to support this bill if they are getting calls from all over as this is something that will not just affect the kids in PS 163, but all the kids from all the other schools that may face a similar situation in the future.

The parents of PS 163 have set up a website with information about the bill.  On that page there is also this link to the list of council members and their contact information.  If 34 out of the 51 council members agree to sponsor the bill, it will be something that can get voted on and become a law.  This law would not prevent the construction, but it would make the construction less likely to interfere with the learning of the students at PS 163 and other schools near construction sites.  Surely these council members will also hear from people who stand to make less profit when they have to be more careful about the amount of noise they make during construction.  This is why I’m asking the readers of my blog to please pick a council member or two and to make some phone calls to urge them to support this bill.

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My first grade daughter and the commutative property of addition

 

Last year I wrote a lengthy review of my daughter’s kindergarten common core math workbook.  This year she has brought home the first grade edition of the Go Math! workbook, still with ‘TEST PREP’ written on most pages in case there was any doubt, and has been doing homework in it.

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Some of the things she’s being asked to do are the standard things I’d expect for first grade, like adding small numbers together.  Things like this have always been part of what’s taught to first graders, of course.  But for this book to earn the ‘common core’ stamp on the front, there must be, thrown in, a few more ‘rigorous’ questions.  Look at question 3, which is part of the ‘Spiral’ review.

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This question is, apparently, based on the standard called CC.1.OA.3.  The actual wording of this standard is:

Apply properties of operations as strategies to add and subtract.2    Examples: If 8 + 3 = 11 is known, then 3 + 8 = 11 is also known. (Commutative property of addition.) To add 2 + 6 + 4, the second two numbers can be added to make a ten, so 2 + 6 + 4 = 2 + 10 = 12. (Associative property of addition.)

So the commutative property of addition says that the order doesn’t matter when adding so that 2+5=5+2.  Certainly a first grader doesn’t need to know what it is called, and it doesn’t seem that this book, at least, is trying to get them to know that.  But the standard says that students should apply this property “to add and subtract” not to apply this property in such an abstract and meaningless way as this question.

Of course any four year old who knows that if you add blue to yellow you will get green, then if you add yellow to blue you will also get green.  And I do think that it is meaningful for young kids who are just learning the concept of addition to answer questions like “What is 1 plus 4?” and then “What is 4 plus 1?” to give them a chance to either make the realization that it should be the same answer, or to answer both questions and then realize that both are the same answer and to think about that for a bit.

But the way the Go Math! people wrote this question, and I have seen similarly devised questions on the state tests as well, is complete nonsense which serves no meaningful purpose.  Math is already a tough sell, sometimes, and questions like this can make young students lose interest and plant the seeds that math just isn’t for them.  Common core test writers and test prep writers are struggling to come up with questions that test the standards, particularly the new aspects of them.  So the word ‘commutative property’ came up in the first grade standards and this is the sort of question they came up with to test if the students have internalized that standard.  But in this case they have failed to come up with a meaningful question.  I’d say that a kid can very well know that the order that two numbers are added does not matter and still get this question wrong.

I came up with a somewhat better question, though still problematic, something like “If 17 plus 25 equals 42, then what is 25 plus 17?”  Again, my question is still unnecessarily forced, but it is much better than the one from this book.  Maybe there is no very good way to test this concept on a multiple choice standardized test in a meaningful way.  Some standards might lend themselves to meaningful questions, even multiple choice questions.  But ones like this that don’t should not be forced to in this contrived way.

And it’s not that this question is ‘hard’ that bothers me.  I don’t mind my child getting some challenging questions into the mix.  But I want her to have challenging questions that are meaningful, not questions that are challenging because they are confusing because test makers can’t think of a better way to test that concept.

Here’s a video of my daughter doing the math homework that had this question on it.

 

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Frayser 9GA, the miracle school of the Achievement School District

The Achievement School District of Tennessee, or ASD, was modeled after the Louisiana Recovery School District, or RSD.  The superintendent of the ASD is a friend of mine from my days as a TFAer in Houston, Chris Barbic.  The goal of the ASD is to take over the schools in the bottom 5% in terms of test scores in the state and within five years get the scores up so those same schools are in the top 25%.  The schools, as I originally understood it, would have the same zoned students after the were taken over by (they use the euphemism ‘matched with’) the usual suspects of TFA charter chains, like KIPP and Rocketship.  The first cohort of the ASD was 6 schools started in the 2012-2013 school year.  This grew to 17 schools in 2013-2014, and now 23 schools for 2014-2015.  I was skeptical of this plan from the beginning.  As I wrote to Chris in one of my open letters, still unanswered, I felt like this was a goal that can only be achieved by some sort of cheating or lying.  One cheat that is happening is that many of the charter schools did not take over existing schools but became new schools which phased in one grade at a time.  This makes it pretty hard to say that a school that never existed was originally in the bottom 5% of schools.

As reformers are all about accountability and data, the ASD, of course, issues yearly reports about the progress that it is making toward the goal of moving the schools in the bottom 5% to the top 25% in five years.  This year Tennessee has been very slow in releasing their state test scores.  In early July they first released data for the State.  On these, the average scores in the state were not very good.  On average, as I wrote about here, 3-8 math scores went up by a percent while 3-8 reading scores went down by a percent.  At the end of July they released the data for the individual districts.  In that release, we learned that the ASD scores increased more than the state averages.  I wrote here, about how that really wasn’t saying very much, particularly since the 4% the ASD reading scores had gone up by still meant that the 2013-2014 reading scores were lower than the 2011-2012 ASD reading scores.  Then, in August, they finally released the final part of their data, the ‘growth’ scores of the districts and the test scores and growth scores for the individual schools.

A year ago the ASD, despite the fact that their reading scores dropped by almost 5%, somehow scored the highest possible score, a 5 out of 5 on the Tennessee ‘growth’ metric.  This was, they said, a sign that things were moving in the right direction.  This year, however, despite the fact that at the end of July we learned that the ASD ‘grew’ better than the state did in general, the final report in mid-August revealed that the ASD didn’t get another 5 in ‘growth.’  For the 2013-2014 school year, they got the lowest possible growth score, a 1.

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You’d think that this would damper their spirits, but as they’ve got to show that they’re still on track to reach the goal of moving the schools from the bottom 5% to the top 25%, they released a report highlighting some of their successes.  It turns out that some of the schools are doing quite well while others are bringing down the growth average.

They even produced this nifty scatter plot showing how some of the schools are well on their way to cracking the top 25%.

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So, according to this graph, there are four schools that are really moving up the charts, and one of them, oh my! Frayser 9GA is way up there, having moved from the bottom 5%, apparently, to nearly the top 50%!  Most of of the other schools haven’t made much movement, however.  In the ASD report, there were some graphs showing how different schools ‘grew’ from last year to this year.

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So there are schools getting it done, like Frayser 9GA, and other schools that are still failing, like, say, Westside Achievement Middle School, with its declining scores in both categories.

So I did what no Tennessee education reporters have the ingenuity to do, I did some research and analysis.  The first thing I noticed was the fine print at the bottom of the scatter plot showing the movement of some of the schools.

Notes:  1-yr success rates; 2014 percentile calculations based on 2013 data;  Carver and Frayser HS used for historical data for GRAD and F9GA, respectively.

Hmmmmm.  What does that mean?  So I investigated further.  What I learned is that Frayser 9GA isn’t, technically, a school for which it is possible to calculate the growth between 2013 and 2014.  Also, it is debatable, if it can be counted as a school at all.  Here’s why:

Westside Achievement Middle school, the one that had the dropping scores in the bar graphs above, serves students in grades 6-8.  They were one of the original 6 ASD schools in 2012-2013.  Rather than send their eighth graders to Frayser High School in 2013-2014, they decided to expand Westside Achievement Middle school to have a 9th grade in their building.  They enrolled 99 students and called the ‘school’ Frayser 9GA for ‘9th Grade Academy.’  2013-2014 was the first year that this school existed, which is why comparing their scores for their 99 9th graders to the scores of already existing Frayser high school is not a fair comparison.  This article from the local Memphis newspaper explains that 85% of the 8th grade class at Westside Achievement Achievement Middle School wanted to continue at that school for the new 9th grade program.

Now in the 2013-2014 school year, Westside Achievement Middle School dropped from a 5 on their ‘growth’ to the lowest possible 1.

Screen shot 2014-09-10 at 10.41.14 PMBut the ASD decided to call the 9th grader program at Westside Achievement Middle School, all 99 students there, its own ‘school’ rather than what it actually is, a grade in the school.  It is not playing by the rules to pick a grade out of a school, call it its own school and then plot it on a graph as if it was an actual school that was once in the bottom 5% of schools and that with the help of the ASD catapulted to the top 50%.  So the question is, how is it that this school is failing to grow their 6th, 7th, and 8th graders in 2013-2014, yet they are getting miraculous results with their 9th graders?  And what would the score for this school be if they counted the four grades as one school rather than pulling out the 9th grade class and calling that its own school?Arne Duncan was in Tennessee today and spent time with Chris Barbic and even took a selfie with him.  Tennessee and the ASD are favorites of Duncan to tout his success.duncanselfieIt is fortunate for Duncan that he will be out of office when the house of cards that is the ASD comes tumbling down, three years from now.  I’ve noticed that many reformers have been going into hiding lately:  Wendy Kopp stepped down from being CEO of TFA.  Michelle Rhee stepped down from being CEO of StudentsFirst.  Others will surely follow into the safety of their underground bunkers.  Duncan will leave office and will surely find a safe place to hide from all the questions as the reform movement continues to collapse.  What will happen to my old friend Chris Barbic when this all goes down?  He’s always been a decent guy.  I worry he might be the only one with enough principle to go down with the ship while the others cowardly abandon it.

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Kane and Chetty: Witnesses for the defense?

Things are heating up in Campbell Brown’s New York franchise of the Vergara trial.  It was just announced that one of the top trial lawyers in the country David Boies (lawyer for Gore in Bush v. Gore trial among many other high profile cases) is going to be involved in the prosecution.

Now I’m not a lawyer, but I’m a pretty good arguer and logical thinker, and I’d say that the defense in Vergara did a terrible job.  Even so, I think the decision will get reversed but if it doesn’t, it will be because of the bad defense.

There were so many contradictions in Vergara.  The prosecution miraculously managed to argue that value-added was not accurate enough to earn teachers tenure in 18 months yet was accurate enough to justify getting rid of LIFO and replacing it with layoffs based on those same inaccurate value-added scores.  Here is some testimony for Thomas Kane, who, based on the judgement, was the star witness for the prosecution.

Q: DR. KANE, IS IT POSSIBLE FOR A SCHOOL DISTRICT TO BELIEVE THAT A TEACHER IS EFFECTIVE IN THE FIRST 18 MONTHS OF THEIR EMPLOYMENT BUT ACTUALLY TO BE WRONG ABOUT THAT AND FOR THE TEACHER TO TURN OUT TO BE A BOTTOM 5 PERCENT TEACHER?

A     YES.

Q     HAVE YOU SEEN THAT IN YOUR WORK?

A     SO I –

Q     YES OR NO?

A     YES.

Q     AND CAN YOU PLEASE EXPLAIN?

A     I HAVE SEEN DATA POINTS THAT TAKE THAT PATTERN. I COULDN’T NAME THE TEACHERS THAT HAVE FIT THAT PATTERN, BUT IT’S TO BE EXPECTED THAT IF YOU HAVE AN IMPERFECT MEASURE THE FIRST YEAR, THAT THERE WILL BE EXAMPLES OF TEACHERS THAT APPEARED LESS EFFECTIVE IN THE FIRST YEAR THAN THEY WILL BE IN THE SECOND AND THIRD AND FOLLOWING YEAR, BUT THEY’LL ALSO BE TEACHERS WHO APPEAR MORE EFFECTIVE IN THEIR FIRST YEAR THAN THEY WILL BE IN THEIR SECOND AND THIRD YEAR. SO THERE WILL BE TEACHERS FOR WHOM YOU WERE OVEROPTIMISTIC AT THE END OF THE FIRST YEAR OR 18 MONTHS, WHATEVER AND THERE WILL BE TEACHERS THAT YOU WERE OVERLY PESSIMISTIC ABOUT AT THE END OF 18 MONTHS.

This was from questioning by the prosecutors about why the 18 month tenure rule was unconstitutional.  The defense should have exploited this admission that the value-added was unreliable especially when there is just one year of data and use this to argue why using value-added instead of LIFO would be an unfair system.

Also a major witness was Raj Chetty who published a big paper about how students who had teachers with higher value-added scores made more money in life.  These conclusions have been challenged pretty convincingly, but still even the President paraphrased the paper in one of his State of The Union addresses.

So now there will be a Vergara-like trial in New York City.  The prosecution has some very heavy hitters.  For the defense, I don’t know.  The defendants are people like John King.  I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the defendants hope to lose the trial and maybe won’t get the best representation to go against a dream team rivaling the OJ Simpson lawyers.

But the New York trial, with competent defense attorneys, should be much easier to win.  First of all, New York has a three year tenure process, which is something that was argued would be a reasonable amount of time, even by the prosecutors, during the Vergara case.

But the biggest problem the prosecutors are going to have is that in the Vergara case, Kane had said in his testimony that poor kids in Los Angeles had a disproportionate percent of ineffective teachers, according to his research.  To show how bad it was, he compared it to New York where this same phenomenon did not occur.

Here is a slide from Kane’s slide show:

Screen shot 2014-08-04 at 9.36.53 PMHe was questioned by the prosecutors about this:

 Q     WAS THIS FINDING OF MALDISTRIBUTION IN LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT SURPRISING TO YOU?  YES OR NO?

A     NO.

Q     WHY NOT?

A     SO IT’S — I HAVE SEEN IN OTHER SCHOOL DISTRICTS, ALTHOUGH NOT NEW YORK CITY, YOU KNOW, A SIMILAR PATTERN.

Later on, Kane explains to the defense that Chetty also did not find that ‘ineffective’ teachers were disproportionately assigned to poor students.

Q     AND WITH RESPECT TO THIS MALDISTRIBUTION OF EFFECTIVE TEACHERS, PROFESSOR CHETTY DID NOT FIND THIS MALDISTRIBUTION IN THE NEW YORK CITY SCHOOLS; CORRECT?

A     THAT’S MY READING OF HIS RESULTS, YES.

So it seems that this would make Kane and Chetty pretty bad witnesses for the New York case.  Perhaps they will get other witnesses, or they will get Kane and Chetty and hope that the defense doesn’t have (or doesn’t care to do) what it takes to go up against the big hired pro-bono guns.  If only I had gone to law school, like I had originally planned, rather than do TFA, I’m sure I could win this case.

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Underachievement School District 2014 Edition

The Achievement School District (ASD) in Tennessee is an attempt to replicate the ‘success’ of the Recovery School District (RSD) in Louisiana.  The main difference is that while Louisiana’s RSD was set into action because of a natural disaster, Hurricane Katrina, Tennessee’s ASD was set into action because of a man made disaster, Hurricane Kevin Huffman, the commissioner of education in Tennessee, and an old acquaintance of mine from the days when we were both in TFA in Houston in the early 1990s.  (I was Houston 1991 and Huffman was Houston 1992).  In charge of the ASD is someone who was a good friend of mine back in Houston, Chris Barbic.  Chris started the YES chain of charter schools.

The goal of the ASD is to take the bottom 5% of schools in Tennessee and in five years transform them into schools that are in the top 25% of schools in Tennessee.  As Tennessee schools are supposedly all improving at record rates, this would require that the ASD school progress at much faster rates to get from the bottom to near the top.

Last year I wrote my first annual report on the status of the ASD in a post called The Underachievement School District.  At that time, they boasted that they got the highest growth score possible, a 5 out of 5, but also revealed that their reading scores dropped from 18.1% proficient in 2012 to 13.6% proficient in 2013 while the rest of the state rose from 49.9% proficient to 50.3% proficient.  I questioned the validity of the five point growth scale based on these numbers.

The state tests in Tennessee are called the TCAPs.  This year there was a fiasco where the TCAP score release was delayed so long that schools were not able to use the scores in the student’s grades.  Tennessee is all about ‘accountability’ so this was one more straw that made parents and also Republican state legislators to call for Huffman’s resignation.

Early July 2014, I wrote about how the state released a summary of the TCAP scores.  It was revealed that 3-8 math increased by less than 1% while 3-8 reading went down by less than 1%.  Nothing to celebrate there.  Instead they focused on supposed high school ‘gains.’  This was ironic to me since Tennessee was so proud of their grade 4 and grade 8 NAEP gains yet when the 12th grade NAEP showed that Tennessee didn’t do so well there, they said that they can’t be held responsible for high schoolers since those students had most of their academic careers before the reforms set it.  So they can’t take blame when high schoolers do poorly, but they will take the credit when they do well.

Tennessee is releasing TCAP results in stages.  The big picture came out around July 4th, the school results are coming, they say, around August 15th, and the district results were released today, July 30th.  With the release of the district data, they also had some press releases telling the newspapers what to say.  In the whole country I’d say that the education reporters in Tennessee are the worst.  They just take whatever the press releases say and print that without any delving into the numbers themselves.  It is a shame I have to do their job for them, but I guess someone’s got to do it.

With the release of the district data, there are the Louisiana style invented statistics like this one:

 

  • From 2011 to 2014, the percentage of districts with the majority of their students proficient or advanced in 3-8 math increased from 18 percent to 57 percent.

Keep in mind that for the whole state of Tennessee, the percent of students passing 3-8 math rose about 10% from 41% to 51% between 2011 and 2014.  How this translated from 18% of districts having half the students pass to 57% having half the students pass is something that can very well happen when everyone is hovering near 50%.  It is a made up stat since there was so little to celebrate with the flat math and reading, including reading going down by about 1%.

So I was interested to see how the ASD fared.  Looking over their scores, 21.8% passing 3-8 math and 17% passing 3-8 reading, the first thing I looked for is what sort of progress they are making in going from the bottom 5% to the top 25% in five years.  Two years in and they are still in the bottom 5%, dead last with the second to last district not even close to them.  They will surely have to pick up the pace on their growth.

Then I saw this tweet

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and thought, “that’s interesting.”  The link led me to a pathetic attempt to dress up the horrible numbers posted by the ASD this year.  I went to the link and found a page with the headline “ASD Grows Faster than State in Reading and Math, High Schools Make Double Digit Gains.”

They included this bar graph showing their ‘growth’ over the past two years in math, ELA, and science.  I noticed that while they technically did ‘gain’ 3.4% in their reading scores, they are still 1.1% down from what they were in 2012.  This reminds me a bit of a guy who is gambling and you ask him how he’s doing and he says “I’m up $1,000 in the past hour without mentioning the $1500 he lost in the hour before that.”  Also these bars since they are only being compared to each other do not make it clear how low these scores really are.

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But in reform, when convenient, it’s not about score it’s about ‘growth’ compared to the rest of the state.  Well since from 2013 to 2014 the whole state went down by .4% in reading, any ‘growth’ no matter how little by a district is ‘out-gaining’, as the tweets said, their peers.  And since math across the state was flat from 2013 to 2014, rising only by .6%, almost any other possible gain by a district will be better than the state.  Still it made for this impressive looking graph comparing ASD growth to state growth.

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Of course the 2.2% bar is quite large the way they did their scale.  But it is accurate that the ASD had better growth than the state between 2013 and 2014.  But the ASD has been around for two years, so wouldn’t it make more sense to compare the ‘growth’ of the ASD to the whole state for the two year period.  Well, they were wise not to, but I was wise to make it for them, and here’s what it looks like:

asd3

Suddenly, it’s not so good anymore.  The ASD grew by 1.1% more than the state in that period while the ASD actually went down by .7% more than the state went down.  At this rate of losing .35% of ground each year to the state, the ASD will never get out of the bottom 5% in reading, and for math where there is a 30% difference between the ASD and the Tennessee average, if they creep up at .5% a year it will take 60 years for them to get to the 50% mark, let alone the top 25%.  Here is another graph I made that you won’t find in the press release.  The are those proficiency numbers of the ASD side by side with the Tennessee average.

asd2

This demonstrates, as much as anything how the fact that the ASD had a better 1 year ‘growth’ than the state, the two year growth is about the same and that the ASD better start ramping it up if they plan to get their schools from way way back in dead last to beating 75% of the districts in the state of Tennessee in just three years.

But there does need to be something to celebrate so the ASD made up the most outrageous statistic of all and presented it in this graph.

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According to this graph it seems that ASD high schools had 42.4% ‘growth’ in English 1, 24.2% ‘growth’ in Algebra 1, and 28.9% ‘growth’ in Biology 1.  Whoah, those are big numbers.  When I went to the page with all the databases I found that there were no numbers at all for the ASD.  Other districts had ‘growths’ generally between -10% and +10%.  But why no ASD?  Then I noticed in the fine print on this graph the very mysterious explanation:

SCORES ARE AN AVERAGE OF FRAYSER 9GA AND GRAD ACADEMY; GROWTH IS BASED ON COMPARABLE SCS HIGH
SCHOOLS (I.E., CARVER HS AND FRAYSER HS 9TH GRADE CLASS)

I’ll give a hearty thumbs up to any Tennessee education reporter who gets to the bottom of what this could possibly mean.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I was once good friends with Chris Barbic, and maybe he still sees me as a good guy, though an annoying one.  I hope so.  A year and a half ago he was the recipient of one of my ‘classic Rubinstein’ open letters.  I write him emails from time to time, mostly yelling at him for having become a ‘reformer.’  He hasn’t written me back in a while, actually.  But from time to time he will respond to one of my tweets.  I’ll then tweet back and a bunch of others will usually join in and then Chris, like the groundhog seeing his shadow, but this time it is him seeing his own reflection, and he goes into hiding for a few months.

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This concludes this edition of the 2014 report on the Achievement School District.  For sure there will be three more of these 2015, 2016, and 2017.  After that I will determine if the ASD has met their goal of getting the bottom 5% of schools up to the top 25% in just 5 years armed with only a healthy dose of high expectations and a whole bunch of new TFA teachers.

 

 

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Guest Post Series. Part 4: Why Dalton Goodier completed his commitment to TFA.

Especially since the teachforus.org website has been essentially shut down, I like to give writers the chance to reach a wider audience with guest posts here on my blog.  This one is by a new TFA alum who has just completed his two year commitment to TFA.

I became aware of Dalton Goodier right at the beginning of his first year when TFA quoted him on their Twitter feed.

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As I’m known to do, I offered this young rookie some constructive criticism in a blog post post called ‘How many things wrong with this first day’ .  Unlike some of the more defensive new TFAers, Dalton actually appreciated my critique and we became friendly and exchanged emails throughout his two years.

In this guest post, Dalton adds his own thoughts to the ongoing ‘I quit TFA’ / ‘I didn’t quit TFA’ pont-counterpoint that has been happening on the web for a few years.  Maybe it goes without saying, but as he mentions in his article he is not going to be continuing for a third year so, in one sense, he certainly did quit.  But why quibble about semantics?  The post is still very thoughtful and smart.  I believe that most corps members are smart enough to not be fully intoxicated by the TFA Kool-Aid.  Why so many stay quiet is a strange dynamic that I don’t think TFA purposely created, but one that serves them well.  I’m not sure what Dalton is doing next year, but I always appreciated his blog titled ‘Middle School Hero’  — named before he went through his two year learning experience (which will hopefully be more accessible if teachforus.org is ever fixed) and also appreciated Dalton, himself.  I hope he finds more ways to share the wisdom he has gained over the past two years.

Why I Stayed

By Dalton Goodier

As Teach For America gains traction on college campuses and within the national media and as the education reform movement with which TFA aligns itself becomes more prevalent, an entire genre of op-eds has risen out of this surging popularity. The “Why I Quit TFA” blog post is a subject that myriad different former Corps Members have tackled. Olivia Blanchard’s account was published in The Atlantic Monthly while I found Sydney Miller’s account to be particularly well-written and poignant. Gary Rubinstein’s “Why I Did Teach For America and Why You Shouldn’t” is (to my understanding) one of his most widely-read posts and even satirical website The Onion has contributed to the discussion with a sardonic piece.

Generally speaking, there are a few common threads throughout these writings. The criticisms around TFA center around the idea that incoming Corps Members are undertrained do not fully ingrain themselves into the communities they serve, and often leave during or immediately following their two-year commitment, creating a vacuum of experienced, dedicated teachers.

Reading these posts and the many others like it was an important part of my Teach For America experience. While I was applying for TFA, I read these blogs voraciously, intent on learning what it was really like to teach at an economically disadvantaged school. After I began my own teaching career, I remained an active part of this particular community, blogging my own experiences while following others. Reading others’ experiences kept me connected when I felt like no one understood what I was going through. There were moments when I was bitter, frustrated, and upset that TFA had placed me in a situation that, admittedly, I sometimes found to be hopeless. I related to those who quit. I understood.

But I didn’t quit. I didn’t leave. I stayed, and while I never felt totally satisfied with my work and while I didn’t become the type of “transformational leader” that I entered the classroom believing was my destiny, I’ve never once regretted my decision to fulfill the commitment that I made.

I’m not better than anyone who quit and I’m not worse than anyone who is staying for a third year. I’m no hero. I firmly believe that Teach For America isn’t for everyone, not even for every person who is accepted into the program. That being said, I feel like everything I read on the internet is either anti-TFA to the point of mobilization or PR-friendly enough to gloss over the harsh realities experienced by incoming Corps Members. I don’t often hear the perspective of Corps Members who are ambivalent, who care deeply about Teach For America and the cause it advocates but also sense that there are flaws within the movement, who emerged from their experience jaded but haven’t lost all their idealism, who didn’t change the world but did make a difference.

That is how I feel. This is my story. This is why I stayed.

~~~~~

When I stepped into my classroom for the first time, I felt like I was viewing a scene from a movie. I saw myself standing alongside Jaime Escalante from “Stand and Deliver” and Erin Gruwell from “Freedom Writers”, ready to make a difference, ready to push my kids, read to save them. On the first day of school, I told my kids that they would be the best writers in the state by the end of the year. I didn’t have lesson plans, I didn’t have a knack for classroom management, and I didn’t have relationships with my students, but that didn’t matter to me: I had ambition, heart, and unwavering idealism. These would be more than enough to push both me and my kids to greater heights, I knew it.

What followed was the toughest year of my life.

Nothing I tried worked with my students. I was supposed to teach writing but my students, most of whom were part of the school’s English Language Learner or special education programs, were so far behind that I didn’t know where to start. All day I would try to manage class after class of 7th graders who were alternately apathetic and destructive. When the school day finally ended, I would go home and spend hours writing lesson plans, grading assessments, and calling parents. I coached softball and ran with the cross country team and taught Saturday School in addition to everything else. Not dry heaving in the morning before leaving for work felt like a personal victory.

I lost sight of what had made me join Teach For America in the first place: the belief that all kids can learn, the idea that every child needs a sturdy adult role model, the understanding that change is not possible without tremendous sacrifice. I lost faith in my students and in myself. I distinctly remember saying things like, “My kids are just so far behind” and “If they don’t care and they don’t want to learn then what am I supposed to do for them?” I yelled at kids. I wrote office referrals. During my first official evaluation, I scored poorly in many domains. I worked myself to the bone but felt shame because I wasn’t doing better. Outside of the classroom wasn’t much better. Mandatory professional development sessions and staff meetings sapped my energy further but rarely did I leave feeling empowered and able to implement what I had learned. My classroom was toxic for both myself and my students and I was deeply, visibly unhappy.

As the bell rang for the final time of my first year of teaching, I remained seated in my chair. I did not listen to music. I did not write. I did not call any of my friends to celebrate. I sat slumped, completely empty. My energy, my very soul had drained out of me and lay pooled around me, evaporating into the May air.

When that first year ended, I did not feel content. I did not feel like I had accomplished anything or like I had made a difference. I did not feel like my students were better prepared for the challenges of the world because they had me and, just as painfully, I did not feel as though they knew that they were unequivocally loved and cared for. A year of struggling, fighting, and grinding had resulted in an impact that I felt to be negligible.

That feeling carried on into the summer. It was a hangover from a year spent physically, mentally, and emotionally draining myself. All I wanted to do was sleep. I went west on a backpacking trip with my dad and my brother and couldn’t fully appreciate the beauty around me; I went to New Orleans with my friends and didn’t want to leave the hotel room. It took almost six weeks before I began to feel excited again, before I felt worthwhile and whole and human.

If there was a time to quit, that summer was it. I’d made it to the end of the year and in likelihood my school would be able to replace me. There was another Corps Member at my school who was leaving as well. No one would have blamed me. When, a week before classes started, my assignment was changed from teaching honors to teaching remediation with many of the same students who had made my life miserable the year before, I was afforded another opportunity to walk out.

But I stayed.

~~~~~

Why did I stay?

As with most real-life questions, the answer is nuanced and complex. A big part of it was the friends that I’d made during my first year in Oklahoma. They wouldn’t let me quit and I wouldn’t let them. Another factor was the fact that I’d never quit anything in my life and I didn’t want to start then. But ultimately, it came down to a simple reason:

These kids need me.

I wasn’t who I wanted to be for my kids. I wasn’t a good teacher and I wasn’t a good support for my students. Still, in the face of the gangs, poverty, and abusive home lives that many of my students faced, I was something. Maybe I wasn’t the savior that I had set out to be and maybe I wasn’t changing kids lives, but I had to do something. Right?

So I dug in.

I didn’t do anything heroic. I didn’t put forth some sort of Herculean effort or come up with any innovative systems. I simply recommitted myself to loving my kids and doing the best I could with them, resolved to learn from last year’s mistakes, and made sure that my first three weeks of lessons were airtight.

When my students entered my classroom for the first day of year two, nothing was different and yet everything had changed. I was enthusiastic and engaging. My procedures were efficient. My content was engaging and exciting. The class moved so quickly from one meaningful task to another that the students didn’t have time to act out. Buoyed by my positive attitude and the promise for real, tangible results, students bought into my classroom.

Once I had them hooked, I never let go. A true culture developed in my class. By the end of the fall semester of year two, I had developed a stronger relationship with nearly all of my students than I had with hardly any of my kids during my entire first year. I didn’t write a single referral. I didn’t have to lecture kids or dole out punishments like Oprah giving away cars. My students grew as readers and more than a few of my 8th graders read entire books for the first time in their lives. I found that I actually enjoyed the company of my kids. They made me laugh. At the end of the semester, several kids said that I had taught them how to love reading, how to appreciate the stories the world has to tell.

The next semester, I had my teaching assignment changed again and I went back down to 7th grade and the same thing happened. I got close to my kids and they grew close to me. We learned from each other and I saw my kids make strides, not only as learners but as human beings. My soccer players had a phenomenal season and through that I became even more firmly entrenched in the lives of my kids. For most of my students, I was a fun language arts teacher; for a couple I became a surrogate parent, providing rides and meals and advice.

Let me reiterate: what I did was not special. During my time in Oklahoma City I was surrounded by teachers, both at my school and within my Corps, who worked harder than I did, got more academic growth out of their students, assumed greater leadership roles, and ultimately did more to help raise their students. I was a good teacher, yes, but my numbers weren’t astronomical. I was a few kids’ favorite teacher, but not everyone’s. A couple of kids might look back on me the way that we all look back on certain teachers as those who made tremendous impacts on our lives, but only a couple. All this goes to say that I was good and I was effective, but I also did not and do not deserve to be put on a pedestal.

But I chose to stay. And that made all the difference.

I stayed because I realized that my kids didn’t need a savior, they just needed someone who would listen and care.

I stayed because even though I couldn’t solve all of my schools problems, I could help mitigate them.

I stayed because many of my students needed a father figure and even though at 23 years old and scared, I was still worth more than nothing.

I stayed to show my students that when you commit to something, it matters that you honor that commitment.

I stayed because I said I would.

~~~~~

Honestly, I don’t know what the lasting legacy of Teach For America will be in this country. I don’t know if the organization as a whole is adding or taking away from the United States’ education system. If you’re reading this and trying to decide if you should apply for Teach For America, I don’t know whether or you should or shouldn’t.

However, I do know that if you are there already, if you are falling asleep at three night after night only to wake up at six to do it all again, if you are walking into a classroom every day and feeling like no one, including yourself, wants you there, if you are nodding in solemn agreement with every editorial and memoir that claims that Corps Members are underprepared and overmatched, then you should not quit. Whether you realize it or not, even on the days where you aren’t your best and even on the days where you feel you’re at your worst, those kids need you. Those schools need you. When you leave, it creates another hole, another gap where a role model should be. The problems facing us, our kids, and our entire institutional system are large, but leaving does not solve them.

 

Author’s Note: I didn’t write this piece as a show of political support for either side of the ed reform debate but instead to share one person’s experience. I tried to present this experience in a nuanced, complex way because that’s what human experiences are: nuanced and complex. However, I understand that putting these thoughts into writing sometimes simplifies them and turns them into empty rhetoric. I did not intend them as such and do not wish to be attacked as such. Please, comment. Tweet at me, email me, reply and engage in a dialogue. But do not make blanket statements about all Corps Members. Let’s work to find solutions together.

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