A Large Helping Of Nonsense

We often come across some statement or an article that is basically unbelievable  Normally I just blow it off by saying, “Who in their right mind would fall for that?”

But sometimes I happen upon something I just can’t put aside.  Here is a fine example.  A recent article by Trish Crain on AL.com discussing questions by some folks about former state school chief Joe Morton’s role in developing the A-F school report card.  Responses by Morton and the Business Council of Alabama are just too flimsy to ignore.

(I like Joe Morton.  Have known him for ten years.  He was tremendously supportive when I worked on the Lessons Learned from Rural Schools study back in 2008-09.  But because someone is a friend doesn’t mean I have to agree with them.)

According to the article, Morton, who was either state superintendent or deputy state superintendent for 16 years, is a consultant to BCA and president of their Business Education Alliance.  He works 25 hours a week and is paid $48,000 a year.  He is also a paid consultant for the state department of education and is responsible for birthing the first ever A-F school report card.

Here are portions of the article that got my attention:

“BCA CEO president and CEO William Canary defended BEA’s role in education reform efforts, saying BEA is “both pro-business and pro-education” and the organization “provides accurate and unbiased information to leaders in both the public and private sectors so they can better determine and implement the public policy that is best for our state.”

You have to look long and hard to find bona fide real live public educators who think the Business Council of Alabama is their friend.  They are big supporters of charter schools and think the Alabama Accountability Act is wonderful.  (I sat in a committee hearing earlier this year when Joe Morton testified in favor of AAA.)

In 2016 they gave state school board member Matt Brown nearly $150,000 for his campaign.  Remember, Brown is the guy who never attended public school and was appointed by Governor Bentley to the state school board from Baldwin County.  He was easily defeated by Jackie Zeigler and, in fact, did not even carry his home county against her.

And when you look at the Business Education Alliance web site you find this goodie:

“Just as competitors force businesses to improve quality, service and products for their customers in order to maintain a share of the market, school choice does the same for education. Failing schools are provided the incentive they need in order to improve or risk losing students to better performing facilities.”

This is the well-worn and discredited mantra that we should run schools like a business.  Anyone who truly believes this knows very little about the real world of education.

So while BCA may claim they support public schools, the facts say something very different to me.

Moving on.

Morton told AL.com in a written statement that the only reason questions are being asked about this connection is because he has been charged with issuing letter grades, A through F, for schools and systems. Resistance to publication of those report cards is strong, he said.

Morton is right, resistance from educators to A-F report cards IS strong.  And for the simple reason that the whole process is an exercise in futility.  The ACT Aspire test is where we are getting data for the report cards.  This data basically deals with measuring college readiness, not evaluating student growth and achievement.  In addition, we now know ACT Aspire does not align with Alabama standards and is no longer being used.

So we are coming up with report cards based on discredited data being misused and Morton is surprised that there is pushback?

Morton said “resisters” to school report cards are setting up “smokescreens” in an effort to “attack and try to eliminate the person making the enacting of the Report Card law a reality.” He said there are other educators who “view Report Cards as an avenue to demonstrate to their communities where they are on students successes and how they will improve.”

I would love to see Morton’s list of educators who think the report cards have merit.  Damned if I can find ANY who think it does.

A final comment from Morton:

“….and make Alabama complaint with a 2012 law passed by the Legislature on Report Cards for schools, which some people have successfully delayed.”

The reason this law was not implemented long ago is because of Representative Terri Collins who sponsored it.  For example, a panel of some of the state’s top educators worked as a committee with Collins for two years to develop a grading formula.  Finally they realized she could not be pleased and they just threw up their hands.  However, they left behind some excellent work they did.

And what happened?  Apparently Mike Sentence discarded it.  Neither state superintendent Ed Richardson or Morton knew about this effort when they took over.

Joe, this law was bad when it was passed in 2012.  I have written about it and the experience of other states with A-F many times, long before you got involved.  In spite of what you may think, no one is trying to kill the messenger.  It’s just that you have the wrong message.





Time To Grade Legislators

Within a few weeks each public school in Alabama will receive a letter grade of A through F.  Why?

Because the legislature passed a law in 2012 saying that we would.  The system that is about to be used is flawed and then some.  It is using unreliable data in ways it was never intended to be used.

We have spent untold financial and human resources trying to develop a fair formula for the grading system.  I have yet to talk to an educator who believes what we are about to do has any value at all.

However, I have an idea.

Every legislator has public schools in their House or Senate district.  As soon as the scores are released to the public, let’s look at them legislative district by legislative district.

Let’s then develop a scoring system for each Representative or Senator based on the scores of their schools.  Then we’ll give each legislator a letter grade accordingly.  This will obviously be a reflection upon how well each member supports their local schools.

No doubt some legislators may object.  But seems that what is fair for the goose is fair for the gander.

I will start on this project as soon as the info is available.  After all, 2018 in an election year and voters need have as much info as they can before they go vote.

A-F School Report Cards Use Unreliable Data

Sometimes it is just too easy to look at something and simply dismiss it as “only in Alabama.”  You know like when something makes absolutely no sense, but we do it just the same.  A great big “Bless Your Heart” for the four million souls who live here.  Sorta, kinda like the laws of Nature don’t apply here.

How else do you explain this?

Nearly six years ago (March, 2012) our legislature used its infinite wisdom to pass a law saying that all public schools in the state should be assigned a letter grade of A, B, C, D, F.

It was bogus from the get-go.  All you had to do was read the second paragraph of the bill which sprinkled some fairy dust and expected the public to accept it as fact.

“Section 1. (a) Just as there is value in assigning grades that reflect the performance of public school students in Alabama, the Legislature finds that there is also value in assigning grades that reflect the performance of the public schools attended by public school students in Alabama. The Legislature further finds that an easy to understand school grading system would best serve the interests of the public as a whole, and specifically the parents and guardians of public school students, by providing another transparent layer of accountability for the public dollars allocated to elementary and secondary education in the state.”

I have been looking at the A-F issue for nearly six years now.  If there is an iota of truth to this statement, it is obviously locked in a vault with the formula for Coca-Cola.

But as sometimes happens with bad dreams, this one is about to become true.  Though it has been vilified by educators for many months because of countless shortcomings, grades for schools are to be made public on Jan. 11, 2018.

And to a large degree data being used for calculate grades is coming from the ACT Aspire, a test that the U.S. Department of Education says is not aligned with what students in Alabama are taught.

No. this is not a joke.  (Except on the educators and students involved with Alabama public schools.)

Now the education community is scrambling to come up with a plan to defend what they fear may come to light.  EVERY educator I’ve spoken with does not believe the new report cards will accurately reflect what is going on in their schools.

Reality is that we Americans are fixated on rankings.  (Is there a single male over 18 in this state who does not know that the University of Alabama football team is ranked in the top four nationally and therefore will be in the national championship playoff?)

And when a mama, a mayor, or a public school naysayer sees that a school is graded as a C, any explanation as to the shortcomings of the ranking system will largely fall on deaf ears.  That’s like expecting a fan of Ohio State University to go to Tuscaloosa and convince folks that their school–not Bama–should be in the playoffs.

But here is what no one talks about.  We’ve known since March 2012 that this bill was law.  But has there been any effort on the part of anyone in education to mount an effort to repeal it?

Virginia’s Republican-controlled legislature passed an A-F school grading system in 2013.  This was repealed in 2015.  The bill to repeal was by Republican Senator Dick Black, one of the bodies most conservative members.  He was a Marine helicopter pilot in Viet Nam and  told me via email that while he was initially intrigued by the idea he quickly realized that it would have unintended consequences that could have a negative impact on an already struggling school.  “Teachers will not want to teach at an F rated school,” he said.

Yep.  Bless your heart is in order.

(For other articles about A-F, go to the menu on the right side of the blog home page and click on that heading.)









State Kicks Off A-F School Report Cards. And Tells Us What We Already Know.

After more than four years of endless meetings and countless discussions about how someone can label a school with one grade to encompass its value, we have now made a first step in rolling out legislation passed in 2012.

One has to tip their hat to representative Terri Collins of Decatur for her tenacity in making sure this legislation became reality.  She has been the moving force behind it from the outset.  But has she helped education?  That is an entirely different matter since A-F has been debunked time after time.

You can go here to see what the state has come up with to this point.  (School grades are not part of this initial info.)

And you can find newspaper articles where educators question this methodology and Rep. Collins tells us how amazing it is.  For instance, she told the Decatur Daily, “At the end of the day, the point of using school grading in other states has been to increase student achievement.”

Except researchers in Oklahoma don’t agree.

This report by the Oklahoma Center for Education Policy at the University of Oklahoma and the Center for Educational Research and Evaluation at Oklahoma State University pulls no punches about what the state is doing with A-F..

“The data we have analyzed demonstrate quite dramatically that the letter grade system for school evaluation has very little meaning and certainly cannot be used legitimately to inform high-stakes decisions.”

“We urge policy makers to abandon the single letter approach.”

“A bureaucratic evaluation system that produces nearly meaningless grades is no substitute for reasoned decision making based on careful consideration of all creditable evidence.”

When letter grades were put to the test with actual student achievement date, it turns out that they do more to hide achievement differences than provide a clear understanding of school effectiveness.  In our analysis of over 15,000 student test scores from 63 schools, results showed that school grades do not fulfill the intention of the State to provide parents and schools with a clear understanding of school performance.”

“Oklahoma’s Report Card is very costly, bureaucratically cumbersome, and seems not designed to improve learning in schools.”

Even the state school superintendent in Oklahoma, Joy Hofmeister, thinks using A-F is meaningless.

And if this process is so valuable, why do only 17 of 50 states use it?  And it is interesting to note that of the top-ranked 15 states in the country, only three use A-F, but of the bottom 15, eight use it.  And what about Massachusetts, the state school system our governor is fixated on these days?  They are rated the No. One state in the nation.  But sorry, they don’t use A-F. Nor do the next six highest ranked states, New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Virginia.  (Virginia passed A-F in 2013 and their Republican legislature repealed it in 2015.)

My friend Trish Crain at AL.com has done her usual good job of researching the data the state is now presenting.  She has even gone to the trouble of assigning a letter grade to each school system.  Spend some time on this article.  And pay special attention to the state map.  The better performing systems are in shades of green, weaker ones are shades of red.

What you see is what we’ve seen dozens of times before when we look at counties based on some prosperity value, be it percentage of children in poverty, average median family income, unemployment, etc.

The worst the economic indicators, the bigger the challenge.  We’ve known since Shep was a pup that school performance and poverty are extremely closely linked.

According to AL.com the only F grade in Alabama is Greene County in the Black Belt.  And those 15 systems with a D include Barbour County, Bullock County, Butler County, Lowndes County, Macon County, Perry County, Sumter County and Wilcox.  Joining them are city school systems in Linden and Selma.

So there we have it.  After four years of meetings and lots and lots of “busy” work, we have one more way to measure what we’ve known for years.  As grandpa would say, “We’ve been fiddling while Rome burned.”

But that is hardly a surprise when you look at the bill passed in 2012 and at the bottom of page one you see: “The Legislature further finds that performance-based incentives and increased autonomy are commonplace in the private sector and should be infused into the public sector as a reward for productivity.”

This is pure baloney and one of the reoccurring myths put forth by people who don’t understand education.  And this was a sure tip that whoever drafted HB588 in 2012 was trying to sell us a pig in a poke and four years later, we’ve now heard that pig squeal.





If A-F School Grades Are So Great, Why Don’t States With Good School Systems Use Them?

As we inch closer and closer to grading our schools with an A-F grade, even though research does not support any benefits for doing so, it’s only natural that we look at those states which currently use this approach to see how it helps them.

According to info distributed by Rep. Terri Collins who is the primary sponsor of A-F, info supplied to her by Jeb Bush’s Excellence in Education Foundation, 17 states have A-F legislation.  They include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia..

Now let’s look at this ranking of each state’s school system and compare to the A-F states.

Notice anything?

Sure do.  Of the top ten ranked states, only one (Maine) indulges in A-F school grading.  On the other hand, of the bottom ten ranked states, six of them have A-F.  (Alabama, West Virginia, Mississippi, Arizona, New Mexico, Louisiana)

The top seven states in this ranking are: Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Virginia.  Since A-F is the greatest thing since sliced bread, why haven’t these states embraced it?  And since Governor Bentley (the one who says our education “sucks”) is all about turning Alabama into Massachusetts South, why doesn’t he whisper in Rep. Collins’ ear that if something is not good enough for Massachusetts, we don’t want it?

Or why doesn’t he make a speech and talk about why we should repeal this bill?

But then, all of that sounds far too logical for a state where LOGIC is obviously considered a four-letter word.




“Invalid And Unreliable” A-F School Grades Released In Oklahoma

While Alabama continues to spend great amounts of time and money to prepare for A-F school report cards, the unsatisfactory experiences of other states on the same system are ignored.  Oklahoma released their 2016 report cards the end of October.  As this article in the Tulsa World points out, educators agree that they are generally worthless.

Here are excerpts:

Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist called the state accountability system “completely flawed.”

“These grades are meaningless, and I think it’s important for the public to understand that for the second year, at least, they need to dismiss this information,” Gist said. “The only reason this information is even being released publicly is because it is required. It is a bureaucratic exercise. Everyone in the state — everyone — understands that this current system is not an accurate reflection of school performance in Oklahoma.”

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has been a leading critic of the state’s current school grading system, pointing most often to its “masking” of both student growth indicators, as well as troubling trends like too-low high school graduation rates.

“We have to think about what each student deserves — the advanced student deserves to grow, the student with very severe deficits in learning should have high priority placed on them just as much. And so this is something that can be addressed through the way we structure our new accountability system,” Hofmeister said after Thursday’s board meeting.

The grade cards were intended to make it easy for parents and communities to gauge the performance of public schools, but their legitimacy has been undermined by public criticism from educators and parents, as well as multiple rounds of analysis by research scientists from the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.

(Hamilton Elementary principal Tera) Carr expressed concern about the impact the school’s F grade has on her students.

“I don’t want them to feel like the letter that’s being placed on them has to dictate who they are,” Carr said.

At Anderson Elementary School, which the state assigned a letter grade of F, 70 percent of third-graders experience one or more year of growth in reading on the Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, assessment, according to TPS.

“Honestly, it’s hurtful, and a little bit painful, but we keep it in perspective,” Anderson Principal Tracy Thompson said about the school report cards.

Anderson is made up of students living in a low socioeconomic status, and many of them don’t perform well on tests — like those the state’s school accountability system relies upon — that measure a lot of background knowledge, Thompson said.

“We welcome all of the accountability. … But we just want it to be fair,” Thompson said.

Thompson said teachers and school officials are constantly tracking data measuring student performance and using it to improve their teaching, and she told anecdotes of parents and state officials who have been shocked by the school’s F grade after seeing the progress its students are making.

“That’s a great feeling, that even the community realizes it’s a flawed system,” Thompson said.

But still, for teachers at Anderson, Thompson said the school report card is like a “once-a-year slap in the face.”

“I tell my teachers: You’re the best, and we’ll wear any scarlet letter they want us to, but we’re doing the day-to-day work for children and with children, and that’s what matters,” Thompson said.”

But like lemmings hurtling toward the sea or lambs going to slaughter, Alabama continues to trudge along this path of futility doing what we often do, ignoring the voices of education experts and kowtowing to political pressure.