Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Results-Based Funding: The Transition From Test Scores To School Grades

Posted By on Tue, Oct 17, 2017 at 2:10 PM

We already know which schools are splitting up the $38 million in results-based funding for the 2017-18 school year. The money is going disproportionately to schools with students from the most affluent homes. The top 11 percent of schools by family income make up almost 40 percent of schools getting the funding. Even more of those schools would get the funding if it weren't for a stipulation built into the formula to make sure the bottom 50 percent of schools in terms of student income make up almost half the schools getting the money. Next year, that stipulation is gone.

Most likely in the 2018-19 school year, over 80 percent of the schools getting results-based funding will be from the top half of schools in terms of family income. That means less than 20 percent of the schools will be in the bottom half.

And yet, some schools with high income students are complaining because they're not getting their expected piece of the results-based pie. And no wonder. If a high income school makes the list, it sees close to $6,000 extra per teacher, enough to give teachers a sizable bonus and still have plenty left over for educational equipment and supplies other schools can't afford. If it doesn't make the cut, the school gets nothing.

An explanation of how this works can be mind-numbingly detailed, at least when I'm the guy doing the explaining, so I've created a table I hope will make things clearer. After that, I'll numb the minds of those who dare stick around for all the numbers and explanations.


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Friday, October 13, 2017

Koch Brothers Infiltrate Pima County Schools With a High School Econ Course

Posted By on Fri, Oct 13, 2017 at 10:35 AM

  • DonkeyHotey
I have a story in this week's print edition. You can read it here. This is the short version.

The Koch Brothers put up a million dollars. Ken and Randy Kendrick (he owns the Arizona Diamondbacks) pitched in even more. They funded UA's Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, usually shortened to the "Freedom Center," which opened in 2011. From the beginning, the Freedom Center folks had their eyes on training high school teachers in their special brand of libertarian economics and creating courses to be used in high schools.

Starting last year, "Phil 101: Ethics, Economy, and Entrepreneurship” is being offered in Tucson Unified's high schools. This year it's being taught in four of the district high schools as well as schools in the Amphitheater, Vail and Sahuarita school districts and at least seven private and charter schools in Pima and Maricopa counties.  The course was created by the Freedom Center, members of its faculty wrote the textbook, and it offers workshops to instruct high school teachers on how to teach the class. They plan to spread the course to high schools across the state and the country, the more the merrier.

This isn't someone at the Freedom Center saying, "Hey, I have an idea, let's spread our ideology to the high school classroom!" It's part of a carefully conceived plan by the Koch Brothers which began in the 1980s and includes universities across the country, think tanks (the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation are two of the best known examples) and dissemination to the general public, including high school students.

If you want the details, read the article.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Some Charter Schools Pay Students To Enroll, Or Get Their Friends To Enroll

Posted By on Tue, Oct 10, 2017 at 9:21 AM

A story from ProPublica came across my desktop today, For-Profit Schools Reward Students for Referrals and Facebook Endorsements. It's about a for-profit charter school in Florida where students get a $25 gift card for every new student they find for the school.
Such incentives are rampant among for-profit operators of public alternative high schools like North Nicholas, which serves students at risk of dropping out. These schools market aggressively to attract new students, especially during weeks when the state is tallying enrollment for funding purposes. They often turn their students into promoters, dangling rewards for plugs on social media, student referrals or online reviews, a ProPublica-USA Today investigation found. Some also offer valuable perks simply for enrolling.
It reminded me of a story Ann-Pedersen told in 2013 on the cable access program she and I used to put together, Education: The Rest of the Story (It's a three minute video if you want to watch). As her son was walking out of his Tucson Unified middle school toward the end of the school year, he was handed a flier promising him $100 if he enrolled in the new charter, Rising School.

Tucson's Rising School currently has about 80 students. So far as I can tell, it no longer offers students $100 to enroll, but it does offer them $100 if they have perfect attendance for the first hundred days of school. I don't suppose it's a coincidence that enrollment during the first hundred days is what determines schools' state funding.

And whether the money goes to students for enrolling or for having perfect attendance, that $100 comes out of the state's funding for the school.

I don't know if this kind of thing is common in Arizona, but like so many questionable charter school practices, it looks like it's perfectly legit.

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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Best Way To Get Results-Based Funding Is To Be Well-Off and White

Posted By on Wed, Oct 4, 2017 at 8:24 AM

The results are in. The Arizona Department of Education published a list of all the schools getting results-based funding for the 2017-18 school year. There aren't any real surprises for those of us who have been paying attention since the bill passed during the last legislative session. As expected, the list is heavy with schools filled with students from well-to-do families.

But, as skewed as this year's funding is toward more affluent Arizonans, this is likely be the most equitable spread of results-based money ever. Indications are, things will get far more inequitable starting next year. Hold that thought while I go through this year's numbers.

Just under 300 schools will receive results-based funding—about 17 percent of the state's district and charter schools. Between 35 and 40 percent of them have fewer than 30 percent of their students on free or reduced lunch even though only 18 percent of the state's schools fit into that category. On the other end of the economic spectrum, about 10 percent of schools on the list have more than 80 percent of their students on free or reduced lunch, even though over 30 percent of the state's schools fit into that category.

That means, if you're in one of the schools in the highest rent districts, you're far more likely to reap the benefits of results-based funding than if you're in a school in the poorer parts of town. You're also far more likely to be white and far less likely to be struggling with the English language or have learning disabilities.

That's what things look like at the economic extremes. If we look at all the schools on the list, the story stays pretty much the same. A majority of the state's schools—about 57 percent—have more than half their students on F/R lunch, yet they make up only about a third of the schools on the list. The other two-thirds are drawn from the 43 percent of schools with fewer low income students.

But wait 'til next year. As I said earlier, the numbers will only get more skewed toward the well-off and white.

Those are the basics for this year. Now, let's look at what results-based funding means in dollars and cents, then why the funds will favor schools in high rent districts even more in following years.

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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Why I Keep Writing About Those Damn AzMERIT Scores

Posted By on Tue, Oct 3, 2017 at 12:43 PM

  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin
It's something of an obsession with me, writing about AzMERIT scores. A new set of scores, a new use of the scores, a new news story about the scores, and there I am with another post or two or three. So here's yet another post, a rambling discussion on why the tests, the way they're reported on and the way they're used drive me nuts.

Let me start by getting something out of the way. The tests in and of themselves aren't bad. They give a reasonably accurate reflection of students' abilities in reading, writing and math. During my last few years teaching in a district outside of Portland, Oregon, I had to give the Oregon version of the high stakes standardized tests to my sophomore English classes. I did a pretty good job of predicting what my students' scores would be based on what I had learned about their reading and writing abilities during the eight months before the tests, which means the test scores generally reflected the students' skill levels. There were a significant number of exceptions, where students got higher or lower scores than I thought they would, which tells me the tests aren't always accurate on an individual level. But when you're looking at large numbers of students, and assuming everything is on the level—no "helpful encouragement" from teachers during the tests, no erase-and-replace of students' answers by staff after the students hand in their tests — their average scores tell you something about their skill levels relative to other groups of students.

Now, with that out of the way, the problems. The first is, the high stakes nature of the tests distorts the schools' curriculum and, sometimes, the test results. Since teachers, schools and school districts are judged by their students' scores, they're compelled to do everything they can to get the best results possible. That means teaching to the test, which means spending inordinate amounts of time and energy giving students the narrow skills needed to fill in the right bubbles. The give and take of loosely directed discussions is a luxury only to be indulged in when time allows. Creative pursuits, long term projects, even time on the playground are secondary to the central focus of the classroom: preparing students for test day. Teachers become mechanical skill-and-drill sergeants, which is not what they thought they signed up for when they decided to join the teaching profession. Students are encouraged to become robotic, learning how to be successful at performing variations of one repetitive task — answering short questions by picking the right answer from a short list of possibilities. The classroom is a different place — I would say a worse place — thanks to high stakes tests. And, sad to say, all that sweat, toil and tedium generally only adds a few points to students' scores and even less to students' actual skill levels, and since pretty much everyone is doing it, it's a wash. Every class, school and district's ranking in the state stays pretty much the same as it would have been if no one paid any attention to the test until test day.

And sometimes, the pressure to raise test scores leads individual teachers, or whole schools and districts, to cheat. Some schools and districts have been caught at it. Teachers and administrators in Atlanta went to jail for changing answers on student tests year after year. Others do it but haven't been caught. A series of articles in USA Today a few years back talked about a nationwide analysis of erasures on student tests and found that in many schools, including in Arizona, the number of wrong answers erased and replaced by right answers was as likely to be random as it was likely that the school be struck by lightning on test day. Though state departments of education rarely look deeply into suspicious scores, Arizona's ADE found nine schools where the evidence is strong enough, it's highly probable students' test papers were altered. Most likely, those schools are the visible tip of a larger problem. And that's just the most easily detectable form of cheating. There are lots of undetectable ways to boost scores without increasing the students' skill levels.

Cheating can become addictive, and additive. If a teacher cheats one year, how does he/she go back to being honest the next year without having to explain the drop in scores? If third grade teachers cheat, fourth grade teachers look bad if their students score lower than they did back in the third grade—and so on, up the grades. Educators are basically an honest, moral, but not necessarily courageous lot. If you put their salaries and/or their jobs on the line, many of them are liable to do what it takes to push those scores up.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Catalina Foothills Districts Earns Bragging Rights With Its AzMERIT Scores (Or Maybe Not)

Posted By on Thu, Sep 28, 2017 at 11:00 AM

  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin
In early September, it was an article in the Star praising Catalina Foothills District for having the highest AzMERIT scores in Pima County. Last week it was the same thing in the print edition of the Tucson Weekly. Both articles gave Cat Foothills' Assistant Superintendent multiple paragraphs to pat herself and her district on the back.

From the articles, I learned the district achieved its high ratings through its "commitment to rigorous curriculum in schools, ongoing evaluations for its students and professional development for teachers." Also by "developing a curriculum that considers the end goal and works backwards from there to achieve that goal." And by using "authentic real-world scenarios." Wow. Good stuff. Other districts should consider using similar strategies if they hope to match Cat Foothills' success. Especially Tucson Unified, which apologized for its poor scores in both articles and swore it would try to do better.

But I'm not sure Cat Foothills is the district we should be looking to for pedagogical advice. Among its seven schools, the highest passing rate is 77 percent for Language Arts and 74 percent for Math. In a district outside of Pima County, three schools topped that, with Language Arts passing rates from 79 to 84 percent and Math passing rates from 77 to 85 percent. We should really be asking the superintendent in Scottsdale how the district manages to pull such spectacular achievement from its students. I know Scottsdale isn't in Southern Arizona, but listen, if it's getting results, the whole state could benefit by learning more about the secrets of its success.

And while we're at it, we should also be asking a low-scoring Phoenix-area district how it plans to improve. One of its schools has a 16 percent passing rate in Language Arts and a 17 percent passing rate in Math, and other schools are in the teens and twenties. We need to hear the educational improvement plans for . . . Scottsdale? Really? The same Scottsdale district with those 80 percent-plus passing rates?

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Dusk Music Festival: Get Jazzy With DJ Jazzy Jeff

Posted By on Wed, Sep 27, 2017 at 10:03 AM

Coming up next weekend: It's the second annual Dusk Music Festival, featuring more than a dozen acts on Friday, Oct. 6, and Saturday, Oct. 7. The Weekly is highlighting some of the performing artists ahead of the festival kickoff. Today: DJ Jazzy Jeff!

"In west Philadelphia born and raised, on the playground was where I spent most of my days."

DJ Jazzy Jeff wrote lyrics for the Fresh Prince that were true for himself. West Philly native, DJ Jazzy Jeff has has a successful career spinning records and working with Will Smith as well as opening his own production company called A Touch of Jazz. As a critically acclaimed DJ, he has won a DMC Championship and has many Grammy and American Music Awards and nominations. He will take the stage at Dusk Music Festival on Friday, October 6 at 5:55 p.m.

For more information about DJ Jazzy Jeff at Dusk Music Festival, click here!

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Can High School Athletes Take a Knee?

Posted By on Tue, Sep 26, 2017 at 9:41 AM

  • Bigstock
When the Friday night lights are turned on in high school football stadiums around the country, you can bet students, parents and staff will be asking themselves, "What should we do if some players decide to take a knee during the National Anthem?"

Most probably, the right answer is, they should do nothing. Student athletes have the right to this kind of protest, according to an article in Education Week. Students cannot be forced to participate in what the school considers acts of patriotism. (I would argue that taking a knee to protest injustice and to urge the country to be a better place is a patriotic act, but that's a different issue.)
In the 1943 case of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a school would violate the free speech rights of its student, a Jehovah's Witness, if it forced him to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

"To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds," Justice Robert Jackson wrote in his majority opinion.

Schools can't require students to observe patriotic rituals in the classroom, and their authority to discipline them for such acts diminishes even more at an athletic event, where behavior like shirtless cheering is "a regular occurrence," Frank LoMonte, the former executive director of the Student Press Law Center, told me last year.

And school's authority to discipline students for silent anthem protests isn't heightened if those students are taking part in a privilege, like being members of a football team, he said. Courts have held that public institutions can't withhold privileges, like employment at a public agency, if employees exercise free-speech rights, like refusing to recite an anti-communist pledge, he said, arguing that the precedent applies to student athletes.

"You can't condition a privilege on forsaking your constitutional right any more than you can condition a right or a benefit," LoMonte said.
This isn't to say that schools can't discipline, suspend or expel students for taking a knee. Schools take disciplinary actions against students for questionable reasons all the time. It's just that they're very likely to get their asses sued by a local lawyer working pro bono, or if they really get lucky, the ACLU may step in to make a Federal Case out of it—literally. Chances are good, the schools will lose.

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