P-Tech Principal Responds

Last week I wrote a post about the latest exaggerated claim about the success of the P-Tech high school in New York City.  P-Tech is a ‘miracle’ school that Joel Klein is very proud of and even Obama once touted it in a State of The Union address.

The claim tweeted by the principal of P-Tech and retweeted by Klein was that the school has 83% of its students ‘college ready’ in math which would make it one of the top schools in the city by that metric.  I investigated and found that there are several ‘college ready’ in math metrics and by all of the others, P-Tech has some of the lowest ‘college ready’ in math numbers.

Students in New York are deemed ‘college ready’ in math if they can get over an 80 on one of the three math Regents exams.  Algebra I is generally taken in 9th grade, Geometry in 10th grade, and Algebra II in 11th grade.  The school had about 11% of its students scoring over an 80 on Algebra I, about 2% scoring over an 80 in Geometry, and 0% scoring over an 80 in Algebra II.  Where the 83% number came from, I haven’t figured out yet.

If P-Tech students really were proficient in 9th grade Algebra I, then they should perform nearly as well in Geometry since it is the next course.  But their 1.6% getting college ready in Geometry is a relevant statistic I think since if they peak in 9th grade (advanced 8th graders often take the Algebra I Regents, actually) that would not make someone ready for college after graduating.  So I showed in a scatter plot that P-Tech had the lowest Geometry scores, by a wide margin, than any other schools that had a comparable generic ‘college ready’ in math score.



The principal of P-Tech responded:


So Davis is saying that it is not fair to compare his schools Geometry college ready numbers to schools that had comparable generic math college ready numbers since those other schools did not have 86% Black students and did not have 8th grade incoming scores of 2.31 out of 4.

So to address this concern that my comparisons were unfair, I produced two new scatter plots.  One compares percent of Black students to percent of students scoring ‘college ready’ in Geometry.  P-Tech is the yellow dot.  As can be seen, P-Tech is hardly an ‘outlier.’  It is actually one of the lowest performing schools with between 80% and 90% Black students.


Then I made a plot comparing incoming 8th grade scores to Geometry college ready percentages for all high schools.  Again the P-Tech yellow dot is way at the bottom, even for other schools whose incoming students had 8th grade scores around 2.3 like theirs.


So I believe I’ve addressed all the concerns that the principal had about my original plot being somehow unfair comparisons.  I will share this post with him and report back if he believes that these plots are also unfair comparisons.

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Are P-TECH Students College Ready?

Perhaps the most overrated school in reformer folklore is the Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH, in Brooklyn, New York.

Since opening five years ago, they have been featured in national news reports, visited by President Obama, and touted by President Obama in a State of The Union address.

Though a partnership with IBM, students at P-TECH, so the theory goes, go to school there for 6 years and earn a high school diploma and an associates degree in some kind of technology field.  Qualified students get job offers at IBM.

I’ve tracked this school for several years and out of all the miracle schools I’ve ‘debunked’ over the years, this was the simplest one to do.  Despite all their claims, I was able to easily find on the New York City public data site that P-TECH’s Regents scores are some of the lowest in the city.  I’ve written about this school several times over the years.

So imagine my surprise when I see Joel Klein retweeting yet another miracle claim, this one by the principal of P-TECH, Rashid Davis.


Included in Davis’ tweet is this chart showing that students at P-TECH have some of the highest ‘Percentage Attaining Math College Readiness Standard’ in the city.


In New York state, from my understanding, ‘college ready in math’ means that a student has gotten an 80 on one of the math regents.  There are three math regents, Algebra 1 taken mainly by 9th graders, Geometry, taken by 10th graders, and Algebra II, by 11th graders.  There is a very generous curve on these tests where getting an 80 on Algebra 1 can be done by getting 59% of the possible points.  But even as inflated this statistic is, it still seems noteworthy that P-TECH seems to have students who are more ready for college than nearly all of the 500 high schools.

But this didn’t seem possible to me based on their regents scores.  So I took another look.

Using the public data site located here I found the database from which this statistic came.  In that same database I found that there were seven other statistics that measured college readiness in one way or another.

There was college readiness based on the Algebra 1 regents.  On that they had 11.6%.

College readiness based on the Geometry regents, 1.6%.

Based on the Algebra 2 regents, 0%.

Based on the English regents, 41.6%.

Based on the Global History regents, 50%.

Their Math SAT average, 446

Percent getting a 65 or more on either Algebra 2, Physics, or Chemistry, 15.3%

I challenged Davis to a little Twitter debate and he said that there was no inconsistency between the regents college ready numbers and the ‘math’ college ready ones.  They were based on different students, he said.  One was the graduating cohort and one was the younger students taking these tests.  I said that it did not add up.  If the demographics of the school is about the same for different classes and the teachers are the same, these numbers should correlate somewhat.

And, in general, they do.  I made one of my famous scatter plots, putting the ‘Math College Ready’ on the horizontal and the ‘Geometry College Ready’ on the vertical.  There was a general correlation with one notable outlier, a lonely red dot at the bottom right of the graph with its 82.7% college ready math yet 1.6% college ready Geometry.


So for sure something is off about their 82.7% number.  The most plausible explanation is that even though they can’t get hardly anyone to pass the 10th grade and 11th grade math regents, perhaps they have their students keep taking the Algebra 1 regents over and over every year until they achieve an 80 on it (which, again, is really just a 59% before the curve, but that’s another story).  I can’t be sure.

When he saw that we weren’t making much progress on the Twitter debate, Davis wisely took a break from it.  Joel Klein, Mr. Data Driven until the data doesn’t support his agenda, tweeted one last barb, which he later deleted about how Davis will keep fighting for the kids while I will keep trying to destroy all that is good.   I tweeted back that something that is truly good will withstand the scrutiny of critics, and that was it for this round.

P-TECH is expanding across the state and the world, actually.  There are 16 more opening in New York, I understand, and 40 across the country.  Australia is looking at them and I just saw something about two P-TECHs opening in Morocco …

Other posts I’ve written about P-TECH:


Is P-TECH a Miracle School or a Failing School?

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Success Academy Scrubs Their Public Video Page: Updated

There’s a famous saying, I think it originated with Watergate, “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover up.”

My last two blog posts have been based on videos I found on Success Academy’s public video site on Vimeo.  This is the collection of videos that they promised in The Wall Street Journal back in May after a few very public scandals.

Now Success Academy is very private about what happens in their schools so you’d figure that all their videos contain things that they are proud of.  Surely they spent considerable money producing these videos and there were many people involved in what sorts of things would be permitted to be in these videos.

There were 485 videos on the page when I first came across it a few days ago.  Randomly clicking on a few of them I found four videos among the nearly 500 that I analyzed, three in the first post and one in the second post.  I noticed in a comment today on the most recent post that the video I wrote about was taken down from the site.  Then I looked at the first post and found that two of those three videos were also removed from their site.  I went back to their site to find that all that remains of the 485 videos that were up just 24 hours ago is now down to just 56 videos.

Now you can go back and read my posts and you will see that I encourage readers to watch the videos and make their own judgements before reading my opinions on them.  Surely by posting these videos they should expect that someone might watch them and critique them, you’d figure.  But I think it is pretty sure that it isn’t a coincidence that a few days after I posted the links to these videos not only are three out of four of them removed, but over 90% of their videos are removed.

Now these videos were posted originally, presumably, to help the public schools learn what they can do to be as high performing as Success Academies.  These videos were a public service.  If this is true, it seems very harsh, cruel even, to take them down just because some blogger links to four of them and criticizes them.

If they’re going to do this, why leave up 56 videos?  The truth is that I did not sift through the 485 videos looking for incriminating stuff.  Basically, I can pick pretty much any video they have and the issues I had with the other videos I wrote about are all clearly there.

For example (and let’s see if this video gets taken down now), here’s one that remains.  In it the teacher is demonstrating a classroom management technique called ‘behavior narration.’  It’s a form of positive reinforcement where you praise kids for following instructions.  In theory it encourages kids who get praise to want to get more praise and it also encourages kids who are not following instructions to follow them so they can get that praise.  I’m all for positive reinforcement but, as you will see in this video, when taken to its logical extreme it becomes an annoyance.

In this short video, kids are trying to read silently.  While they do, the teacher praises the kids for things like reading with straight backs.  Many of the narrations are about things that the teacher cannot possibly know are true like “Adrian is thinking about the setting of the book, how it is impacting the rest of his story” and “Max is thinking about the problem his character is encountering as he’s reading.”


One thing about this video is that the teacher seems to have some warmth while in the videos that were deleted, the teachers were somewhat hostile.  The other videos had teachers doing some very bad things, for example, making kids raise their hands to reveal to the entire class that they got a poor score on an assignment.  Another deleted video had an assistant teacher putting a sticker on a child’s face as the assistant teacher circulated around the room.

The videos seem to show that Success Academy is a place where students live in fear of their over-controlling teachers.  It does not look like a place where kids get the opportunity to be kids.  I do think there there is a subset of kids who can do well in this environment, but most, I think, can’t.

I think that the taking down of 430 out of 485 videos is an extreme — even paranoid — response to the analysis of one blogger about four of their videos.  I hope they put the videos back up soon but I’m assuming they won’t.

Update:  On Thursday September 6th the videos, for a brief while, temporarily reappeared, all of them, but a few hours later every video became password protected.  So we went from 485 to 56 to 485 and then to 0 all in 24 hours.

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Circle Time At Success Academy

Success Academy is a network of charter schools in New York City that is quite controversial.  It is undeniable that their test scores are incredibly high.  Yet, we know very little about what happens inside these schools.  They don’t seem to be all that different from other ‘no excuses’ charters yet their test scores are so much higher than that of other charters too.

After some bad press last year in The New York Times — there was a ‘got-to-go’ list at one school and a video of a teacher ripping up a first grader’s math work — Success said they were going to share some of their best practices.  They’ve followed through on that promise posting about 500 videos on a public site.  I’ve watched about 10 of these videos and I’ve written about a few already.

I’m assuming that they expect people to watch these videos and that since they publicly posted them, they are not ashamed of anything that are in the videos.  But when I watch these videos I find most of them very disturbing.

In this six minute video we see a teacher doing ‘circle time’ reading the classic children’s book ‘Caps For Sale.’  The kids in the class are around 5 or 6 years old, I think it is a kindergarten class.  If you have time, I think you should first watch the video yourself and form your own conclusions.

Update 9/5/16:  Success Academy has deleted the video.  Where there were once nearly 500 videos on their public Vimeo page, there are now about 50.


She reminds them how to sit to make this “the most enjoyable story yet” which includes having a really straight back and hands clasped together while tracking the speaker.

There is a lot of “behavior narration” going on, where the teacher constantly points out to the class students who are following directions well.  (“Yolanni’s tracking up here.” “Davin brought it right back”)  I find it very annoying and I feel like if I were a child it would detract from the story.

The teacher is in complete control.  She allows the kids to make some gestures from time to time, but then quickly gets them to return their hands to their laps.  I’m kind of scared of this teacher, whoever she is.

A bizarre thing seems to happen at the 4:55 mark.  The assistant teacher comes over to one of the girls in the class, a girl who has not been engaged so much in the reading and, I’ve watched this a bunch of times so tell me if I’m seeing things, seems to put a sticker or something onto the child’s face.  The child does not resist in any way, it is just something that happens, I guess, at this school.  I don’t know what the sticker signifies.  I didn’t see that child get any of the many ‘corrections’ that some students have received during the story so I’m not sure what that was all about.


I’m a high school teacher and can’t claim to be an expert in reading to children.  (I did co-write a children’s book, ‘The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes’ if that gets me any credibility on this topic)  Still, watching this video causes me some anxiety.  The overly controlled environment the teacher with her constant corrections and narration.  I’m just so thankful that my own children don’t go to this school.  If this is the price to pay for incredibly high test scores, I feel like it is too steep.

I’m interested to hear from people who are experts at teaching small children if my instincts in watching this are off at all, let me know in the comments.

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Success Academy Reveals Some Of Their Secret Methods

In February 2016, The New York Times revealed that a celebrated teacher at Success Academy utilized a teaching technique known as ‘rip and redo’ on an unsuspecting 1st grader.  The chain insisted that this was an anomaly as was the now infamous ‘got to go’ list, also revealed by The New York Times a few months earlier.

One purpose of charters, at least originally, was for them to experiment with things and share their best practices with the public schools.  And of course there are a lot of other things, good and bad, that are happening at Success Academy, but it is pretty amazing that the public doesn’t get a chance to see what they are doing to achieve such unbelievable test scores.  It’s as if one hospital seems to have found the cure to Cancer and scientists are not permitted to verify their claims or learn how the treatment works.

So a few months later Success started posting videos on a public site where they are actually sharing what they consider to be their best practices.  There are about 500 videos so far, probably amounting to twenty hours of footage (most videos are just a  minute or two).


Maybe people don’t know this about me considering that I’m a critic of ‘No Excuses’ charter schools, but as a teacher I am someone who likes my class to be pretty orderly.  I’ve written two guidebooks for new teachers ‘Reluctant Disciplinarian’ and ‘Beyond Survival’ and I do think, especially for new teachers, it is better to be too strict if the only other option is to have no control over your classes.  As I’ve aged, I’ve mellowed and gotten more confidence in myself as a teacher so I no longer ‘need’ to have total control at all times, which has definitely made me a happier teacher.

I haven’t watched many of these videos so don’t think that I’ve somehow cherry picked three that prove whatever point I’m trying to make, but I have selected three to analyze a bit.  Some people may see these videos and like what they see.  Surely Success Academy, as private as they are, must think that these are videos to be proud of otherwise they would not go through the effort of posting them.

This first video is just 52 seconds long.  The teacher is explaining how each student will get a jar of tiles and the students have to arrange the tiles into a rectangle and then figure out a short cut to count the tiles (presumably by multiplying the length and width of the rectangle they form)

As this is a ‘hands on’ activity, I was a bit surprised that students were instructed to work in ‘zero noise’ and ‘making sure that none of your tiles falls to the floor.’  I do think that a teacher should make it clear that when using manipulatives like this, they are not toys and students should take them seriously.  But what is the big deal if a tile falls on the floor once in a while?  I would not be thrilled if my child were in this overly controlled classroom.

This next video is one that I found very disturbing.  The teacher is coaching the student before the a test about how he should be ‘precise.’  She repeats this a bunch of times and watching the student, and I know that he could be nervous about being on camera, but I still find this interaction very awkward.  Something I’ve noticed from the few videos I’ve seen is that the teachers, at least the ones featured on the videos, are very robotic and cold.  I think that in a school there should be a mix of different ‘types’ of teacher as some kids may relate to one type better than another, and also it’s good to get to experience dealing with different personality types.  I haven’t looked at many videos, but of the ones I saw, all the teachers seemed to be twenty-something white women with type-A personalities (not to stereotype, or anything).  If people who read this blog watch some other videos and notice different personality types, leave comments after this post.

This last video is long, but I was most struck by the first two minutes where the teacher (A TFA teacher, actually) is giving a pep talk before the activity, reading some non-fiction passages and answering 7 questions.  In the first two minutes the word “score” is said ten times.  At 4:43 a student mentions the state tests as a reason for learning about reading.  At 5:00 a second student chimes in and mentions the state tests.  These students have been trained well indeed!

I notice that any time a teacher poses a question to the class, the students seem to have to respond by first rephrasing the question.  So the teacher asks “Why is it important to have a deep understanding of the passage before answering the question?” and the student answers by first saying “It is important to have a deep understanding of the passage before answering the question because …”  It seems very ‘conformist’ to me.

The students do get opportunity to talk and answer questions and express ideas but this lesson is extremely ‘teacher-driven.’  Also, these are 6th graders doing a reading passage with 7 questions after they’ve already been through the Success Academy program for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade test prep so this lesson seems a bit unnecessary to me.

At 34:10 students are asked to raise their hand if they got a 4, 3, 2, or 1, which I don’t think is right to publicly shame kids who did poorly on an assignment.

As I’ve mentioned, I was one of the original uptight controlling teachers in my younger days.  I still don’t like watching a class that is in chaos even if its some kind of controlled chaos where the students are actually learning even if it doesn’t seem like it.

I do appreciate that the teachers are certainly working hard at this test prep lesson.  I’m just hoping that when my kids are in 6th grade they don’t have to endure a lesson like this.  People who read this blog may disagree with me, and that’s fine too.

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Duncan’s Convenient Edit

A few days ago, Campbell Brown’s website, the74, published their first book called ‘The Founders.’  It is a book about the top charter schools in the country and the stories behind them and their founders.  The foreward to the book was written by former Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.

In The Atlantic they ran an excerpt from this foreward with the title “The Myth of the ‘Miracle School'”.  The term ‘miracle school’ was popularized by Diane Ravitch in her May 31st 2011 New York Times Op-Ed ‘Waiting For A School Miracle.’  A ‘miracle school’ is one that is outperforming the nearby neighboring school with the ‘same kids’ and the same resources.  The main difference between the two schools as far as ‘inputs’ is that the teachers at the miracle school care more, have higher expectations, and work harder.  The evidence of the student outcomes are usually higher test scores than the neighborhood school or 100% of the senior class getting admitted to college.

My first encounter with a miracle school was when I heard Arne Duncan make the keynote speech at the Teach For America 20 year alumni summit.  He spoke about how when he was CEO of Chicago schools he shut down a big ‘failing’ high school and replaced it with three smaller schools on the same campus.  One of those schools, Urban Prep, had just graduated their first class.  In the speech he implied that the school got 100% of their students to graduate and get into college.  When I researched it I learned that only about 65% of the students who had started there in 9th grade had graduated and that their standardized test scores were some of the lowest in the state.

I read the article in The Atlantic and Duncan said this about ‘miracle schools.’:

I have yet to visit a great school where the school leaders and teachers were content to rest on their laurels. I have never heard a charter-school leader describe his or her school as a “miracle school” or claim to have found the silver bullet for ending educational inequity. The truth is that great charter schools are restless institutions, committed to continuous improvement. They are demanding yet caring institutions. And they are filled with a sense of urgency about the challenges that remain in boosting achievement and preparing students to succeed in life.

When I compared the excerpt from The Atlantic with the full foreward in ‘The Founders’, I found a very revealing and convenient edit.

Near the end of the excerpt in The Atlantic, there are these two paragraphs:

Sadly, much of the current debate in Washington, in education schools, and in the blogosphere about high-performing charter schools is driven by ideology, not by facts on the ground. Far too often, the chief beneficiaries of high-performing charter schools—low-income families and children—are forgotten amid controversies over funding and the hiring of nonunion teachers in charter schools. Too often, the parents and children who are desperately seeking better schools are an afterthought.

Despite the bloodless, abstract quality of much of today’s debates on charters, the ideologically driven controversies won’t end anytime soon. Advocates and activists will continue to care about whether a high-performing school is identified as a charter school or a traditional neighborhood school. But it is worth remembering that children do not care about this distinction. Neither do I.

But in the full foreward there are two additional paragraphs in-between these two paragraphs:

Sadly, much of the current debate in Washington, D.C., in education schools, and in the blogosphere about high-performing charter schools is driven by ideology, not by facts on the ground. Far too often, the chief beneficiaries of high-performing charter schools — low-income families and children — are forgotten amid controversies over funding and the hiring of nonunion teachers in charter schools. Too often, the parents and children who are desperately seeking better schools are an afterthought.

When I was at CPS, we replaced one failing school in the violent, high-poverty Englewood neighborhood with three schools, one of which was Urban Prep Charter Academy, an all-male, all-black school. At Urban Prep’s predecessor, Englewood High, a senior was shot to death at a bus stop in front of the school a few years before we closed the school. Just 4 percent of seniors read at grade level — i.e., in every class of 25 students, one student on average could read at grade level. And this educational malpractice had been going on for a long time. Don Stewart, the former president of Spelman College and head of the Chicago Community Trust, told me that his mother wouldn’t let him attend Englewood High 50 years earlier because it was known as a terrible school even then.

In 2010, four years after Urban Prep Charter Academy opened, it graduated its first class — with all 107 seniors headed off to four-year colleges and universities. Urban Prep Academies recently announced that 100 percent of the 252 seniors in the class of 2016 were admitted to a four-year university or college, too — the seventh year in a row in which 100 percent of Urban Prep seniors were admitted to a four-year college or university.

Despite the bloodless, abstract quality of much of today’s debates on charters, the ideologically driven controversies won’t end anytime soon. Advocates and activists will continue to care about whether a high-performing school is identified as a charter school or a traditional neighborhood school. But it is worth remembering that children do not care about this distinction. Neither do I.

I find it interesting that those two paragraphs about Urban Prep were omitted in the excerpt.  As the title of the excerpt is “The Myth of the ‘Miracle School'” it would not be wise for Duncan to include a perfect example of why the whole idea of exposing schools as over-hyped has become a big part of the fight to save public schools, public school students, and public school teachers.

If Duncan had put Urban Prep into The Atlantic which will be much more widely read than his foreward in ‘The Founders’ people would be more likely to look into the story about Urban Prep and their awful test scores and attrition despite their record of 100% of their graduating seniors being admitted to college.  (Urban Prep promised to eventually reveal how those original 107 students in the class of 2010 fared in college, but we are still waiting for this information.)

I’m also amazed that Duncan, in the foreward, is still using the same one example of a ‘miracle school’ from so many years back.  It is important to him not just to have an example of a miracle school but to have one that he had some hand in creating.

Before writing ‘The Founders,’ Whitmire wrote biography about Michelle Rhee and a book about the Rocketship charters so we can expect the book to have a predictable point of view.  I’ve just read Duncan’s foreward so far and did some searching through the text.  The book is about the highest performing charters in the country so it’s a bit strange that only about three pages of the book are dedicated to Success Academy.  If I were a ‘reformer’ I would have no interest in the KIPPs, YESs, Nobles, Green Dots,  and all the others with their test scores, at best, marginally better than the state averages.  Aside from Success Academy, all the other charters mainly support the thesis that reforms based mainly on making it easier to fire teachers won’t cause test scores to increase by very much.

On page 94 of the book he takes a small dig at Success Academy:  “And comparing academic results from her schools with those from neighborhood schools, when her schools enjoy important differences such as not “backfilling” classes after fourth grade, is unfair.”  Of course the academic results from her schools are not just compared to the neighborhood schools, but with the other charter schools that the book is mainly about so it is important for him to mention about the ‘important differences’ that Success works with while likely not mentioning so much the differences that the charters he features work with.  I haven’t read much of the book yet, but I plan to and I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Protect Yourself From ASDs

If you’re a student, a parent, a teacher, or otherwise interested in education policy, you will soon likely hear about the latest fad in education reform ― ASDs.  An ASD, short for ‘Achievement School District,’ is something modeled after ‘The’ ASD in Tennessee.  Tennessee’s ASD was an education experiment started in 2011 where the state either took over, or turned over to charter networks, schools with test scores in the bottom 5% of the state.  These takeovers are the school district equivalent of martial law.  Most, if not all, of the teachers and administrators are fired.

In return for this ultimate flexibility, the Tennessee ASD promised, according to its website, to ‘catapult’ these schools into the top 25% within 5 years.  Two years after the creation of the Tennessee ASD an optimistic superintendent, Chris Barbic, claimed that three of the six original ASD schools were on track to achieve that ambitious goal, one of them having made so much progress it could break the barrier after just four years.  But this turned out to be a very rosy view.  Now five years have passed and the number of schools that achieved this goal is exactly zero.  Of the six original ASD schools, actually, five out of six remain in the bottom 5% while the other one has only catapulted into the bottom 7%. An independent report from Vanderbilt’s Peabody College from December 2015 concluded after crunching the numbers that “the performance of ASD schools has been inconsistent across school years, in most cases showing no difference from the comparison schools.” Another report recently released by George Washington University came to the same conclusion and tried to identify what the causes of their failure were.  It might be time to rename it the Underachievement School District.  It is no wonder that many members of communities that the ASD has invaded are angry.  The other established ASD, Detroit’s Education Achievement Authority (EAA), has been such a failure that it is getting phased out.

But publicly available facts like this have played little role in the proliferation of such districts.  This approach to school reform has been popping up in state after state.  ASDs currently exist in Tennessee, Detroit, Nevada, Milwaukee, and North Carolina while legislation has been proposed to create them in Georgia, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Rochester.  This approach has been endorsed, even encouraged, by the US department of Education, as targeting the ‘bottom 5%’ of schools in each district has been written into the latest education law the Every Child Succeeds Act, which replaced the much maligned No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top initiative.

Each time the idea of creating an ASD is introduced by a state legislator, testimony from people whose own professional futures depend on the perception of success in the Tennessee ASD are used to get the required votes.  Various education reform lobbyist groups produce reports and blogs about how successful these ASDs have been.

I think that education is a true science and one that deserves to evolve according to the scientific method.  In the case of these ASDs, the initial conjecture would be that tenured teachers cause low test scores.  The experiment to verify this conjecture is to create an ASD somewhere like Tennessee, fire the tenured teachers, and let the charter schools take over and teach the students.  Education reformers seem to have no problem with these first steps.  But the power of the scientific method is completely nullified when the results of the experiment are ignored when they contradict the working conjecture.  That is what has happened in this case and why ASDs are gaining momentum around the country.

Any state considering making an ASD would be wise to listen to the words of the pioneer of the Tennessee ASD, former superintendent, Chris Barbic.  A few months ago on a panel discussion Barbic was asked if he thought it was good that various states were considering replicating his program.  Even he had his doubts.  He said that there is a very limited supply of charters capable of executing these difficult turnaround efforts.  If twelve states, he said, are all trying to get the same four or five charter operators, “it’s gonna create an issue.”  Considering his dream team of charter operators could not move the original ASD schools out of the bottom 5%, this is a sobering assessment of the viability of creating franchises of these turnaround districts around the country.

Education reform is full of false promises and magic beans.  Whether it is charter schools, test-based teacher evaluations, school closures, merit pay, making a more difficult curriculum, common core standardized tests, computerized learning, these strategies should not proliferate based on skewed PR, but on actual merit.  How can we expect kids to become critical thinkers when decisions about their future are made by people who refuse to be critical thinkers themselves?

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