Tuesday, January 22, 2019

LA strike tentatively settled with national implications; here's how to counter myths of the class size deniers

Today, it was announced that a deal has been struck between the Los Angeles teacher union and the district leadership, which will likely end the strike.  Here is my previous explanation of how the district's excessive class sizes were a central issue in the strike and central to the union's concerns.

Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti said, "This is a historic agreement, it gets to lower class sizes, it gets to support services.” According to the New York Times,  " the three men declined to give specific details, but said that the county and city would pay for some services and that class sizes would be reduced incrementally in every school starting next year."  More on the agreement here. The press conference announcing the deal is here.

Depending on the details, this looks like a terrific victory for the union and most importantly, for Los Angeles public school students.

Class size has once again become a focus of national attention as a result of the week-long strike. See for example, last Saturday's SNL segment, where Kenan Thompson one and half minutes in says, "Teachers don't gain paid enough, class sizes are too big". Or the photo posted a few days ago by Oscar-nominate actor Rami Malek  of his twin brother, Sami, an LAUSD teacher dressed as a cowboy, holding a sign saying "Wanted: smaller class sizes; Reward: higher student achievement."

Scores of teachers from around the country have been using social media over the last week to speaking out about how overly large classes have undermined their ability to reach their students. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, a rumored candidate for President, just announced that he intends to introduce legislation soon that would "present a national plan for reinvesting in public education and reducing class sizes across America."

Merkley's office explained: "He’s seen up close the disturbing trend of disinvestment in public education and growing class sizes: His children attended the same public schools he did, but faced much larger class sizes and fewer elective options. We’re a wealthier nation than we were 40 years ago, so there’s no excuse for our public schools to be more poorly funded, or to offer less to low-income and working families."

Yet as time goes on and the issue gains more prominence, we can expect that the corporate reformers and their allies will start attacking efforts to reduce class size with everything they've got - tossing out various talking points in a desperate attempt to confuse and distract members of the public.

Most reasonable people will likely be sympathetic to the notion that kids learn best in small classes where they can receive sufficient feedback and support from their teachers,  and there's plenty of research to back that up.  But like climate deniers supported by the fossil fuel industry, there are plenty of class size deniers, often inside-the-beltway talking heads who have benefited from funding from Bill Gates or other ed tech billionaires, eager to have students taught by software in their preferred version of "personalized learning"  - or conservatives who  don't want more public money to be spent on public schools and would prefer to see them privatized instead.

Climate deniers at various times have claimed that  there is little research to show that climate change is caused by human activities releasing C02, or if it is, it's too expensive to reduce these emissions.  If pressed, they may then argue, even if we could afford to lower emissions by 10-20%, that wouldn't make enough difference, so why bother.

The arguments of the class size deniers generally run along the same lines:

1- There is little research to show that class size matters.
2- Even if research shows class size matters, it's too expensive to do anything about it.
3- With the following corollary: assuming we can afford to lower class size, reducing them by one or two students per class is unlikely to make any measurable improvement.

All of these assertions were made in an article this weekend on NPR, by reporter Kyle Stokes, who began his story by saying that "There are studies, if few and far-between, to support parents' and teachers' intuition that smaller classes are better for kids."  Umm, no.  There are a wealth of studies showing smaller class sizes provide a host of benefits to kids - check out this fact sheet for just some of them.

Then Stokes went on to say that even though there is research to show that lowering class size improves schools, he questioned whether it "produces enough benefits to be worth the price tag, especially when it comes at the expense of another program that might help high-needs students," though he failed to offer any evidence of specific alternatives that have been shown to provide more benefits.  On twitter, he added, "But even after $130M, most classes would still be in the 30's."  

Of course course class sizes of 30 or more are still too large - and should really be reduced to 20 or less.  But to use that argument against making any attempt to lower class size at all is like saying, since average temperatures of 100 degrees are already too high, there's no point in lowering them from 115 degrees.  In fact the research shows that the benefits of class size reduction are roughly linear - and that every student makes a difference in how many other kids in the class are able to succeed.

One of the DC talking heads Stokes interviewed is Matt Chingos, who has made a career out of arguing against lowering class size in schools.  He's written not one but two unconvincing reports with these claims.See his 2011 Brookings Institute report, for example, co-authored by Grover Whitehurst.  While citing several authoritative studies indicating that smaller classes result in more learning, they still argue that school spending on class size should instead be divertedto other programs with far less evidence behind them, such as "reconstituting the teacher workforce ....by substituting Teach for America teachers for new teachers from traditional training routes"; "enrolling students in popular charter schools in urban areas" and/or using more "computer-aided instruction." (Brookings had received a million dollars from the Gates Foundation the previous year, "to better assess the likely success of any strategy designed to improve the life prospects of children and youth." )

Chingos wrote another report for Center for American Progress, funded by the Gates Foundation, which straight out claimed, again without any evidence, that education funding would be better spent elsewhere.

To the contrary,  have been at least two peer-reviewed cost-benefit studies on class size, one by economist Alan Krueger, that in grades K-3, showing that "the benefits of reducing class size are estimated to be around twice the cost" with even greater benefits likely for poor kids and students of color, and another study analyzing students in the middle grades, that estimates that "in urban schools, the economic benefits from investing in smaller classes would be nearly twice the cost."

A few years ago I created a fact sheet that rebuts each of the favorite talking points of the class size deniers, called The seven myths of Class Size Reduction - and the Truth.  This was adapted from a Huffington Post article I wrote on the same topic.  Please download it and share it whenever the next Gates-funded corp reformer tries to argue otherwise. I predict that the more parents and teachers try to advocate for smaller classes in their schools, the more the class size deniers will  come out of the woodwork in attempt to block any attempts to provide simple equity and educational justice for public school students -- particularly in our highest need districts -- by reducing class size.



Monday, January 21, 2019

NYSAPE urges a NO vote on the bill that will continue to link teacher evaluation to test scores


Update:  1/22/19: more than 1,000 emails have been sent since yesterday, in opposition to the proposed bill which merely tweaks the current invalid teacher evaluation system and keeps it linked to student assessments.   Today, please call your State Senator and your Assemblymember to urge them to vote no.  More info and a script are  on the NYSAPE website here.

Despite the misinformation about this bill, it continues to link student test scores to teacher evaluation in ways that are invalid and potentially damaging, as the below press release from NYSAPE points out.  Though now the tests will be locally selected from a list created by the Commission, this may include the state exams or another assessment, in which case students would face double the amount of testing.  And the dreaded HEDI matrix will remain in force.  You can read a copy of the bill yourself.   
A meeting on the bill will be held by the NY Senate Education committee at 10:00 AM on Tuesday; you can email your legislators by clicking the link on the message below, and/or call them. Calls have more impact generally than emails.
The teacher evaluation system in New York state was originally left totally up to districts, where it should return.  If this new law is passed, it will be the ninth change in the state teacher evaluation system since 2008 by my count.  More on the history of these various laws and regulations here and here.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 21, 2019
More information contact:
Lisa Rudley (917) 414-9190; nys.allies@gmail.com
Jeanette Deutermann (516) 902-9228; nys.allies@gmail.com
NYS Allies for Public Education - NYSAPE

NYSAPE Urges Legislators to Vote NO to APPR Bill that Will Permanently Link High-Stakes Testing to Teacher and Principal Evaluations

This week, the NYS Assembly and Senate are expected to pass a teacher/principal evaluation bill that will amend the way NYS evaluates teachers and principals. Parents and educators who have taken a stand against the damaging effects of high-stakes testing vehemently oppose this legislation. Rather than the minor tweaks proposed in this legislation, we demand an immediate end to the mandated use of student test scores and student performance measures in the evaluation of educators and the closure of schools. Parents and Educators implore lawmakers to slow down and do further research. Please Take Action and write to your legislators in Albany to stop this speeding train!

Contrary to the claims of some supporters of the legislation, a close examination of the bills indicates that they continue to link teacher evaluations to student growth as measured by test scores and give the state education commissioner the power to shut down or take over schools based on state test results.

Reports of “decoupling” test scores from teacher evaluations are misleading and do not tell the whole truth. The proposed legislation does nothing to dismantle the current test-and-punish system. Under the proposed legislation, a district is no longer mandated to use the flawed grades 3-8 state assessments for evaluative purposes. However, districts must still use some type of test to evaluate teachers and principals.

How would this legislation work? School districts would still be required to administer all state assessments, but would have a choice between using the grades 3-8 state assessments for teacher evaluation or a different test altogether. If a district chooses not to use the grades 3-8 state assessments, the district must then select a separate assessment (often in addition to state exams) to be used in their evaluation plan. In addition to doubling down on high-stakes testing, the proposed legislation will logically lead to even MORE testing for students.

Despite the American Statistical Association and the National Science Foundation’s conclusion that evaluating teachers based on their students’ test scores produces statistically invalid results and does not improve learning outcomes, these bills ensure that 50% of teacher and principal evaluations will continue to be based on student assessments. This is hardly a victory. (For more on the 50% issue, see this article.)

Bianca Tanis, special education teacher and public school parent said, “I am disappointed by the misinformation campaign surrounding these bills. They perpetuate the same junk science that forces educators to teach to a test. At the end of the day, there is nothing about this legislation that is pedagogically sound.”

“Many professional organizations representing educators and stakeholders have expressed serious misgivings. The legislators must take the time to do further research and make an informed decision,” said Lisa Rudley, Westchester County public school parent, Ossining School Board member, and founding member of NYSAPE.

“We understand that some support of this legislation focuses on local control and the ability of school districts and local unions to choose their own tests for evaluation plans through collective bargaining. However, these bills put the burden of evaluating a teacher squarely on the backs of children through test performance. An evaluation system that pressures children and ignores research is reckless and morally flawed,” said Jeanette Deutermann, leader of Long Island Opt Out.

“The receivership component of the law means schools can be closed because a handful of students perform poorly on state tests. The stakes attached to these exams have never been higher. In no way does it help teachers become better at their jobs or schools to improve. This legislation does not even come close to decoupling high-stakes testing from the ways we evaluate our teachers and schools,” said Kemala Karmen, co-founder of NYC Opt Out.

Education historian Diane Ravitch points out, “The current teacher evaluation law (APPR) was passed to make New York eligible for federal funding from the Race to the Top program in 2010. Under this law, 97% of teachers in the state were rated either effective or highly effective. The law is ineffective. It should be wholly repealed, rather than amended as proposed. Let the state continue setting high standards for teachers and let local districts design their own evaluation plans, without requiring that they be tied to any sort of student test scores.”

Jamaal Bowman, Bronx middle school principal, said, “It is time to bring together parents, scholars, students, doctors, educators, and all who care about our children to create policy that equitably nurtures the brilliance in every child. Why are we still discussing teachers and standardized tests without discussing the toxic stress that greatly harms our children daily, and the lack of opportunity that exists for so many children across the state?”

“The entire idea of basing teacher evaluations on student growth is not only invalid, it is destructive. It alters the relationship between students and teachers--poorly performing students become a threat to job security. Districts will create new metrics that are just as unreliable and invalid as those based on the grades 3-8 test scores and Regents exams,” said Carol Burris, Executive Director of the Network for Public Education and a former New York State High School Principal of the Year.

“The day has come to call on all legislators to legislate and for all educators to educate. We need our legislators to stay out of the way when it comes to creating educational policy, especially when it has to do with evaluating teachers and principals. We need to bring trust back into the educational space. It all starts with trust, and we must trust the fact that using any test score to evaluate an educator is not only wrong, it’s just bad practice,” said Dr. Michael Hynes, Patchogue Medford School District.

The parents and educators in NYS who voted in this new legislative body are relying on them to slow down and take the necessary time to enact research-based legislation that will protect children, educators, and local control.

Please Take Action and write to your legislators in Albany to stop this speeding train!
NYSAPE is a grassroots coalition with over 50 parent and educator groups across the state.

###

Friday, January 18, 2019

What LA teachers are teaching the country about the need to reduce class size

Last week I published a column on the Washington Post Answer Sheet about how class size is the central issue in the Los Angeles teacher strike, now going on for a week.

Los Angeles schools have a $1.8 billion surplus, and yet Superintendent Austin Beutner still insists that he can ignore any and all class size caps in the teacher contract, because of a loophole that was inserted in the contract after the great recession hit, a decade ago. 

Ignoring these contractual caps - which are still too high -- means that class sizes in Los Angeles can rise to 35 or 40 in many schools, which are ridiculously large and far too large to provide any student with  sufficient feedback from their teachers. 

In the piece, I also explained how many insiders suspect that the real reason the pro-charter LA school board and  Superintendent so obdurately refuse to lower class size is that this would take up space in their schools that instead they'd prefer to give to the expanding charter schools.

I also dispute the risible claims made in an oped by Arne Duncan, in which he tossed in the red herring of unreliable average class size data as cited by the district, rather than admit that the real focus of discontent among parents and teachers are the maximum class sizes that many LA students suffer.  Duncan also went on to repeat the tired straw man argument that parents would prefer their children have a good teacher than a small class- as though that's a real world choice any parent should have to make.

Class sizes have increased across the country since the recession, and even though we're a decade past that point, school budgets haven't fully recovered.  I'm encouraged that in Los Angeles as well as many of the other states where teachers led strikes and walk-outs last year, including OklahomaColorado,  and Arizona,  this has led to a resurgence in people's awareness of the key issue of class size, because its a too often-ignored component of any real school improvement strategy. 

Despite all the more trendy proposals will concerning online learning, community schools or pre-K expansion, class sizes in grades K-12 are far too large in most public schools around the country to provide kids with a real opportunity too learn.  As Dale Farran, one of the lead investigators in the Vanderbilt preK study -- the most authoritative large-scale experiment ever done on expanding preK, has concluded:

Too much has been promised from one year of preschool intervention without the attention needed to the quality of experiences children have and what happens to them in K-12.”
Here in NYC, class sizes also remain far bigger than they were when the state's highest court  said they were too large to offer students their constitutional right to a sound basic education in the decision in the CFE case. 

The union class size caps in NYC public schools are also are far too large, and haven't been lowered in over fifty years - despite all the research showing how critical this issue is for student success, especially for disadvantaged students and students of color.  And this is despite the fact that 99% of NYC teachers say reducing class size would improve our schools - far outstripping any other reform.

Over 336,000 NYC students are crammed into class sizes of 30 or more, and our average class sizes are 15-30% higher than those in the rest of the state.    For more of the latest class size data this fall, including sharp increases since 2007, check out our powerpoint here.

Time to do something about this here in NYC?  Leave your comments below.

But first, check out the video below of Diane Ravitch speech at a UTLA rally at Alexander Hamilton High School in Los Angeles on Wednesday, saying the best thing that could come out of the LA strike is a real cap on class size and a real cap on charter schools.

NYSED releases a new list of supposedly struggling schools in need of support - including those removed from this designation by the commissioner


Last evening, Commissioner Elia released a new list of schools and whether they are in good standing, or identified for Comprehensive support (supposed to be applied to the lowest 5% of schools, according to the formula used in NYS ESSA plan) or targeted support (supposed to be applied to the lowest 10% of schools.) 
The full list and more info is available here.  Schools identified for comprehensive support will receive an unspecified amount of  extra money from the state to self-evaluate and implement their choice of  “evidence-based” improvements from a list of options supplied to by NYSED, as explained in Chalkbeat here:
Eighty-four of the city’s schools are on the lowest rung — known as “Comprehensive Support and Improvement Schools” — and will be required to craft improvement plans approved by the state. The remaining 40 schools are only in need of “targeted” support and will face less intense oversight.
The lowest-performing schools were identified partly because they were in the bottom 10 percent of schools across the state on a combined measure of growth and proficiency on state tests — the biggest factor that went into their rating. For the first time, state officials also took into account science exams, progress on a test taken by English learners, and rates of chronic absenteeism.
At the high school level, graduation played a big role, and any school that did not graduate 67 percent of its students within six years was automatically identified. New measures of college and career readiness were also factored in.

Five of the NYC schools identified as needing comprehensive support (CSI) schools are charters: New Visions Charter High School For Humanities II, New Visions Aim Charter High School II, New Dawn Charter HS, Opportunity Charter School, and New Visions Charter High School For Humanities II.
How schools’ opt out rates figure into their identification is unclear, according to the official account offered by Ira Schwartz of NYSED.
One measure of achievement, called the Weighted Average Achievement Index, assumes opt out students were level ones, another called the Core Subject Performance Index excludes opt out students from the calculation altogether.  Then the two measures are combined to make a Composite performance level in a manner that is so confusing way I cannot understand it.  [If you can, please explain below.]

112 schools statewide that might have been identified as either CSI or TSI schools were moved into the “good standing” category are designated as GS# - meaning  Accountability status is based on a finding by the Commissioner of extenuating or extraordinary circumstances.” 
  
Forty-one of the schools moved into good standing are in NYC, including three charter schools -- Urban Dove, Lindsay Wildcat Academy and New Visions Aim Charter 1.  One district --  District 22 --  was also moved into the good standing category by the Commissioner, presumably after an appeal by the Chancellor.  (Someone should ask the Chancellor about this.)  

To the right and above are the only NYC districts in Good standing  - meaning they have no schools needing comprehensive support. The list of struggling schools and districts is surprising in many ways.  Several schools are identified as needing Comprehensive support despite the fact that all their student subgroups are listed as in good standing, which I don't understand either.

Comments welcome below.