Wednesday, March 13, 2013

SB 271 is a sneaky, last minute revision--of an already bad policy--literally written by Parents for Choice in Education with only one purpose: label schools as "failing" as an excuse for vouchers

The many topics this post touches on are all worthy of lengthy pieces that I don't have time for.  However, the links are excellent and the cut-and-pasting will be informative.

 1.  An overview of SB 271 and how it was purposefully held back until the end of the session in order to avoid most public scrutiny, especially the House Education Committee.  (A familiar tactic used with HB 477)

2.  The whole philosophy underlying the law--that lazy or bad teachers and administrators are the unique cause of public school problems, and that pressuring them through simplistic public "accountability" measures will make them work harder--is flawed.  Teachers are the most important school based factor in education, but school based factors are only 20% of the factors behind "student achievement."  The explicit message of laws like this is that the 60% of achievement explained by student and family background characteristics are only "excuses," and the low grades of poorer schools just show that those teachers and administrators are poor.

3.  The origins of school grading spring from Jeb Bush in Florida.  He then used his "non-profit organization" and ALEC to spread the practice as far as possible.  This has been touted as a great success by reform advocates.  To the surprise of no one, emails have been unearthed further demonstrating that Jeb Bush has been manipulating laws to funnel education money to connected companies (See Stephenson, Howard: Utah), including the absolute dependence on expensive standardized tests for school, teacher, and student data.  The proposals all have different details, but the school grades have not been successful in improving education in other states, including the original, Florida-- 1 and 2. See also Indiana...and note that the flawed grades there were leading to 22% D and F ratings of schools.  (Florida rated fewer than 10% of their schools as D or F.)  The PCE proposal in SB 271 would rate over 50% of Utah schools as D or F.  Does anyone not trying to make money off of miracle schools or software believe that?

4.  The statistical basis of comparison in both the current and proposed versions of school grading (see lines 52-56 & 89-112 of SB 271) is the Student Growth Percentile or SGP.  This has become a common measure to rate schools and teachers, but the creator of the measurement has declared that it is a measurement of student achievement not meant to make any determination of cause...such as what factors of the school or teacher caused that growth.  Here's the technical explanation of why that is (the context is rating teachers based on SGP's, and every problem exists equally at a school level ranking which is really an amalgation of teacher rankings according to SGP) as well as the source of that quote about the measurement.  And another by the same author, Rutgers professor and statistician, Bruce Baker.  Here's an illustrated version by another excellent education blogger.  The New Jersey evaluation in question has some differing details, but the core critique here is the same: that the compared sets of students matched by score independent of context actually condemn many excellent teachers working with difficult students and likely obscure some poorer teachers working with more advantaged students.

5.  It will be statistically impossible to compare scores for two years because of our new curriculum and testing, yet both plans will ram numbers into a formula and do it anyway.  Almost all schools have transitioned into teaching the new English and math cores this year, despite the fact we will still take the old CRT end-of-year tests this year.  That could be bad in English, but it is ridiculously bad for math.  The students have been sorted into Math 7, Math 8, and Math 9 classes independent of math skill, and they study parts of pre-algebra, algebra, and geometry each year.  Secondary math teachers have been working like first-year teachers again trying to keep up.  However, there are no tests to match what they are learning, so they will be given tests from the old classes.  An 8th grade class may have to take an algebra test, even though they may have only devoted 30% of their time to that subject. 

Comparing the scores of these tests to last year when the students were actually in those classes and taught that content to this year when they will NOT be able to study all of the same things is "educational malpractice" to quote Senator Stephenson.

Students will take the new computer-adaptive tests based on the new core in the spring of 2014.  These scores from a completely different test, with different questions and types of questions, and based on a different core will be compared to this year's tests based on the old core, but taken by students being taught the new core.

The comparisons and thus school grades will be invalid and actually misleading, but "educational malpractice" is only bad if it prevents legislative pet projects, not enables them.

6.  The "old formula" actually has never been used--it has been in the planning and working-out-kinks phase for two years--with frequent communication between the Utah State Office of Education and Senator Niederhauser.  The school grading was delayed last year specifically so the formula (as crappy as I think it is) could be further refined, as specifically stated by Senator Niederhauser.

7.  Parents for Choice in Education and Senator Adams are lying.   They claim that SB 271 is somehow a natural extension of the original school grades as understood and implemented over the last two years.  I hope Senator Niederhauser isn't fudging the truth too, but he may be.  I am very suspicious of his original intentions in passing the bill in 2011. 

Testimony at the March 8 meeting of the State School Board, along with Senator Niederhauser's quote above, explained that the formula had been worked on collaboratively for two years.

It seems to me that Senator Adams admitted that his bill is a new concept when he said, "This bill actually sets criteria that is more reflective of what school grading should be."

In two Urgent Action email action blasts sent two hours apart yesterday afternoon, PCE claimed very different facts about both the intentions of Niederhauser and the legislature and how the school grades about to take effect are "vague" and do not provide "accurate accountability."
Senator Adams, on behalf of President Niederhauser, is sponsoring SB271 - School Grading Amendments - making final technical changes to solidify the positive work the legislature has done to provide parents and citizens with clear accountability and transparency for the performance of all public schools.
The opposition is working hard to strip the standards of measurement out of the existing law, leaving it vague and creating a moving target on what signifies student growth from year to year. This would not provide accurate accountability for how our students are actually performing. 

President Niederhauser and Senator Adams believe that every child is capable of making a years worth of growth in a years worth of time. The original School Grading law and SB271 both recognize this and reward schools for both the number of students who are proficient as well as those who achieve a full year's growth! We cannot allow this principle to be undermined. The opposition favors a system that equally distributes how many schools get each letter grade, establishing a false measure of accountability that predetermines winners and losers rather than setting a standard whereby all schools can strive to achieve success!
We need School Grading to move forward as the legislature intended. The Senate has already passed SB271. We need the House of Representatives to approve this amendment! 
Please take a few minutes to contact your Representative right now! Tell them you support SB271 and ask them to fully support Senator Adams and President Niederhauser in bringing clear accountability and transparency to our public schools through School Grading.
They are blatantly lying that the punitive changes and last minute unveiling of SB 271 are just "technical changes" to move school grading forward "as the legislature intended."  But they may be telling the truth that they convinced Adams and Neiderhauser to run the bill this way in order for Niederhauser to avoid being the bad guy.  Niederhauser spoke in favor of the bill and said it just needed "tweaks" if the House was concerned.  He didn't mention working with any educators and their concerns.  I think the State Board of Education may have just been speaking diplomatically when they said they felt supported by Senator Niederhauser last week.

8.  The newly proposed formula in SB 271, intentionally held until the last 10 days of the session to avoid public comment and rush the bill through hurried votes, sets up a system with bars so high that almost all Utah schools will rank as "D" or "F schools."  (It also sets up two separate grading systems because of legal requirements and makes Utah the only state of those adopting school grades to put the exact measurements into law, making them extremely difficult to revise, even during the once-a-year legislative session. ) This negative labeling is intentional in PCE's bill because of their intense antagonism toward the public schools that educate the vast majority of Utah children.

9.  In the interim education committee meetings in 2011 after the original school grading bill passed, Senator Stephenson went public with his desire to identify and punish "F schools" by privatizing them, whether the measurements were accurate or not.  Senator Niederhauser certainly knew Senator Stephenson's intentions and that school grading had been used for this purpose in New York.  (They support schools with low grades in Florida with millions of dollars of assistance, while they just close down "bad schools" in New York and cross their fingers.  Guess which model Utah's law follows.)

10.  The intentionally impossible-to-reach standards for a school grade of "A,"  based completely on test scores set by SB 271, are meant to strengthen the propaganda that Utah schools are failing, and then give cover for school closings and transfers to private parties.  Senator Niederhauser voted for SB 271 as it now stands yesterday.  If he starts out his Senate Presidency with this underhanded betrayal of the collaborative work of two years with educators, he will confirm his true opposition to public ed in Utah and support of privatization and vouchers. 


Carol said...

The problems with SB 271 are described in depth in this post, and yet you ask us to contact our legislators to vote in favor of it. Please help me understand why.

UtahTeacher said...

If I ever said to ask people to vote FOR SB 271, I can only plead sleep deprivation. =) Was it something in this post? Or maybe a tweet? Let me know.