Saturday, December 31, 2011


This is an end-of-year wrap of loose ends.  The first item is a conclusion on how Ohio is executing its Ohio K-12 education train wreck, with a stealth “charter school” overdose, plus a rating scheme that is a giant hole below Ohio’s K-12 school waterline.

Next, briefly upbeat, is a perspective on the step beyond traditional high-order thinking in education; what K-12 should be doing, on top of what K-12 should be doing, if it wasn’t flogging test scores.

Lastly, a look at what 2011 delivered to K-12 education, and some predictions on what 2012 might bring.

Ohio’s Remains of the Year

The Wobbly ODE Performance Index

Last SQUINTS unfolded an analysis of 650 Ohio school systems, comparing ODE’s PI, or Performance Index, based on NCLB-style standardized testing, with schools’ 2011 ACT results.  Hardly a perfect index of learning outcomes, the ACT has validation and a track record to recommend it, and is arguably a better index of district quality than the PI.

The results are clear; the PI does not credibly track ACT or SAT results, inferring that claims or choices made on the basis of a school district’s PI ranking, or the prior qualitative designations, are generally wrong enough to be terrible school policy.

Ohio’s Charter Scam

Almost unseen in national press coverage of the charter movement, is Ohio’s charter school binge, not so forthrightly billed as “community schools,” 356 and counting now listed by ODE.  A better designator might be “corporate schools,” or Ohio’s ghost schools by virtue of their sponsorship and promoters.

One of the most prolific sponsors of Ohio’s charters is the Ohio Council of Community Schools, created unilaterally in the late ‘90s by the University of Toledo’s Board of Trustees, and featuring an educationally light and undistinguished management.  What education experience resides there appears to have vocational and corporate ambience.

Also prominent throughout the 356 charters is the presence of especially four consultants, Paul Preston, John Wilhelm, Don Urban, and Jack Nairus, the “ghosts in the machine.”  Preston is ambiguously listed as associated with ODE, as a consultant, but promoting charters for Ohio’s Department of Education -- so much for ODE’s championing public education in Ohio.  John Wilhelm shows on the web as associated with Columbus, but with zero additional information.  Don Urban can’t be identified on the web.  Jack Nairus is listed as an employee of Manta, a tiny Cleveland company of 5-9 employees doing unspecified Internet promotion.  The K-12 educational expertise embodied in this group appears breathtaking.

Here is some Ohio “community school” performance skinny:  The bottom 10 percent of the 650 districts studied is half charter schools.  Though the bottom of Ohio’s school barrel is pretty dismal generally – ODE PI values mostly below 90, and ACT score averages mostly below 19 – the bottom five percent belongs exclusively to Ohio’s euphemistic “community school” block.

ODE reports on its website the list of Ohio community schools, but magically, its tab, “Sponsor Composite Performance Index & Reporting Compliance,” comes up dry, a search eliciting only the message, “This document has expired.”  Based on the performance of ODE’s other performance index, that might normally be seen a blessing, except for the obfuscation it implies of reporting on Ohio’s charters.

The complete database to assess Ohio’s charter explosion is not in hand, but from the prior analysis where many of these charters were seen in pruning the data for the PI versus ACT analysis, a large number of these schools appeared to reside at the bottom of Ohio’s educational barrel.  The Kasich Administration and ODE should be made accountable for a forthright presentation of the learning performance of these alleged schools.

The Purty Thirty

Obviously, there are competent school districts in Ohio, and superior performances.  To attempt to isolate the better schools a combination of the PI, ACT and SAT scores were used to identify an alleged best 30 of the group studied.  The “Purty Thirty” were, in general order of rank based on data available (County: District/System):

Hamilton:  Indian Hill Exempted Village
Cuyahoga:  Chagrin Falls Exempted Village
Lucas:  Ottawa Hills Local
Franklin:  Upper Arlington City
Montgomery:  Oakwood City
Hamilton:  Wyoming City
Franklin:  Grandview Heights City
Summit:  Hudson City
Hamilton:  Sycamore Community City
Greene:  Cedar Cliff Local
Greene:  Yellow Springs Exempted Village
Franklin:  Bexley City
Licking:  Granville Exempted Village
Cuyahoga:  Brecksville-Broadview Heights City
Franklin:  Dublin City
Hamilton:  Mariemont City
Warren:  Mason City School District
Montgomery:  Centerville City
Greene:  Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local School District
Cuyahoga:  Beachwood City
Summit:  Revere Local
Cuyahoga:  Solon City
Portage:  Aurora City
Warren:  Springboro Community City
Geauga:  Kenston Local
Hamilton:  Forest Hills Local
Cuyahoga:  Orange City
Darke:  Arcanum-Butler Local
Franklin:  New Albany-Plain Local
Shelby:  Russia Local

Flip Side – the Potentially Dirty Thirty

There was another class of district that popped out of the present analysis, school systems that had fourth quartile (highest) PI scores, but didn’t show ACT and/or SAT scores that aligned with the stratospheric PI rankings based on NCLB testing.  These are systems that pose question marks for ODE and their boards:  Specifically, are these systems that achieved their lofty PI positions by virtue of “teaching to the test,” the most common and insidious form of K-12 cheating that has been spawned by NCLB?

2011 has been punctuated by national K-12 test cheating scandals, ranging from supplying and changing answers on its tests, to in Texas almost unbelievably reducing a district’s entire curriculum for years to feature only subject matter on its Texas/NCLB testing.  “T4” is more subtle, but just as corrupting of real education.  It employs selective use of texts, time in the classroom, and lesson plans to feature material most likely to score on NCLB standardized tests.  Egregious, it represents unethical school administration, plus a form of manipulation that likely cannot be identified by most school boards unless they seek an external educational audit of a school and its leadership.

The result, however, is just as corrupting as the more overt forms of cheating; schools’ students are shorted proper learning experiences, and in Ohio’s flawed system of oversight schools are rewarded for cheating.  What an epic and meaningful learning experience for Ohio’s youth?

The potentially “Dirty Thirty” Ohio systems, itemized below, fit the symptoms of “T4.”  There are other explanations for the gap between ACT/SAT results and their high PI positions, but they would be highly exceptional, and the burden of proof of legitimate education should be on the system and its school board.  The most obvious candidates (there are more but these led the ranking) for a careful critique of administration and pedagogy in 2012 are (County:  District/System):

Putnam:  Miller City- New Cleveland Local
Shelby:  Botkins Local
Trumbull:  Maplewood Local
Mercer:  Fort Recovery Local
Geauga:  West Geauga Local
Shelby:  Anna Local
Warren:  Wayne Local
Butler:  Ross Local
Summit:  Twinsburg City
Wayne:  Norwayne Local
Auglaize :  New Bremen Local
Lucas:  Toledo School For The Arts
Williams:  Edon-Northwest Local
Mahoning:  South Range Local
Trumbull:  Champion Local
Columbiana:  Columbiana Exempted Village
Mahoning:  Springfield Local
Clinton:  Clinton-Massie Local
Mahoning:  Western Reserve Local
Putnam:  Pandora-Gilboa Local
Clermont:  Goshen Local
Jefferson:  Steubenville City
Trumbul:  Howland Local
Seneca:  Old Fort Local
Clinton:  Blanchester Local
Fairfield:  Berne Union Local
Scioto:  Wheelersburg Local
Stark:  Perry Local

Will Ohio’s K-12 education systems change in 2012?  That event is highly unlikely, given the extreme conservative Ohio Statehouse and Legislature, reflected as well in a politicized Ohio Department of Education. 

Ironically, what is needed for all of Ohio’s schools is not political at all, and in synch with private sector managerial excellence.  That is, a competent research effort to create a system for measuring the learning outputs of Ohio’s K-12 systems that encompasses more than NCLB standardized tests.  ODE under the Kasich Administration has demonstrated both analytical incompetence and total lack of creativity in gathering and using available school data to create defensible ratings.  But perhaps that has been its upside?

A Learning Step Beyond

For a brief change of pace from 2011’s education doom and gloom, and before looking at K-12 in 2012, there was a welcome article on the prospects for getting creativity back into our classrooms.

SQUINTS’ readers will recognize the concept of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning, a widely accepted concept of how cognitive skills develop and are sequenced.  Paradoxically, while much of present K-12 labors to achieve only at the lowest level of learning that inhabits standardized testing, there are students of learning who are pushing beyond even Bloom’s higher-order mental operations of analysis and synthesis. 

The goal is to seek what numerous critics of America’s private sector have been calling for, greater creativity in US economic and educational processes.  A goal worth pursuing, given the finding that only about one-fourth of US college students are reported to have the reasoning skills to solve conceptual problems.  One can only speculate how dismal the same statistic is for many US K-12 schools?

A summary of recent research on creativity, encompassing neuroscience experiments replacing deduction, was reported in the 16 December 2011 US journal Science.  By an education researcher at Emory University, the review not only dissects the processes that differ between even high-level thinking and creative exercises, but also unfolds classroom pedagogies that can teach creative problem solving.  Two well-documented quotes from the journal article are provocative:
"Neuroscience experiments show that associative thinking is cognitively quite different from analytical problem-solving. Brain regions such as the right superior temporal gyrus  are activated to a greater degree in subjects solving remote association problems by insight…in a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner than in subjects solving problems by analytical reasoning. Associative thinking increases the probability of accessing weakly associated ideas." 
"A creative insight, then, is a sudden, unexpected recognition of concepts or facts in a new relation not previously seen. Such creative insights often follow conceptual reorganization or a new, non-obvious restructuring of a problem situation. The mechanism whereby two ideas are blended or convoluted by insight-like mechanisms into a third novel idea by a process termed “conceptual integration” is an area of active research."
An early 2012 edition of SQUINTS will review the full effort noted, as part of an assessment of learning modes that can be exported to K-12 from higher education methodology and from corporate experiences, and by virtue of extant and emerging digital learning technologies.

EOY Review and 2012 Preview

2011 has been a busy year for the consortium of Obama, Duncan, Gates, the Republican Party, our corporate oligopoly of test makers and scorers, and a slew of public education-haters, working hard to disassemble US public education.  The unlikely combination of the US Department of Education as Darth Vader, tacitly cooperating with the political extreme right to undermine a century of stable K-12 education, is something that even the public education establishment has failed to grasp.  That public K-12 in far too many cases – with vacuous school boards, bureaucratic and sometimes ethically questionable school administrations, plus either inadequately trained or supported teachers – has helped create the present assault, is only marginally compensatory.

In a 12/31/2011 New York Times opinion piece, British author Geoffrey Wheatcroft commented on the present dismal time of "...political miscalculations and deceptions...and downright criminality," invoking something that has overtaken our society, termed "unknown knowns."  His definition:  "Unknown knowns were things that were not at all inevitable, and were easily knowable, or indeed known, but which people chose to 'unknow.'" The concept aptly describes the all-out assault on American public education, and our public systems' dismissal of the threat; the acquiescence is devastating American K-12 learning.

2011 Alice in Eduland

Some of 2011’s developments are worth repeating simply because they also defy common sense.

"Teach for America" has just been given a $50MM grant to expand their program to bring gifted college graduates into low-income classrooms; how can that be faulted?  Perhaps because:  (1) Their total exposure to classroom education principles consists of a five week summer institute; (2) at the end of their brief TFA commitment few have stayed in those classrooms; and (3) research is demonstrating that it takes five to six years of classroom experience to begin to develop needed tools to mediate learning, including the ability to gauge a student’s prior knowledge that has been demonstrated central to present learning.

The KIPP charter schools received a $25.5MM grant from the Walton Family Foundation to enter more school districts.

Obama’s recent “gift” of NCLB waivers requires an even more convoluted set of bureaucratic school requirements and deeper commitment to standardized testing.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District field-tested on students 52 different standardized tests, to pick standardized tests in every subject so teachers can be evaluated on the scores.  Good gracious, where did they find time to actually teach?

True or false, on March 4, 2011, President Obama lauded America’s public schools?  False, he appeared in Miami with Jeb Bush, to push “corporate education reform,” and parenthetically, gladden the hearts of a slug of corporate standardized test creators and scorers and their attached lobbyists.

In the Administration’s key education initiative, “Race to the Top,” what was not included as a priority was “making sure kids have ample opportunity to learn through play.”

But the best of the bunch was a quote by education historian and one of the US’ best and brightest students of public education, Dr. Diane Ravitch:  “I’m beginning to think we are living in a moment of national insanity.”  Amen.

What’s Coming in 2012?

Linked here is a Washington Post piece by an experienced teacher and author who did some prognostication for the coming year.  Be advised it’s pretty grim, as he sees no abatement of the dogmatic effort underway to reform public education by sheer force of testing for the lowest levels of learning achievement, and failing that, by simply displacing public education with privatized K-12 schools.

Some 2012 New Year’s Resolutions

Lastly, some wishful thinking for the K-12 genre and its contestants.

Vow that Mr. Obama’s weekly reading list will actually feature some of the legitimate research on K-12 learning warehoused but unused at his own National Center for Education Research within his own US Department of Education.

Commit to finding Bill Gates a new hobby, and the Walton Family Foundation a new mission.

Provide “Teach for America’s” wunderkind a copy of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning, some serious mentoring, and a new contract more productive for America’s children.

Reform America’s collegiate schools of education, please, even if the rest of a fattened and rudderless higher education establishment goes merrily on its profligate way.

That US K-12 public education will throw caution to the wind and seek the gift of both mind and spine.

Commit to replacing Arne Duncan as US Secretary of Education with a resource that actually understands that the “K” in K-12 education doesn’t really refer to Washington's “K Street.”

Vow to encourage someone to metaphorically trip over the power cord to Ohio's Department of Education, so they have to reboot the whole mess, in the process potentially creating some logic and consistency.

Finally, a resolution for Governor John Kasich:  For 2012, the commitment to advocate aggressively for educational literacy -- his own.

A Closing Perspective

An enormous gap has developed in the US, between genuine students of learning, and a mass of intertwined advocates (many lacking any education credentials) who believe that the current “corporate reform movement,” NCLB’s billy club, Bill Gates’ billions spent on his hobby to sort and spit out teachers, and under-the-table and politicized charter efforts like Ohio’s, are the way to confront America’s loss of K-12 educational performance.  What’s wrong with this picture?  One view is the ancient wisdom that the treatment may be worse than the disease, capable of maiming or killing the patient.

In the same vein of stepping back from the trenches to look at the larger picture, this unlikely cabal of reformers may actually have a hold on a fragment of truth, because much of traditional US K-12 public education and its generally local oversight have become so entrenched, defensive and tentative about real learning, that it can’t field initiatives for internal reform, or find the courage to execute them where there is contemporary educational literacy. 

What is most dispiriting is observing K-12 public education, metaphorically squatting on its haunches, watching dully and with seeming ignorance, as the multitudinous army of alleged reformers and frequent charlatans methodically shoves the public K-12 herd toward the precipice.   That much of public K-12 can’t even offer a defense that goes beyond denial, may be another cause for invoking Ravitch’s prior quote.

The critical question is, when dominant K-12 ersatz education enforced by standardized testing finally matures in the form of a generation or two that can’t actually think critically, solve problems, or create anything, and the US world position in education sinks even lower, what’s next? 

Welcome to 2012.

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