Absurdity of Ohio VAM

The criticism of the Plain Dealer and NPRs Value-added series is beginning to pile up. Via Diane Ravitch's site

Fifty years ago Johns Hopkins sociologist James S. Coleman documented the most powerful factors affecting student achievement: the socio-economic background of children’s families and the concentration of poverty in particular communities.

Two years ago Duke economist Helen Ladd wrote: “Study after study has demonstrated that children from disadvantaged households perform less well in school on average than those from more advantaged households. This empirical relationship shows up in studies using observations at the levels of the individual student, the school, the district, the state, the country.”

A year and a half ago Stanford educational sociologist Sean Reardon documented that while in 1970, only 15 percent of families lived in neighborhoods classified as affluent or poor, by 2007, 31 percent of families lived in such neighborhoods. Reardon documents a simultaneous jump in an income-inequality achievement gap between very wealthy and very poor children, a gap that is 30-40 percent wider among children born in 2001 than those born in 1975.

Surely we can agree that poverty should not be an excuse. But blaming school teachers for gaps in scores on standardized tests, as the Plain Dealer does in “Grading the Teachers,” is not only cruel to the teachers singled out when scores are published—for example, Euclid’s Maria Plecnik, a previously highly rated teacher who will leave the profession this year— but foolish as public policy. Who will want to teach in our poorest communities with the system of Value-Added Measures that the Plain Dealer acknowledges, “do not account for the socioeconomic backgrounds of students as they do in some other states.”

Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville critiques the logic of those who would blame school teachers: “Some want to make the absurd argument that the reason low-income youngsters do poorly is that, mysteriously, all the incompetency in our education systems has coincidentally aggregated around low income students. In this view, all we need to do is scrub the system of incompetency and all will be well.”

Blaming teachers certainly gets the rest of us off the hook. If we can just fire teachers, we won’t have to fund schools equitably or adequately. We won’t have to address the impact of economic and racial segregation or the shocking 22 percent child poverty rate in America, the highest in the industrialized world.

Ms. Jan Resseger
Minister for Public Education and Witness
Justice and Witness Ministries
700 Prospect, Cleveland, Ohio 44115

Money and politics

If the Tea Party are truly concerned about the influence of money in politics, then the "work place freedom" that is needed, is the freedom from corporations buying politicians and elections. This graph from amply demonstrates how asymetric the situation is

Corporate political donations far outstrip any other kind, including labor organizations, and since the Supreme Courts Citizens United decision to allow even greater freedom for corporations to buy elections and politicians, that gap is growing significantly.

Education News for 12-04-2012

State Education News

  • Unpaid Lunch Charges Grow To $8,000 In Central Ohio School District (WBNS)
  • The Southwest Licking Local School District is facing a budget problem in its food department. Superintendent Robert Jennell says the district now has $8,000 in unpaid lunch charges from students and staff…Read more...

  • Riverside Schools gets SOAR award as 1 of Ohio's most improved districts (Willoughby News Herald)
  • Riverside School District has been recognized as one of the most improved districts in a statewide program geared at strengthening school and student performance…Read more...

Local Education News

  • Chillicothe school board plans levy to close gap (Chillicothe Gazette)
  • For the Chillicothe City School District to close a looming budget gap, the district and its taxpayers will have to share in the sacrifice…Read more...

  • Arlington schools consider options (Columbus Dispatch)
  • After the Upper Arlington schools’ first levy defeat in decades, district officials are trying to figure out how to plug a budget gap that they say is somewhere between $2 million and $4 million…Read more...

  • Licking Heights Begins School Week Without Busing (WBNS)
  • One of the first cuts following Licking Heights School District's failed levy started Monday morning. Students who typically used district buses to get to school were forced to find an alternative way…Read more...

Romney education claims: are exaggerations, inaccuracies a pattern?

Much as Mitt Romney’s claims about the number of jobs he created and outsourced while president and CEO of Bain Capital continue to generate skepticism, his central assertions about his education record while governor of Massachusetts raise the question about whether his at-times selective and less-than accurate credit-taking reflect a pattern.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning rated as “Half True” this statement from Romney made this month: “When I was governor, not only did test scores improve – we also narrowed the achievement gap.”

According to the fact-checking service, “State education figures over two years support Romney’s claim about learning gains, although it’s worth noting that some areas declined on his watch, such as the drop-out rate. And it’s always somewhat dubious to take a snapshot of statistics from only one or two years . . .”

It goes on, “What’s more, Romney, a single-term governor, should not get all the credit for improvement in the achievement gap, which is influenced by myriad factors. His statement is partially accurate but omits a lot of important information and overstates his impact.”

Massachusetts education leaders called on by PolitiFact were less generous in their assessment of Romney’s contribution to closing the state’s achievement gap.

“The most important point to make with Gov. Romney’s record is that the reform he initiated was part of a much larger and longer movement that existed in Massachusetts,” said Chad d’Entremont, executive director of the Rennie Center, an independent, nonpartisan education research organization.

Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, offered this pointed appraisal:

He had nothing to do with it. It’s the teachers in the classrooms who are making the difference.

What, then, are some verifiable education-related actions taken by Romney as governor?

Among them:

  • Romney proposed eliminating early literacy programs, full-day kindergarten, and class size reduction programs. [Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, March 5, 2003]
  • Romney vetoed a universal pre-kindergarten bill and “questioned the benefits of early education.” [Massachusetts Telegram and Gazette, February 2, 2007]
  • College fees soared 63% under Romney because of his cuts to higher education budget as governor. [Boston Globe, June 29, 2007]

To be sure, Romney’s education record is not all thorns and thistles. A closer look, however, reveals some worrisome facts that he won’t likely highlight in a campaign ad or speech.


No Education Reform Without Tackling Poverty, Experts Say

If many so-called education reformers really want to close the student achievement gap, they should direct their fire away from public school educators and take aim at the real issue—poverty. This was the consensus of a panel of policy advocates and academics that convened recently on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. to discuss the impact of poverty on student learning over the past 40 years. The panelists presented data that showed the current state of student achievement and discussed what changes needed to be made to address the needs of students and schools in low socio-economic areas.

“It’s time to stop arguing whether schools prepare students for the future and launch a full scale attack on poverty,” said panelist Peter Edelman of the Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy.

Joining Edelman on the panel were Sean Reardon, Professor of Education and Sociology at Stanford University School of Education; David Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center in Newark, New Jersey; Eric Rafael González an Education Policy Advocate for the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.; and Elaine Weiss, national coordinator for the Broader Bolder Approach to Education.

The panel used their presentations to demonstrate how more affluent schools have made significant gains in academic improvement over the past 40 years while under-funded schools, while making some strides, have been unable to close the achievement gap. The panelists urged lawmakers to avoid blaming the public school system and instead put programs in place to address the crippling poverty that obstructs student learning.

“We do have a responsibility to build a system of public schools that address poverty needs as soon as the students walk through the door,” Sciarra said.

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Blind eyes and cruel intentions

Research has long shown the achievement gap to be dominated by poverty and the differences in income. It is remarkable then, that the Dispatch would publish an 800 plus word article on the achievement gap, and not once in the entire article mention poverty. This is important, because just like the Dispatch, the state plan to grade schools based upon closing this achievement gap also does not address the issue of poverty either. Somehow, simply wishing the gap to be closed is good enough policy, when coupled with punishment for the schools when the miracles fail to happen.

A recent paper, titled "Education and Poverty: Confronting the Evidence" from the Duke Sanford School of Public Policy had this to say

Current U.S. policy initiatives to improve the U.S. education system, including No Child Left Behind, test-based evaluation of teachers and the promotion of competition, are misguided because they either deny or set to the side a basic body of evidence documenting that students from disadvantaged households on average perform less well in school than those from more advantaged families. Because these policy initiatives do not directly address the educational challenges experienced by disadvantaged students, they have contributed little -- and are not likely to contribute much in the future -- to raising overall student achievement or to reducing achievement and educational attainment gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Moreover, such policies have the potential to do serious harm. Addressing the educational challenges faced by children from disadvantaged families will require a broader and bolder approach to education policy than the recent efforts to reform schools.

These bolder, broader efforts would require sacrifices beyond the school walls, and prove politically difficult for law makers to confront. This in part explains why Ohio is the only state in the country that does not have a school funding formula, let alone a constitutional one.

What it doesn't explain however, is Republican policy to make the poverty situation worse by trying to enact budget measures like slashing food stamps

From food stamps to child tax credits and Social Service block grants, House Republicans began rolling out a new wave of domestic budget cuts Monday but less for debt reduction — and more to sustain future Pentagon spending without relying on new taxes.

A policy that would ensure more students go to school hungry is particularly cruel.

Data released by the Census Department recently showed the percentage of Americans living in poverty is the highest in 15 years, with children feeling the rise most acutely. The news has direct implications for reformers intent on narrowing the academic achievement gap. As the NYT reported recently

Education was historically considered a great equalizer in American society, capable of lifting less advantaged children and improving their chances for success as adults. But a body of recently published scholarship suggests that the achievement gap between rich and poor children is widening, a development that threatens to dilute education’s leveling effects.

It is a well-known fact that children from affluent families tend to do better in school. Yet the income divide has received far less attention from policy makers and government officials than gaps in student accomplishment by race.

Now, in analyses of long-term data published in recent months, researchers are finding that while the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.

“We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race,” said Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist. Professor Reardon is the author of a study that found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students had grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s, and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites.

It is with some releif then that Ohio Democrats are proposing at least a modest restoration in funding for schools, after the savage cuts made by the previous budget

Ohio - Ohio House Democrats want to funnel tax dollars back to schools and local governments handed a whopping cut in Republican Gov. John Kasich's state budget passed last year.

House Minority Leader Armond Budish, a Beachood Democrat, and five Democratic members of the House Finance Committee appeared at a Statehouse news conference Monday morning calling for $400 million in additional funding for schools and local governments hit by cuts in the state's operating budget.

"The Kids and Communities First Fund will keep teachers in the classroom and police and firefighters on the streets in communities across Ohio," Budish said.

As long as policy makers and newspaper reporting ignore the very real problem of poverty and its connection to student achievement, we are deluding ourselves into thinking all we need to do is come up with a new test, or a new way to grade schools and everything will be A-ok.