Where the polls stand - 1 week to go

With the debates behind us, and just a week of swing state campaigning ahead, the race for the Presidency is once again a close, polarized affair, between two very different choices.

Real Clear Politics has Mitt Romney falling back slightly from their previous weeks projection, with Obama favored to win 201 electoral college votes, Mitt Romney 191 (down from 206), and 146 up for grabs.

President Obama maintains a small but persistent lead in Ohio, of around 2%

The NYT calculates that this persistent lead is now projecting a 74.9% chance of President winning Ohio next Tuesday.

538 projects Obama to win 296.6 electoral college votes to Mitt Romeny's 241.4

Where the polls stand - 2 weeks to go

With just one Presidential debate to go, and a little more than two weeks remaining, campaign 2012 continues to be a close affair. Real Clear Politics has the race essentially tied, with Obama favored to win 201 electoral college votes and Mitt Romney 206, with 131 up for grabs.

Despite the narrowing of the national polling, President Obama continues to enjoy a small but persistent lead in swing states, including the all important Ohio

The NYT calculates that this persistent lead is generating a 70.3% chance of President winning Ohio on November 6th

These persistent swing state leads have 538 projecting the President to win 288 electoral votes to Mitt Romney's 255.

Politicians Ignore Research, Say Smaller Class Size Makes No Difference

Class size matters.

In examining both Project STAR and SAGE, experts found that students in the smaller classes performed better than those in larger classes. Minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged students made the most gains, according to the Center for Public Education (CPE).

Haimson said those disadvantaged students, who may not receive as much academic support outside of the classroom as white, middle-class students do, will only improve if placed in small classes in which a teacher can give students the specific attention and support they need.

“We will never successfully narrow the achievement gap without smaller class sizes,” she said.

Furthermore, despite previous research that suggests small class sizes only make a difference in students’ education in Kindergarten through the third grade, CPE reported that students placed in smaller classes have higher scores through the beginning of high school than do their peers consistently placed in larger classes.

And because reducing class size produces such academic benefits, Haimson said keeping classes small is ultimately the more cost-effective option.

“Many studies have shown that class size reduction will pay for itself many times over with better healthcare, increased earning potential and lower crime rates,” Haimson said. “With education spending, the point is not to be as cheap as possible, it’s to be as smart as possible.”

Parents want small class sizes

StateImpactOhio has an article on voucher expansion in Ohio, and they talked to a few parents of children with special needs using vouchers. But it was why these parents were choosing vouchers that caught our eye.

Corinn starts high school next year, and hopes that a small Catholic school like Villa Angela Saint Joseph on Cleveland’s East side will help her continue her progress.

“I picked the school because it was a smaller class size and they would have the extra help that I would need there,” she explains.
Youngstown Christian is not a big school by any means. There are just 475 students in grades K-12, and Pecchia says parents are drawn to the school’s small size.

Parents want small class sizes for their children, whether they have special needs or not. Vouchers are setting up a vicious economic cycle. Parents want smaller class sizes, so some choose to use vouchers to enroll their children into smaller schools, which subtracts money from the struggling public schools reducing their ability to maintain smaller classes, which in turn causes more parents to seek schools with smaller classes via vouchers.

If that seems unfair, it's not even the beginning as State Impact reports

That’s because public school districts have to write yearly special individual education programs, known as IEP’s, for special needs students even if they attend a private school. And it’s the public school, not the private school the child attends, that has to monitor the progress of the student and update the plan each year.

“My first thought is frustration because it puts some responsibility on the school for kids that they won’t really know,” says Dennis.

The private schools and parents are supposed to communicate regularly with the student’s home district through progress reports.

The public school district still has responsibilities for the student even after they have taken a voucher and left. Private and charter schools like to dubiously boast about how efficient they are, but rarely if ever acknowledge that that is because the public schools are picking up the hard work for them.

Are we serious about evaluations?

We were reaing an interesting article on development of teacher evaluations in California, that has this passage

The Los Angeles Unified School District rolled out its technology-based teacher evaluation system in August. Seven hundred fifty “pioneer” teachers volunteered to test the new system, featuring a newly-negotiated set of teaching and learning standards. The new framework was devised with input from over 1,000 educators working in small groups. To begin the process, teachers grade themselves (from “ineffective” to “highly effective”) on 63 teaching standards, then fill in a lesson plan template, identifying which of the 63 standards their lesson addresses, and to what degree. Trained observers download the lesson, observe the teacher using it, and enter their own data. Everything but the observation itself is managed online.

Teachers at the September conversation showed a real willingness to reform their own approach to evaluation; not one spoke up to say they would not participate, or be against the new system. Of course, many stated historical concerns: did we really expect that a new system would foster collaboration, when the current system supposedly depends on collaboration but doesn’t produce enough of it? What about principals who are not experts in the teacher’s content area? Are we really going to continue using standardized test scores, when there is so much evidence that many learning gains happen in ways the tests cannot measure?

Cue the screech to a halt sound effect. "The new framework was devised with input from over 1,000 educators working in small groups"

In Ohio, the evaluation system has been half crafted in closed door, smoked filled legislative chambers, with the rest done through a half-baked online comment form and just 18 "meetings" with hand picked teachers.

Are we serious?

The Gates Foundation Exposed. Part I

If you are reading this article, it's likely you have heard of Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, maker of the Windows operating system for PCs. He's a multi-billionaire entrepreneur, turned philanthropist.

His charitable Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent millions of dollars on various causes including malaria and AIDS research, human rights, the environment, and also education. It's his efforts to apply corporate education reforms to US public education that we want to focus on in this series.

At a time when education budgets are being slashed, the Gates Foundation is wielding hundreds of millions of dollars to influence the education reform debate. In 2009 alone the Foundation spent $373 million on its education agenda, of which $78 million was devoted to corporate reform advocacy. This money was spread far and wide, to non-profits, PR firms, governments and education departments throughout the country.

Some might argue that this money could lead to improved schools, but many of the goals of the Foundation are based not on sound science, but ideology and gut instinct. Take for example an early initiative the Foundation pursued, to the tune of $2 billion - the Small Schools Initiative.

Based upon nothing more than a belief that breaking up low performing schools into much smaller student blocks would produce wildly improved student achievement, Gates set upon spending his money to convince schools to break up. But after billions of dollars and years of experimentation on students, Gates himself admits the endeavor has not produced the desired benefits

Now, Bill Gates has acknowledged that the results have been "disappointing" too. Gates shared the information. Here's what he said in his speech:

"In the first four years of our work with new, small schools, most of the schools had achievement scores below district averages on reading and math assessments. In one set of schools we supported, graduation rates were no better than the statewide average, and reading and math scores were consistently below the average. The percentage of students attending college the year after graduating high school was up only 2.5 percentage points after five years. Simply breaking up existing schools into smaller units often did not generate the gains we were hoping for."

The evidence is clear that smaller impersonal schools are no more effective than larger impersonal schools.

One can easily see that one man, with strong convictions and deep pockets, can have major impacts on public policy. Even when exercising the best of intentions, a little caution and humility should be assumed; else serious damage could be wrought.

In part II of our series, we'll look at some of the reforms Gates and his Foundation are now pursuing, which could have far more damaging consequences to schools, students and their teachers.

Part two can be read here.
Part three can be read here.