Chutzpah

 

Chutzpah – noun \ˈhu̇t-spə, shameless audacity; impudence, nerve, gall

 

At noon Thursday, August 14, 2014 the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) released Colorado’s 2014 standardized tests results, TCAPs, (Transitional Colorado Assessment Program) at its monthly meeting. Shortly after the release, “reform” State Board Member Elaine Gantz Berman spoke and said what has turned out to be one of the most honest assessments of the latest results. “Not acceptable….To see this kind of flat result is more than troubling. It’s like, ‘Where do we go from here?’

Since the release of the results, the spin from Denver Public Schools and its friends has been dizzying. Their defense of the failing status quo has given new meaning to the Yiddish word “chutzpah.” A few examples: recognition that new strategies are needed to change the trajectory of the District but offering no concrete details of what that would look like; slight recognition that professional educators do make a difference when it comes to teaching children but continuing to hire short term teachers at the expense of teaching professionals; no recognition or admittance that a business model is not transferable to education. No attempts have been made to answer Ms. Berman’s question. Instead the status quo has chosen to defend the ten year performance with confusing, misleading and manipulated data.

THE SPIN

Six emails from the Superintendent, 2 articles and one editorial in the Denver Post, a Board of Education work session featuring a 67 page PowerPoint presentation with more charts, graphs, acronyms, and meaningless analysis than one thought possible.  And Thursday, August 21 at noon an email from the favorite national organization of “reformers.” DFER (Democrats for Education Reform), makes its way into computer inboxes.  The email’s subject,  “Denver Plan 2020 Fights for Great Schools in Every Neighborhood,”praises the new Denver Plan and closely mimicks two of the six emails the superintendent has sent this week.  The email’s author: Jennifer Walmer, former chief of staff for the Denver Public Schools, current state director of Colorado DFER.  Could it be that the Denver Public Schools District is so worried about its lack of progress and its failing education “reform” that it has to inundate the public with reams of insignificant and deceptive information? Unfortunately, I was correct when I wrote in my post of last week, growth is pretty much all the District will talk about. The state losses of 1% in each of the three subjects have translated into disingenuous DPS growth scores. Below is a summary of the flood of writing that has occurred after the release of the pathetic data last week.

Six emails from the superintendent (all six can be viewed here)

  •  The Denver Public Schools superintendent, Tom Boasberg, sent his first email Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. to parents and community members titled “Three Years in a Row: DPS Leads State in Student Academic Progress.” Denver Public Schools saw zero (0) growth overall in 2014.  The District witnessed a 1% loss in reading, no change in math, and a 1 % increase in writing. You do the math: -1 + 0 + 1 = 0. How can the superintendent’s take possibly be accurate? Is it because he is using MGP, Median Growth Percentile,  a complicated measure often used to mask the goal of getting students to proficiency and above? If this is the case, it puts more doubt on the reliability of the conclusions reached from this way of calculating student progress.
  • He followed that with the same letter to “Educators” Monday afternoon.
  • Later Monday afternoon he sent another email to the DPS community celebrating “Making Gains in College Readiness.” From this email:

“On the ACT, for the second year in a row, DPS saw a 0.4-point gain in its overall ACT composite score. After several years of flat performance, DPS students have raised their ACT scores by nearly a full point since 2012.”

ACT (American College Testing) is the national standarized test used to determine college readiness.  A score of 21 is generally believed to be the score required to ensure no remediation will be necessary for entering college students.  What is DPS’ composite score for 2014?  18.4.  The University of Colorado at Boulder requires a 26 or higher. And “nearly a full point since 2012” actually translates to 0.8 in since 2011. ACT scores in Denver were a flat 17.6 in 2011 and 2012, rose 0.4 in 2013 and now 0.4 in 2014. So at this rate it will take DPS graduates six and a half years to reach the low-ish bar of 21.

Wednesday morning, August 20, 2014, another email from Mr. Boasberg,

  • “Transforming, Teaming, Thriving Together.” The alliteration is sort of clever, but I find his seeming disregard for the most important T – Teachers and/or Teaching – to be astonishing and disturbing. “Reformers” claim to be all about good teachers in every classroom and yet here is the superintendent writing to “educators” about this great summer day of togetherness without acknowledging “reformers’” key to success. And it even would have gone with his “T” theme!

And then early Wednesday afternoon, August 20, 2014, email #5 arrived.

  • “Great Schools in Every Neighborhood.” Quoting: “There are many elements that make up a strong community. But the bedrock, the backbone, the foundation at the base of the best communities? Great public schools.” Chutzpah personified since Tom Boasberg and his “reform” have come into neighborhood after neighborhood and destroyed the “foundation at the base of the best communities” – public schools. And he has carried on this destruction against the wishes of community after community.

Email #6 arrived on Thursday afternoon, August 21, 2014. This was sent to “Dear Educators,” and was the same email as one sent Monday to the DPS community at large, titled “Making Gains in College Readiness.”

THE DENVER POST’S ROLE

Between Friday, August 15, 2014 and Monday, August 18, 2014 the Denver Post wrote an editorial and two articles about TCAP struggles. Saturday’s editorial opined “Continue implementing reforms that are only in their infancy [they call ten years infancy?]….And double down on what clearly has been working.” Seriously? What might that be when the state has lost proficiencies, State Board of Education members have admitted a new course must be found, and Denver Public Schools has seen gains at a pace that will take over two decades to reach goal proficiencies of 90% in reading, writing, and math. The editorial then goes on and assures the readers STRIVE “will be back in the mix of high achievers again next year.” Taxpayers in Denver have to hope that proves so, because as of today four new Strives are scheduled to open, two in brand new taxpayer funded facilities in the Far Northeast, two in taxpayer funded renovated buildings in Southwest. So much for accountability and replicating successful models! Accountability appears to be relevant for teachers only. DPS Board of Education, why are you not exerting some leadership by asking for a moratorium on these STRIVE schools until the problems have been solved and taxpayers’ money can be spent judiciously?

To STRIVE’s credit, CEO Chris Gibbons has taken responsibility and ownership for the network’s decline, citing three major factors: “expanding the network too quickly, high teacher turnover, alignment to the new state standards (Colorado Academic Standards).” But if these are valid reasons for the precipitous drop – and there is no reason to believe they are not – why is the District allowing the network to continue to expand quickly which will require many more teachers to be hired which could lead to higher teacher turnover therefore ignoring two of the reasons Mr. Gibbons cites as causes for his schools’ struggles.  And again, why is the DPS Board of Education or Mr. Gibbons not asking  for a moratorium on opening more STRIVE schools until the causes for decline can be empirically identified and solutions found?  Mr. Gibbons might actually welcome some time to assess and implement changes before having the stress of more schools added on.  As for the third factor Mr. Gibbons cites – new academic standards – Colorado best prepare itself for high stakes test results that could see steep declines due to the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) evaluated by new tests.

DPS BOARD REACTION TO THE CURRENT STATE

Monday night, August 18, 2014,  at a Board of Education work session, the superintendent presented to the Board his view of the state of the District.  The discussion focused heavily on growth, not proficiency.  But even the District had to admit results are not acceptable (p. 26).

  • Our growth is not sufficient to ensure All Students Succeed.
  • Substantive gaps remain and are growing in both status and growth.

This presentation has quite a bit of information, some more relevant than others.  Here are some other highlights:

Pages 46, 47, and 48 address the achievement gaps based on economics; proficiency gaps between paying lunch students and free and reduced lunch students. Eliminating achievement gaps are another big goal of “reformers.” In ten years of reform in Denver gaps have INCREASED from 29 to 36 percentage points in reading, 20 to 34 percentage points in math, and 27 to 36 percentage points in writing.

Pages 52, 53, and 54 address the achievement gaps based on ethnicity. There are many different ethnic comparisons provided, but the headline is once again INCREASING gaps in all three subjects resulting in a gap of 40 percentage points in reading, 47 percentage points in math, 42 percentage points in writing.

On Tuesday night there was a community meeting in the Far Northeast, the site of education “reform” on steroids in Denver.  School Board President Happy Haynes attended. She was asked to cite the positive outcomes of this ten year “reform”.  These were her answers:

  • Math tutoring (which has had mixed results on most recent TCAPs)
  • Increased numbers of students choosing to attend DPS (in large part due to a very successful taxpayer funded Early Childhood Education program)
  • Data driven instruction (which has produced the current stagnant results)
  • Following a national trend, the hiring of a very inexperienced teacher core

If those are the only positives from the past ten years, is it any wonder our Denver Public Schools are suffering? And continuing down this path? Well, that takes chutzpah and gives credence to Einstein’s famous definition of insanity:  “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”   Our students, employees, and communities deserve better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STOP

Colorado released its 2014 standardized test results (TCAPs) today.  Here is a quick and dirty overview of how Denver Public Schools fared.  This analysis focuses on proficiency, not growth.  Some say proficiency is all that matters. If you are getting to proficiency, you have to be growing. For this post “overall school proficiencies” have been calculated by averaging proficiencies for reading, math, and writing. “Proficiency gains and losses” are the total change from 2013 to 2014 for those three subjects.

The headline from this year’s TCAP results ought to be STOP! Denver Public Schools, Superintendent Boasberg, Board of Education, if you truly believe in students first, you will STOP this so-called “reform.” STOP defending the stagnant status quo. STOP using testing as a substitute for education.  STOP spending taxpayers money on failing new charter schools. STOP supporting new schools at the expense of traditional neighborhood schools. STOP blaming teachers. STOP lying and masking poor achievement with growth.   STOP saying schools in Denver’s Far Northeast (FNE) with proficiencies of 60% are distinguished, when distinguished schools in Central and Southeast (SE) Denver have 90% + proficiencies. This double standard does nothing positive for students.  What it does say is, “FNE students, you can’t be held to the same standards as students in SE Denver.” STOP using test scores to fire teachers. STOP using the “reform” mantra of longer school day, longer school year.  STOP it all because it is not working.  These latest TCAP scores should be proof enough of that.  Denver needs a moratorium on “reform” so educators can evaluate and assess “reform” as it relates to educating children and especially as it relates to new charter schools in general, Strive schools in particular.

Following is antithetical comparison of “reform” in DPS.  This year the principal and the assistant principal of Manual High School were fired. TCAP scores in all three measured subjects reading, math, and writing increased.  Overall school scores are still low, but the school is showing upward movement thanks in large part to the now-removed leadership and its commitment to the vision of the school.  In fact, the welcome letter from the new principal cited these gains and commended the school’s direction. “Our TCAP results from this past year show that we are on the right track!”

Contrast this with TCAP results from Strive, the district’s largest charter chain, Strive – 8 schools, 24 measured cohorts (school location x 3 subjects) experiences proficiency decreases in 17 cohorts, increases in 2, no change in 2. Three cohorts are from a first year school where there is obviously no previous year comparison. Over a three year period the losses are even more staggering.  Yet, this charter organization has four more new schools in the DPS pipeline. Something is very wrong with this picture. These replications need to STOP until an objective evaluation process can take place.  (DPS is not the only “reform” district experiencing failure.  Washington, D.C. schools report similar results after years of “reform,” lead by former Chancellor Michelle Rhee and current Chancellor Kaya Henderson).

Don’t be fooled by the spin that will be accompanying the release of the 2014 TCAP results. The Denver Public Schools will somehow tell you the district is doing well vis-à-vis the state (which by the way is pretty pathetic with proficiencies of 69% in reading, 56% in math, and 54% in writing and losses of 1% across the board).  DPS proficiencies are 54%, 47%, and 44% with gains of 0%, 1%, and 2%. Somehow the state losses of 1% in each of the three subjects will probably translate into misleadingly strong DPS growth scores because when you measure against state losses, your numbers magically look good. But don’t be fooled.

Denver Public Schools, Superintendent Boasberg, Board of Education, if you truly do believe in students first, you will STOP this so-called “reform.” STOP lying, STOP masking poor achievement with growth, STOP touting charters as the solution, STOP blaming teachers, and STOP testing our students to death.  What you are doing is not working.  These latest TCAP scores should be proof of that.  Denver needs a moratorium on reform.  Denver needs a better way to educate our students.

Over the 10 years of so-called “reform” here are Denver’s results: reading has improved 1.4% per year, math 1.8%, and writing 1.4%.  Except for 2007 the “gains” this year are the lowest per year in the 10 years of reform and show a 50% drop from last year’s 6% meager gains.  At the current rate of “improvement” it will take Denver Public Schools’ students 20 years to reach 90% proficiency – which should be all districts’ goal – in reading, 24 years in math, and 33 years in writing.

How are the 41 charter schools doing? Well, Denver has four new charters this year and the results are very mixed. One located in a middle to upper class neighborhood has an overall school proficiency of 90%. The other three are at 62%, 40%, and 36%. A pretty mixed bag I have to say. The remaining 37?  14 have shown overall proficiency gains of 1% to 13%.  23 show proficiency losses of between 1% and 29%.  One online charter appears to be an outlier with a 43% increase.

I want now to focus on the largest – by number of schools – charter management organization, Strive. You may recall my earlier post about how much bond money it and Denver School of Science and Technology are receiving from the Denver Public Schools. And you may recall, the former Colorado director of Stand for Children and most recently the head of the Mayor’s Office for Children has just become the Chief of External Outreach for Strive schools.

Strive currently has six middle schools and two high schools in operation. The district has promised to build another high school, another middle school, renovate a building for an elementary school, and find another location for a second elementary school. (Approximately $50 million). This is in addition to already having built, purchased, or renovated two high schools and four middle schools.

Two schools have an overall proficiency of over 50%. All are losing proficiency, the smallest loss (2%) occurring at the Evie Dennis Campus in Green Valley Ranch. It will be interesting to see if and how the District spins these losses into “growth” gains.

The SMART high school which has been in existence for two years has suffered the biggest proficiency losses, and the school has an overall proficiency of 43%, broken down into 52% in reading, 39% in math, and 38% in writing. These translate into losses of 14% in reading, 9% in math, and 7% in writing in one year. The newest high school EXCEL, in its first year of existence has an overall school proficiency of 40% – reading 47%, math 31%, and writing 40%.  Of the 23 charters suffering proficiency losses this year, seven of them are Strives. Yet Strive is receiving an exorbitant percentage of bond dollars for its new schools and renovations, and academically…well, one has to be concerned about this performance, to say the least. More importantly one has to ask the questions: why is the Denver Public Schools replicating a failing model, why is Denver Public Schools spending so much taxpayer money on this franchise, and who is being held accountable?

TCAPS go away next year. They will be replaced by something called PARRC and CMAS. That is a whole other blog or three. And while I don’t put much faith in “GROWTH”,  the numbers for DPS this year are horrifying.  Reading went down 1 point, math was unchanged, writing went up 1 point. This equates to a zero (0) overall growth. Now if that doesn’t represent the status quo, I don’t know what does. (Read this for an explanation about MGP, Median Growth Percentile, the way Colorado calculates growth). It is time to STOP this failing, fraudulent “reform”.  This year’s TCAPs deserve further analysis.  I will try to provide that in the weeks to come.

 

 

 

 

On Becoming Addicted to Data

 

I now get the data thing. I have become one of THEM when it comes to data. THEY live and die by data, relevant or not. THEY close schools according to data. THEY evaluate teachers according to data. THEY tell students they are failing according to data.  THEY mask academic achievement with growth data.  THEY have co-opted public education according to data.

Of late I, too, have become obsessed with data. You can actually now describe me as a DATA – – – – – (Maven, Queen are two that easily come to mind. There are others, one in particular that is not quite so flattering!)

I now understand how one can become so data-centric and how addicting data can be. When I send out a new blog, I spend untold hours checking on how many visits I have had to my blog site – www.kaplanforkids.wordpress.com – in case you don’t have it. I check my Mail Chimp account to see how many emails have been opened, how many “clicks” (referrals to links cited) my post has generated.

So far my blogs have generated several thousand visits. Please keep reading and forwarding my posts so I can catch up to my mentor and friend, Dr. Diane Ravitch. Last I heard she had over 13 million visits.

Next week I will return to writing about really important data. TCAPs will be released August 14 at noon MDT. You can rest assured THEY will be checking out that data, making sure the spin is whirling. Meanwhile, I will continue to check out my data. I hope to reach my goal in a few months. I can’t tell you what that is because if I don’t reach it, I will be deemed a failure. I don’t want that to happen. According to how THEY use data, I would have to stop writing.

 

George Washington – Rounds 2 and 3

A few short weeks ago I wrote a post about Denver’s George Washington High School, (GW) detailing the travails of a stellar magnet school program currently under attack. Little did I know that post would be just the beginning round of what is shaping up to be a 12 round heavyweight contest.

Wednesday, July 30, after a summer of turmoil, a summer of teachers not knowing what classes they will be teaching in the fall, a summer where teacher vacancies abounded through July, the principal of the school was removed, an interim appointed, and a process to find a permanent leader begun. As of August 1, there is no master schedule, teachers are still unclear as to what classes they will be teaching, and parents and students have been unable to see their class schedules.  Some people have actually suggested George Washington not start school until after Labor Day so the chaos can abate and the new school year can get off to a relatively calm beginning.

Following a DPS pattern of administrators relieved of their school duties, this departing principal has not been fired but rather has been reassigned, according to his letter to GW Parents and Community, to a central administration position. Former Principal Micheal Johnson will now be in a “leadership position with the Post-Secondary Readiness team of the Denver Public Schools.” He will keep his six figure salary. The District has undertaken a campaign of sorts to reassure parents that their concerns about Mr. Johnson’s leadership were heard.  The District is also leading these same parents to believe that  with his exit the future of the International Baccalaureate Programme (IB) will remain as it has been.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The reality is, Mr. Johnson was just a pawn in the game to de-magnetize and change the character of the GW IB program.

Mr. Johnson’s removal from the school, while an important step in rebuilding a positive school culture, does not really affect the trajectory the District has in mind for the school. The Denver Public Schools central administration, headed by Superintendent Tom Boasberg, wants to see the undoing of this historically demanding academic program. The story being proffered by the District is the school is too segregated, the IB program is not diverse enough, the achievement gap is too wide, and the education outside of the IB program is not academically challenging (thank you in large part to”reform”). While these allegations may be accurate, Mr. Boasberg has been either unwilling or unable to address repeated pleas by the GW community to leave the successful IB program be while the District works to strengthen the academics of the Advanced Placement (AP) and traditional programs. Failing to accomplish this, Mr. Boasberg has decided that the IB program will have to shoulder responsibility for the inequities  occurring not just at GW but across the District. And the Denver Public School District has chosen to blame this program for the District’s inability to properly prepare elementary and middle school students for such a demanding high school education and for the Districit’s inability to strengthen the other high school academic offerings across the district.  And it appears Mr. Boasberg will not stop attacking this school until the parents and community cry “uncle.”

George Washington Community – do not think you are out of the woods. Do not think your IB program will remain in tact. The “One George” process that has started will continue. Principal Johnson has just been a distraction. The steering committee that has been put in place is meeting this Saturday for the first time. The meeting time and place have been difficult to uncover but it appears it will take place from 8 a.m. to noon in the GW Community Room.  The carefully selected participants are to date publicly unknown. The District has said “the steering committee meetings are not open to the public to make sure folks have a safe space where they can get a lot of work done without any distractions…”  If it is the District’s intent to establish a new school culture and promote transparency, holding secret meetings is probably not the best route to take.  The process to change the IB program from a magnet program to an all school program is continuing full steam ahead.

The existence of magnet programs and the tenet of school choice have a difficult time co-existing under “reform” (unless you are a magnet school like Denver School of the Arts which is seemingly immune from “reform”).  Magnet schools compete with charter schools for many of the same students.  Magnet schools offer niche programs like many charters. Magnet schools must be too threatening to school choice and charter schools. Therefore, in the “reform” district that is DPS, reform always wins, in this case at the expense of this historically successful IB magnet program. Could this competition be a reason for the push to end the GW IB program as currently constructed?

Mr. Johnson’s exit and reassignment raises a second very important and recurring theme within DPS:  promoting failed leadership.  Mr. Johnson was a school leader who was hired with much community angst.  During his two year tenure he faced many leadership struggles.  He was then removed from his duties in the middle of the summer but was given a promotion to a central administration position. Mr. Johnson followed another GW principal who was also removed from her role as principal due to similar challenges and she, too, ended up with a central administration position.

Other similar instances abound:  An assistant principal of a middle school who after an 88% vote of no confidence by the school’s staff, found a central office funded position as an assistant principal at another middle school. A principal who was removed from one high school for budgetary irregularities, found a job as a principal in a turnaround high school. An elementary principal was placed on an improvement plan. When the school continued to decline, she was removed from the school and placed in the central administration. Another elementary school principal was unable to build a positive culture in her school, was removed, and then hired to run the Denver Teacher Resident program.

Many recently hired principals who have been ineffective leaders in their schools, are not fired but instead transferred to new, higher positions within the central administration. This despite the mantra that all principals are “at-will” employees who in theory can and sometimes should be fired at any moment. Yet for the most part, removals from school buildings result in promotions to the central administration.

Juxtapose these reassignments with employment situations DPS teachers have been facing. Some 3000 teachers have been removed from their positions since May 2010.  How many of them have been afforded other opportunities within DPS?  How many of them have received promotions?  Treatment of principals versus treatment of teachers.  Just another “reform” inequity.

Teacher removal graphic

The critical issue facing George Washington High School hasn’t really been resolved, and the ultimate result will have ramifications across Denver.  Several important public education tenets are at stake here: the integrity of the internationally renowned George Washington International Baccalaureate Programme, the viability of magnet programs and the accountability for failed leadership.  George Washington is in the middle of Round 3.  Who wins this round depends in large part on who stays in the ring.