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Louisiana’s VAM: Quantitative Bungling on Display

This post is about value-added assessment (VAA), also called value-added modeling (VAM). I saw that Louisiana’s “father of VAM,” LSU psychology professor, George Noell, and others, had recently published a VAM reflection related to VAM usage on Louisiana’s teacher preparation programs (TPPs), entitled, “Linking Student Achievement to Teacher Preparation: Emergent Challenges of in Implementing Value Added Assessment,” and I just had to write about it.

(You can read the article for free by signing up for a 14-day trial here; meanwhile, I have contacted the publisher for permission to link to full article. Stay tuned.)

Notice that Noell’s et al. title includes the carefully-selected term, “linking,” because it is a tricky game to establish that VAM proves causation and not just correlation. However, the big buzz about VAM usage in education is that VAM is often reverently consulted in decisions about the professional fates of teachers, schools, and TPPs.

VAM is used to judge, and in those judgments, the judges assume that the teacher, or the school, or the teacher prep program “caused” some associated VAM score. If the VAM score is deemed pleasing, then good for you, teacher, school, or TPP.

If not, well, you better fix whatever needs fixing (though VAM is not precise enough to inform on this point) or you could be *correlated* right out of professional existence.

The first piece I wrote as a public education advocate was this 2012 “VAM Explanation for Legislators.” I did so at the behest of a fellow Louisiana teacher and advocate, who asked if I would write something that our Louisiana legislators could understand, “on the eighth-grade level.”

Not sure if I hit the appropriate grade-level readability, but I did rip the erratic results of Louisiana’s VAM pilot study published in February 2011 by George Noell and Beth Gleason.

Interestingly, Noell was no longer associated with the project and had concerns about the outcome, but he was keeping quiet about it publicly.

In 2015, Noell resurfaced to promote VAM for the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE), and in 2015, I ripped Louisiana’s VAM once again in this January 11, 2015, post.

In this post, I do not delve deeply the shortcomings of VAM as a measure of teacher or school or TPP “value” in student learning as captured in the narrow space of standardized test scores; I simply focus on two truths about the limits of VAM, limits that Noell et al. illustrate in their 2019 article about VAMming TPPs:

  • VAM outcomes connecting student test scores to teachers or TPPs do not establish causation, though the VAM name implies that it does, and
  • VAM lacks the precision to advise those affected by it on viable next steps.

First, as to causation: The very name, “value added,” implies causation, with the resulting outcome some number supposedly demonstrating how much “value” was “added” to a teaching candidate’s student test scores by the TPP, or to the student test scores by their teacher. However, as the American Statistical Association (ASA) notes, “VAMs are generally based on standardized test scores, and do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes.”

Why conduct VAM if the results are not intended to get those judged by it to “do” something to try to “improve” future VAM results? Nevertheless, this underlying belief that those VAMmed are being directly measured using student test scores and therefore are responsible for taking action to improve future VAM outcomes is undeniable.

Second, among the Noell et al. VAM disclaimers is the lack of VAM information detailed enough to inform those judged by VAM outcomes.

From Noell et al. (and let us throw in a causation disclaimer, while we’re at it):

As these TPPs (the ones with low VAM aka VAA outcomes) initiated their self-studies, they requested a number of detailed subgroup reports about their data. … As data were spit more finely, results were inevitably less stable, but some programs did identify patterns that they found suggestive… For example, one program identified that students taught by their graduates were performing poorly on essay assignments while also performing relatively strongly on assessments of usage, spelling, writing conventions…. Although these types of analyses cannot provide causal guidance, they may be valuable in connecting teacher educators to what happens once their graduates leave the program.” (Emphasis added.) …

The initial reporting of VAA results made clear that VAA-TPP data were sufficient to motivate change and that they lacked detail to guide what needed to be changed or how to accomplish that change. Our experience with the programs that wanted to make changes to improve VAA results hammered home the importance of communicating clearly about what VAA cannot do and being willing to support teacher education leaders as they begin exploring potential solutions for poor VAA results. …

…These subgroup, descriptive and subscale reports may be slicing the data so thinly that it can lead program faculty to begin contemplating programmatic changes in response to transient phenomena and chance variation. Follow-up reports should be accompanied by appropriate cautions regarding their use.”

*VAM has its limits. Not our fault.*

And on top of this, reiteration of the Big May-be:

The data suggest that TPP-VAA may be responsive to programmatic changes in the TPP. (Emphasis added.)

VAM is high-stakes, yes, and those affected by it must fish in the dark for how to improve VAM scores, but *disclaimer* We Who Reside on the Untouchable Side of VAM cannot be sure if their efforts (and the time, money, and other disruption behind such efforts) actually did anything to influence subsequent VAM outcomes.

And there is more:

Noell et al. note that the cycle of feedback (from fishing-in-dark program alterations to VAM score result) may take years.

This just keeps getting better and better.

Well, TPPs, VAM can damn you, but it cannot offer information precise enough to assuredly advise you in the point of the VAM game– improving future VAM scores. Moreover, “results cannot prove” (direct quote) that changes made in the name of attempting to un-damn your VAM score actually impacted your VAM result.

AND (of course, of course) you may not see any influence on VAM (for which we’ve already read the disclaimer) for YEARS.

Well, then. I have a word for this entire process:

Asinine.

jackass

The embodiment of VAM

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Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

.

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

 

CREDO’s New Orleans “Learning Gains” a Sleight of Information

According to Emily Langhorne of Forbes, education reformers should “rejoice” because in May 2019, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) released this summary and accompanying presentation of New Orleans charter school “learning gains.”

According to CREDO, New Orleans charter school “learning gains” are impressive when compared with those of the state:

In reading, New Orleans students experienced stronger learning gains in 2014-15, 2015-16, and 2016-17 compared to the state average learning gains. In math, New Orleans students posted greater learning gains in 2014-15, similar progress in 2015-16, and stronger growth in 2016-17 compared to the state average.

Now, what CREDO has not released are actual average scores on the tests, nor do they offer any caution that greater “learning gains” are not synonymous with higher average test scores.

It is possible to have a fantastic “learning gain” and still fail a test.

It is also possible to do quite well on a pretest, with better pretest outcomes increasingly restricting how much of a “learning gain” a student can have on a post-test.

For example: A student scores a 42 out of 100 on a pretest and 60 on a post-test. That’s a “learning gain” of 18 points. Still an F (below 67), but an impressive “learning gain.”

Meanwhile, a second student scores an 89 out of 100 on the same pretest and a 95 out of 100 on the post-test, for a “learning gain” of six points. Note that the second student is well above passing on both pre- and post-test and actually improved from a B to an A (93 is the threshold). Note further that the highest “learning gain” this second student could achieve on a 100-point test is 11 (89 + 11 = 100), which means the second student could not possibly top the first student’s “learning gain.” However, in the likes of a CREDO report focused on “learning gains” and absent any specifics on actual scores, the first student becomes the one with (can you visualize the ad?) *three times stronger growth* (i.e., 18 points in “learning gains” for the first student compared to only 6 points in “learning gains” for the second).

And never mind poor Student Three, who scored a 99 on both pre- and post-test, thereby showing a zero “learning gain,” and who by CREDO’s limited-information advertising would be quite the loser to *at least it’s a higher F* Student One.

So, before I celebrate the awesomeness of “learning gains” in New Orleans charter schools compared to state average “learning gains,” I’d like to see “learning gains” contextualized using actual score averages.

sleight of hand 2

______________________________________________________________________

Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

.

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Teach for America and Sister Program, Ensina!: How Recruit Thinking Changes from Before to After

Rolf Straubhaar is an assistant professor of ed leadership and school improvement at Texas State University. He is also a Teach for America (TFA) alum.

Rolf Straubhaar

Rolf Straubhaar

Straubhaar’s research agenda includes alternative certification initiatives, like TFA and its global version, Teach for All.

On April 29, 2019, Straubhaar published a research article entitled, “Teaching for America Across Two Hemispheres: Comparing the Ideological Appeal of the Teach for All Teacher Education Model in the United States and Brazil,” in the peer-reviewed Journal of Teacher Education. He was kind enough to send me a copy of the full article for personal review and to allow me to generously quote from his work in this post.

In sum, Straubhaar examined perceptions of TFAers and their Brazilian counterparts in Ensina! both before and after the actual TFA/Ensina! experience. As he notes in his abstract, “many left their 2-year commitment questioning the underlying theories of change driving it.”

Below is the abstract, in full:

The last several decades have seen significant growth among private options in alternative teacher education and certification. In this article, I draw on two parallel ethnographic studies of the experiences of participants in variants of one particular alternative teacher education model, developed by Teach For America in the United States and spread internationally by Teach For All. Through analysis of interviews with recruits from Teach For America and its Brazilian sister organization Ensina!, I explore the thinking processes that leads young people to join these organizations, as well as how that thinking changes after 2 years of teaching in the classroom. I find that while participants in these studies joined because they admired the Teach For All teacher education model, many left their 2-year commitment questioning the underlying theories of change driving it.

From the opening of the article, including research questions (citations removed for ease of reading):

Teach For America (hereafter called TFA) and a Rio de Janeiro–based organization known as Ensina! are both alternative teacher education organizations that began recruiting teacher candidates with purposefully similar pitches. …

While such recruits wouldn’t necessarily have the training of an undergraduate degree in education, [TFA founder Wendy] Kopp has argued that this can be overcome through the recruitment of hard-working, competitive candidates whose relative inexperience also comes with optimistic idealism: “The world needs your inexperience. It needs you before you accept the status quo, before you are plagued by the knowledge of what is impossible.” …

Maíra Pimentel, the first Executive Director of Ensina!, has articulated a very similar recruitment strategy for that organization. …

Why are recruits joining these types of organizations?

Another important question that has remained largely unanswered is how the attitudes of these teacher recruits toward their programs, and toward alternative forms of teacher education more generally, change as a result of their experience teaching and going through the teacher education programs of TFA, Ensina!, or other similar Teach For All affiliates. …

These are the two questions which orient this article, drawing on comparative ethnographies of TFA in Los Angeles and Ensina! in Rio de Janeiro: Why do potential recruits choose to join these alternative teacher education programs, and how does the thinking that informs that choice change over the course of a candidate’s 2-year commitment in the classroom?

Straubhaar then offers details on both TFA and Ensina! history, which I will leave readers to pursue if they so choose via the full article. However, regarding Ensina!, I will offer this: Ensina! was a short-lived program; as Straubhaar notes, “It began to be organized in 2009, brought in its first cohort of teachers in 2011, and suspended operations at the end of 2012.”

Straubhaar then builds on his previous work regarding what he calls the “currently dominant education project. I found this construct both intriguing and on-point regarding market-based ed-reform orgs like TFA. Some excerpts (citations removed for ease of reading):

Elsewhere, I have created a theoretical construct that accounts for the spread of market-based reform models like that created in TFA and franchised through Teach For All, which I call the currently dominant educational project. This construct draws upon Lesley Bartlett’s notion of educational projects, which she defines as “durable (but not permanent) constellations of institutions, financial resources, social actors, ideologies, discourses, pedagogies, and theories of knowledge and learning that shape the way people think about schooling and its purpose.” My construct of the currently dominant educational project expands this model in two primary directions: a heavier emphasis on the role of power in the spread of particular educational projects and a recognition of such projects’ temporal dimension.

First, I argue that the role of power plays a significant role in the development and spread of commonly accepted educational ideas, policies, and best practices. Particular individuals and institutions (e.g., the World Bank or the U.S. Department of Education) have an outsized impact on what is considered “good” educational practice that is worthy of replication. Indeed, these actors are primarily responsible for both the initial development of the ideas behind an educational project and the spread of those ideas through the exercise of their power and influence. …

I will here argue that the currently dominant educational project in the United States and Brazil is a market-oriented project in which the status quo consists of business-derived accountability policies focused on improvement of the “bottom line,” which in most cases today is defined as standardized test scores. …

…I focus on the ideological discourses undergirding Teach For All as a global phenomenon. In these studies, one such discourse is manifest in the way TFA and Ensina! recruits talk about their decision to join, which reflects how they think about teacher education and the teaching profession more generally. I refer to this way of thinking about teacher education (and schooling as a whole) as market logic: that is, the presumption that private industry is inherently more effective, efficient, and innovative in the provision of educational services and ideas than the public sector, due to the competition that is assumed to be inherent to the free market. … As I will show in the following, subscription to market logic was a primary reason that recruits in these studies joined TFA and Ensina!, although their experiences within these respective programs would lead many to begin to question that same logic over the course of their 2-year commitment.

And continuing with the market focus and the influence of market logic on TFA and Ensina! recruits:

Given the dominance of this market-oriented project for the last several decades of education policy in the United States and Brazil, the people who are becoming of age to be ripe candidates for TFA and Ensina! are individuals who have seen market logic reflected in public policy throughout their lives—as such, it is understandable to see such logic influence their career decisions upon finishing their undergraduate degrees. …

…Among the 30 TFA teachers I interviewed, 13 specifically expressed in passing the belief that traditional public school teaching is insufficient, or as TFA has argued on its website, “not enough to close the achievement gap”….

Similar to what was apparent in my interviews with TFA teachers in Los Angeles, Ensina! participants in Rio de Janeiro also expressed that a large part of what convinced them to join the organization was a commonly held understanding, based on the rhetoric of Ensina! staff and recruiters, that the Teach For All model represented a business-savvy, numbers-driven “proven” teacher education formula that was ready to be franchised outside the United States. …

However, I also argue that part of the ideological appeal of the TFA/Ensina! model corresponds to the selective and elite branding….

And for information regarding the “cognitive shift” post-classroom-stint:

In interviews that typically took place near the end of their 2-year classroom commitment or shortly thereafter, it was interesting to note the shift in perspective and ideological orientation demonstrated by the interviewees in these two programs. While 10 TFA and eight Ensina! teachers made statements of support for their respective programs and their parallel theories of change regarding how teachers should be recruited and trained, most (14 in TFA and 26 in Ensina!) made comments that showed they had come to question some portion of their previously held beliefs. At least, these 14 TFA and 26 Ensina! teachers expressed some cognitive dissonance relative to their earlier trust in these programs in the face of contrasting personal experiences.

Straubhaar then details his TFA and Ensina! results using numerous quotes from research participants, all of which makes for captivating reading and which I leave my readers to pursue on their own.

For the sake of length (and being mindful of the liberty I have already taken in directly quoting from Straubhaar’s work), I now conclude my direct quotes with this, from the section, “discussion and conclusion”:

These parallel ethnographic studies of recruits who joined TFA in Los Angeles and Ensina! in Rio de Janeiro are fascinating examples of the role of market-influenced thinking in influencing young peoples’ decisions to seek teacher training through these organizations. In both cases, recruits saw the business-minded structure of TFA and Ensina! as evidence of well-organized efficiency and a theory of change through which they could really make a differences as teachers of disadvantaged youth in their respective countries.

And yet, perhaps the most interesting legacy of being trained as a teacher through TFA and Ensina!, at least for participants in these two studies, is the effect that training has had on the career plans and ideological perspectives of these teachers. Around half of the TFA teachers interviewed and the vast majority of interviewed Ensina! teachers had come to question the efficacy of the Teach For All model, both as a teacher education program and an education reform initiative intended to address educational inequality. …

…As the participant pushback on display in this article shows, the market-oriented currently dominant project is not uncontested.

For access to the full article via Sage Publications, click here.

To contact Rolf Straubhaar, email him at straubhaar@txstate.edu.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

.

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Jeanne Allen and Her Center for Education Reform (CER)

Jeanne Allen is founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform (CER). I have written about her on occasion, the last time (prior to this post) being in October 2017, when she was upset to discover that a quote of hers was used as the final title for the film, Backpack Full of Cash.

On May 10, 2019, I read a tweet Allen posted in which she intentionally promoted misinformation about education historian and public school advocate, Diane Ravitch, with Allen insinuating that Ravitch used money from the teachers union to pay for her home (that Ravitch purchased 40 years ago, by the way) because, in Allen’s apparently narrow experience on such a front, book sales could not possibly account for such a purchase, and (again, limited Allen) if that money wasn’t generated exclusively from book sales, the only other explanation must be a Walton– I mean, a union– purchase.

The meanness of Allen’s tweet was off-putting (I chose not to post it here), but her willingness to promote false information in a public forum irked me. Allen has the means and ability to know that what she wrote is patently false, yet she chose to promote a lie anyway.

I had not seen Allen do so before. (Not that she hasn’t; it is possible that she has and that I’ve just not seen it.)

IMG_1515

Jeanne Allen

So, I thought it time to get to know Allen and her CER better. However, Allen’s CER bio reads more like a promotional ad than a comprehensive detailing of her credentials and professional experience.

One bit of glossed info that caught my attention has to do with Allen’s nebulously referring to herself as having been “a senior official in the US Department of Education from 1983-88.”

Ravitch was also “a senior official” at USDOE, and there is no guesswork there because Ravitch’s bio  specifies, “From 1991 to 1993, she was Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander in the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

In contrast, Allen offers no bio detailing a specific “senior office” at USDOE.

As far as I was concerned, the search was on. I decided to do some research on Allen’s background, including some on CER, which I distill in this post.

Let me begin my Allen elucidation by offering numerous archived links to Allen’s CER bios from years past, from 1996 to 2017, excluding 2016 (no archive available; there is also no archived copy from 2018):

Examination of all of Allen’s archived bios provides a pretty good idea of her professional background and ed reform involvements. However, the same comprehensive picture is not available as a single document.

Of particular interest to me were the references in Allen’s bio to her experiences in DC. While my search focused on the “senior official” mystery, some other details are worth noting. Here we go:

1996, 2000 – 2001, 2011: No mention of DC experience.

1997 – 1999:

Before founding CER in 1993, Allen served as an official of the United States Department of Education, and began her career as a policy analyst on Capitol Hill.

2002 – 2004:

Allen received her bachelors in political science from Dickinson College and went on to work on Capitol Hill and the U.S. Department of Education in senior posts.

2005:

Throughout her career, which included time on Capitol Hill and at the U.S. Department of Education and prominent policy foundations, Allen discovered a void in the country for effective leadership on education reform. CER was created to fill that void.

2006 – 2008:

Her experience from Capitol Hill, the U.S. Department of Education, prominent policy foundations, and graduate studies inform her perspective and leadership role nationally in education reform.

2009 – 2010:

Jeanne’s deep knowledge of the legislative process, her reputation as an influencer on Capitol Hill, in the White House, and in statehouses around the country, as well as her immensely successful grassroots work in local communities, keep her in demand as a keynote speaker and presenter before groups throughout the United States.

2012 -2013 marks a brief shift in Allen’s bio. She no longer identifies as CER “president” (more about that to come), and she offers the most detail in the form of a first-person narrative. The excerpt below includes her only reference to DC, and it also includes her simplistic justification for her anti-public-school bent:

It was 1993 when I started the Center for Education Reform. I had 3 children and had left the security of a premier research institution that gave me my formative training. I had spent five years as one of the youngest appointees in the US Department of Education before that, and while pursuing a masters cut my teeth on Capitol Hill (where I quickly learned that people do indeed make policy and unless Congress hears from its constituents it does what it wants). I had graduated from Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA with a BA in poli sci, but I’d learned as a freshman to my chagrin that my great education in my great school district in my great suburb in New Jersey was sorely lacking. Those straight “As” that made Mom and Dad so proud had either been inflated, or worth very little, which, sadly, is an all-too-familiar story even today. I wrote my principal then, and when I arrived in Washington some 4 years later, I began to understand why even my own parents didn’t realize we were lulled into the “great school mythology” by real estate and relationships. So by the time I’d worked in the federal government and been at Heritage, I knew something else was needed to bridge the gap between policy and practice, between what policymakers perceive, and what we actually need.

So I left, raised $33,000 to start CER (thanks to a good friend who was willing to take a chance on the first 3 months of CER.

It is possible for high school students to earn A’s and for those same students to be rudely awakened by the increased rigor and discipline required in college without the A’s in high school being inflated. It is also incredibly narrow to believe that school choice ends once and for all any such rude awakenings.

Just thought that needed mentioning.

By 2014, Allen was back to the third-person bio, but still without referring to herself as “president” but instead as “senior fellow, president emeritus” because she was no longer CER president:

Jeanne Allen is considered among the nation’s most accomplished and relentless advocates for education reform. She has earned recognition and credibility as a forceful leader and businesswoman and is a compelling writer and public speaker.

She founded The Center for Education Reform in 1993 and served as its president through 2013. Prior to founding the Center, Jeanne served in prominent roles at the US Department of Education, The Heritage Foundation and on Capitol Hill. Jeanne is now senior fellow, president-emeritus, and a member of CER’s Board of Directors.

By 2015, here comes the USDOE “senior official” language:

Jeanne Allen is considered one of the nation’s most accomplished and relentless advocates for education reform, and a recognized expert, speaker and author in the field. She is senior fellow and president-emeritus of the Center for Education Reform (CER), which she founded in 1993. …

She began her career on Capitol Hill and was a senior official in the US Department of Education from 1983-1988.

By 2017, Allen refers to herself as CER CEO (not president, not president emeritus, not senior fellow), and she backs away from USDOE “senior official” to offer the following:

Jeanne Allen has been on the front lines of education policy development and innovation for more than 30 years. She served for five years at the Department of Education during the Reagan Administration, where she was responsible for policy development and implementation in the areas of student financial aid, accreditation, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. …

Twenty-three years after its founding, CER remains a leader in a wide variety of efforts to innovate and improve education at all levels, and across all learning venues. Jeanne is its CEO.

Finally, from Allen’s current, 2019, bio CER CEO (not president) and USDOE “senior official”:

Jeanne Allen is the Founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform (CER), the nation’s premiere leader in advancing innovation and opportunity in education. …

Jeanne Allen began her career first on Capitol Hill and then as a senior official in the US Department of Education from 1983-1988….

Two issues to address: Some distilled info on Allen’s background, including the USDOE “senior official” embellishment, and her nonprofit, CER, including financials and Allen’s exit as CER president and re-entrance as its CEO.

First, Allen’s background:

Jeanne Abate graduated from Northern Highlands Regional High School (Allendale, NJ), in 1978. She then attended Dickinson College (photo here from 1980), from which she graduated with degree in political science around 1983. In her early 20s, she began her five years (1983-88) on Capitol Hill as a policy analyst and was perhaps promoted to a USDOE senior policy analyst at some point during those five years.

To call oneself a USDOE “senior official” is little more than a stretch of technicality if one cannot also clearly and consistently identify oneself by a specific professional title.

In 1987, Allen married her husband, John C. Allen III, who was a US Department of Health and Human Services senior official with a title, and who, sadly, died of throat cancer in May 2003 at the age of 57, leaving Jeanne Allen widowed with four children:

John Clayton Allen III, 57, deputy assistant secretary for public affairs at the Administration for Children and Families, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, died May 24 at his home in Bethesda. He had cancer.

Mr. Allen joined HHS in 2001. Earlier, he held government public affairs and communications positions and started the Allen Co., a public affairs consulting business specializing in government relations and education system evaluations.

He was a native of Santa Monica, Calif., and a 1968 graduate of San Jose State University. He did graduate work in political science at Stanford University.

His paternal grandfather was Rep. John Clayton Allen (R-Ill.), and the younger Mr. Allen was involved in California Republican politics as chairman of state and national campaign committees and statewide ballot initiative campaigns. He also became president and chief executive of his family’s Santa Monica-based Allen Business Machines.

He settled in the Washington area in 1982 and worked at the Office of Personnel Management, the Education Department, the Justice Department and the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution.

He was a child actor on television shows in the 1950s, including “I Love Lucy.” Over the years, he wrote song lyrics and books of poetry and hosted a morning radio program on WNTR-AM in Washington.

His memberships included Kenwood Golf and Country Club and Catholic Church of the Little Flower, both in Bethesda, and the Knights of Columbus Rock Creek Council.

Survivors include his wife of 16 years, Jeanne Abate Allen, and four children, John C. Allen IV, Theodore Allen, Anthony Allen and Mary Monica Allen, all of Bethesda.

In 2007, Allen married music teacher, Kevin Strother.

And now, we shift our focus more toward CER. In 2003, CER marked its tenth anniversary, and in November 2003, EdWeek profiled Allen, including her tendency to put people off with her manner. Some excerpts:

It would be hard to find a more outspoken champion of alternatives to regular public schools. Through the Center for Education Reform here, which [Allen] founded 10 years ago, she has supplied an arsenal of ammunition in the battle for charter schools and vouchers and a steady stream of jabs at teachers’ unions, school boards, and others she collectively dismisses as “the blob.” …

Her work has won her friends in high places. At a black-tie event held here last month to celebrate the CER’s first decade, Ms. Allen drew gushing praise from Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wal-Mart heir John Walton, and Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the Republican who chairs the Senate education committee. U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige called her “an American hero.”

Others can’t stand her. They bristle at the way she equates “school reform” with school choice, and at how she pounces on anyone who expresses skepticism toward charters and vouchers.

“Nobody’s ever called her subtle,” said Gerald W. Bracey, an Alexandria, Va.-based education researcher who has been skewered on the center’s Web site. “She’s mean. She really goes for the jugular.”

Even some within the charter movement say privately that her confrontational style and conservative views don’t help at a time when they’re trying to build new alliances. …

She founded the Center for Education Reform in 1993 with a $33,000 gift from Jerry Hume, a former member of the California state board of education. She now has a $2 million budget and a staff of 14. …

Last year, she won a $3 million grant from the Bentonville, Ark.- based Walton Family Foundation for a three-year effort to jump-start charter advocacy at the state level. The gift is the biggest in the Center for Education Reform’s history. …

According to the Walton Family Foundation (WFF) grants search engine, the $3 million to which Allen alluded in 2003 appears to be spread across two years (2003 – 2004). And, as it turns out, over the years, Walton funding for CER has dwindled, with the last recorded grant for $100,000, in 2016:

WFF Funding for CER by Year:

  • 1994:       $85,000
  • 1995:        $82,500
  • 1997:        $77,500
  • 1998:        $75,000
  • 1999:        $75,000
  • 2000:    $100,000
  • 2001:     $115,000
  • 2002:     $116,699
  • 2003:  $1,177,709
  • 2004:  $1,632,055
  • 2005:     $968,414
  • 2006:     $631,027
  • 2007:     $550,000
  • 2008:     $499,450
  • 2009:    $500,000
  • 2010:      $518,272
  • 2011:      $930,661
  • 2012:     $809,209
  • 2013:      $541,855
  • 2014:     $200,000
  • 2015:     $200,000
  • 2016:     $100,000
  • 2017:           $0
  • 2018:           $0

It is interesting that WFF funding for CER begins its marked journey toward zero in 2014, right in the midst of the three years in which Allen handed the CER presidency over to someone else. Sort of.

On February 11, 2013, CER posted this press release, entitled, “Jeanne Allen Announced Leadership Transition”:

Jeanne Allen, Founder and President of the Center for Education Reform (CER), today announced she will be stepping aside as President of the Center, effective November 1 of this year — the organization’s 20th anniversary — a move that signals a nod to the next generation of education reformers. Through October, Ms. Allen will continue to serve full-time as president, advancing the organization’s many strategic goals and setting a course for the future. Ms. Allen is working with The Center’s staff and Board of Directors on leadership transition, and related announcements can be expected in the coming months. …

After October, Allen will remain involved in the organization, on the Board, coaching new leadership and continuing to provide guidance and strategic counsel.

On July 01, 2013, CER announced that it had found its new president, Kara Kerwin– and executive vice president, Alison Consoletti Zgainer:

In spring 2013, Allen announced that she was stepping down as CER President and today she and the CER Board of Directors put in place a succession plan that will set the organization up for continued success in the years — and decades — ahead. The two main elements of that plan are the appointments of Kara Kerwin as President, and Alison Consoletti Zgainer as Executive Vice President. Both are protégés of Allen, and together they have served with distinction at CER for nearly two decades.

Kerwin, who will become CER President on November 1, 2013, has been a key deputy to Allen for 13 years and currently holds the title of Vice President, External Affairs. Consoletti Zgainer assumes the newly created role of Executive Vice President of CER on November 1, moving up from her current position as Vice President of Research, and has been with the Center since 2006.

“I am both professionally proud and personally thrilled that the CER Board of Directors approved my enthusiastic recommendation that Kara Kerwin and Alison Consoletti Zgainer be promoted to these top leadership roles at our organization,” said Allen. “Kara has been part of creating and promoting every major accomplishment of CER since she stepped through the doors of our building in 2000, and Alison has provided the research integral to those efforts. I know that they will take CER to even greater heights in the coming years, as they understand fully there is much work to do, and are very capable of making it happen.”

Allen, who will step down as the Center’s President on October 31, will remain on the CER Board of Directors and support the organization as a Senior Fellow….

In 2019, the CER bios for both Kerwin and Consoletti Zgainer fall into CER’s “people retired” category.

CER no longer has a president or executive vice president– just a CEO.

Jeanne Allen.

And here is where CER’s tax forms come in handy. (ProPublica has made them available, to date, from 2001 to 2017.) In this post, I will not take a deep dive into CER’s tax forms. But I will point out some interesting info, including the leadership transition and attendant revenue and spending:

  • 2012: Jeanne Allen, President (40 hrs/wk; $235,669); Alison Consoletti, Vice President (40 hrs/wk; $113,477); total revenue: $2.4M; revenue less expenses in the black ($392,552). Net assets $900K.
  • 2013: Jeanne Allen, President Emeritus (10 hrs/wk; $190,833); Kara Kerwin, President (40 hrs/wk; $122,701); Alison Consoletti, Vice President (40 hrs/wk; $109,167); total revenue: $1.6M; revenue less expenses in the red (-$361,662). Net assets $530K.
  • 2014: Jeanne Allen, President Emeritus (10 hrs/wk; $115,000); Kara Kerwin, President (40 hrs/wk; $160,000); Alison Consoletti, Executive Vice President (40 hrs/wk; $158,499); total revenue: $1.2M; revenue less expenses in the red (-$399,040). Net assets $131K.
  • 2015: Jeanne Allen, Founder/President Emeritus (10 hrs/wk; $95,000); Kara Kerwin, President (40 hrs/wk; $134,256); Alison Consoletti, Executive Vice President (40 hrs/wk; $156,878); total revenue: $1.4M; revenue less expenses in the red (-$168,018). Net assets $300K.
  • 2016: Jeanne Allen, Founder and CEO (40 hrs/wk; $217,497); Juliet Falsafi, Chief Operating Officer (40 hrs/wk; $75,567); Kerwin and Consoletti gone without replacement; total revenue: $4.1M; revenue less expenses in the black ($1.6M). Net assets $1.9M.
  • 2017: Jeanne Allen, Founder and CEO (40 hrs/wk; $249,996); Lesley Albanese, Chief Operating Officer (40 hrs/wk; $122,019); Timothy Sullivan, Chief Communications Officer (40 hrs/wk; $141,667); total revenue: $1.1M; revenue less expenses in the red (-$1.2M). Net assets $650K.

The tax information above tells an interesting story. First of all, it seems that Allen is the major driving force behind CER, which does not bode well for the survival of her ed reform nonprofit, much less its growth. Allen has a reputation for being overbearing (and mean, as her Twitter behavior attests), which begs the questions of whether she is able not only to hand over leadership of CER but also whether she is able to cultivate potential future CER leaders. In short, one wonders if Allen’s manner drives away the requisite ed-reform “talent.”

Once Kerwin and Consoletti were gone, there was no more CER “president” and “executive vice president.” Was there no more talent from which to select? Had possible, promising candidates run for the hills? Were Allen’s high marks as CER founder inflated, concealing inadequate preparation for turning over those CER reins?

At any rate, Allen is truly CER’s “senior official.” Whether such leads to CER’s undoing remains to be seen.

Secondly, it seems that key billionaire ed reform funders like the Waltons might view CER as an ed reform org whose time has passed. Allen started CER in 1993, and since that time, the number of ed reform nonprofits has mushroomed and continues to do so. And it seems that CER is falling victim to the very corporate model it espouses; if CER cannot reinvent itself into the new-improved CER that offers something viewed by the likes of the Waltons as ed-reform “cutting edge,” then CER might join the defunct ranks of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) and the Partnership for Educational Justice (PEJ).

Still, some might insist, “At $4.1M, CER had its greatest reported total revenue in 2016. CER isn’t going anywhere.” Indeed, CER did have a major fundraising year once Allen took over CER leadership again (as CEO) in 2016. However, one year later, the fundraising honeymoon was over (2017 total revenue, $1.1M, down $3M from 2016), but CER spending continued to be high ($2.5M in 2016 and $2.4M in 2017). The result is that CER spent $1.2M more in 2017 than it took in, which zapped CER’s net assets ($650K in 2017, down from $1.9M in 2016).

Having $650K in net assets is fine so long as the next year’s expenses are equal to or less than the next year’s total revenue plus that $650K.

So long as.

For now, let’s just leave it at “so long.”

IMG_1517

Jeanne Allen

___________________________________________________________________________

Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

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Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Testing with a Side of *Not Much Else*

Standardized testing is claiming squatter’s rights on increasingly more of the school year, with the greatest intrusion occurring in the spring.

Our school has been in the height of spring testing asphyxia for a month now. This means that teaching and learning take the far-back seat to survivial as class schedules are severely disrupted by multiple hours of per-subject testing, multiple tests per student, multiple faculty, staff, and admin hours required, before, during, and after the school day to coddle the testing machine as those not testing at a given moment form a makeshift puzzle of who’s-in-whose-room-because-we-have-to-send-you-somewhere.

In short, it’s a prolonged mess. And I haven’t even touched on rescheduling absent students or finding proctors for absent teachers and staff.

Of course, all of this assumes that the computers are in working order, hardware and software both; that no computers have decided to perform untimely updates; that there are no unanticipated interferences to the school schedule, and that the state has its act together so that the testing portal is functioning during the entire state testing window.

That sure is a lot of assuming.

As it happens, today, the Louisiana Department of Education delivered a dose of at-the-helm incompetence as its testing server was down, the result being a series of major ripples in our already highly-disrupted school day: Students taken out of class, time wasted with server down, returned to class an hour later, server finally up another hour later, rush to reset computers, round up students, make arrangements for testing teachers to miss yet more of their school day proctoring, make arrangements to be sure students now testing later than usual do not miss lunch….

This is not a work of excellence. It is a numbers obsession high on cost and low on return.

What testing devours teaching and learning forfeits.

IMG_1511

________________________________________________________________________

Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

.

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Texas Taxpayers Pay Teach For America $22M from 2018 – 2021, None of Which Is for TFA Teacher Salaries

On May 11, 2019, Teach for America (TFA) alum and New York math teacher, Gary Rubinstein, posted a piece about the money Texas taxpayers spend to keep TFA in their state. Rubinstein entitled his post, “Texas Pays TFA $5.5 Million a Year for 400 Recruits.”

Included in Rubinstein’s post is this Texas Education Agency (TEA) FY2020 and 2021 Proposed Budget, which denotes TEA’s $11M, biennial request for funding TFA statewide. The $11M is to come from “funds appropriated for Educator Quality and Leadership.”

It seems that paying multiple millions to ensure a revolving door of seat-of-pants-trained, temp teachers sorely misses “educator quality and leadership,” but let’s continue.

TEA wanted another $1.1M for TFA for FY2020 and 2021 (which would have increased TFA biennial funding to $12.1M for FY2020 and 2021), but TEA chose to adhere to $11M, the same amount provided for FY2018 and 2019. (According to the FY2020 and 2021 budget approved by the Texas legislature, it seems that the $11M was approved.)

Thus, from 2018 to 2021, Texas taxpayers will have paid TFA $22M for temp teachers. That’s the beauty of the multi-million-dollar pricetag for TFA: A market that is perpetuated by the transience of its recruits.

According to the TEA proposed budget document, TFA’s next $11M comes with expectations and conditions, which appear to have been in place since at least 2017, as follows:

Teach for America. From funds appropriated above in Strategy B.3.1, Improving Educator Quality and Leadership, the Commissioner shall expend $5,500,000 in General Revenue in fiscal year 202018 and $5,500,000 in General Revenue in fiscal year 202119 to support the Teach for America program in Texas.

It is the intent of the Legislature that at least 1,800 Teach for America public school employees be employed in Texas schools that serve a proportion of economically disadvantaged students above the state average by the end of fiscal year 202119.

Funding shall be allocated in such a manner as to prioritize employment of Teach for America teachers in the field of mathematics to the extent practicable.

As a condition of receipt of these funds, the Commissioner shall require Teach for America to work jointly with the Texas Education Agency and representatives of districts which employ Teach for America graduates on implementing a plan to improve retention rates of Teach for America teachers. The Commissioner shall require Teach for America to provide any expenditure and performance data deemed necessary to assess the success of Teach for America in meeting the requirements identified in this rider.

In addition, the Commissioner shall require the provision of information on:

a. the number of Teach for America first and second year corps members (identified by cohort) in the state specified by school year and public school district or charter campus to which they are assigned;

b. the number of Teach for America graduates in the state who are employed by a public school district or charter, by school year, length of service, job title, district or charter campus of current employment, and district or charter campus to which the graduate was initially assigned;

c. the number of Teach for America graduates in the state who are no longer employed by a public school district or charter, length of service, and reason for leaving public school employment; and

d. demographic information for Teach for America corps members and graduates as determined by the Commissioner.

The Commissioner shall submit a report to the Legislative Budget Board and the Office of the Governor on implementation of the teacher retention plan, success of the Teach for America program, and requested data by November 1, 202118.

Note that the $11M is not for TFA teacher salaries. It is meant to be paid straight to TFA, as noted in the “item comment” accompanying the 2020 and 2021 “reduction” (which only means “we’re asking for the same amount as we received in FY 2018 and 2019”):

TEA’s Strategic Plan for 2017 to 2021 has a goal of recruiting, supporting and retaining Texas teachers. These funds are used to support TEA’s Strategic Plan by providing funding to Teach for America (TFA). TFA recruits recent college graduates and professionals who commit two years to teach in Texas urban and rural areas in the state’s hardest-to-staff classrooms with significant populations of low-income students. Currently, the TFA program is able to serve approximately 714 Corps Members in four regions throughout Texas including Houston, the Rio Grande Valley, Dallas-Fort Worth, and San Antonio. With a 10% reduction of funds, TEA approximates TFA will have to reduce the teacher cohort from 714 to 643 teachers, a loss of 71 Corps Members. These teachers would serve thousands of low-income students in hard-to-staff classrooms.

Since the Houston Independent School District (HISD) has decided not to renew its contract with TFA for the 2020-2021 school year, TFA will be better positioned to manage with only $11M in fees from Texas taxpayers above and beyond the TFA teacher salaries.

The TEA budget document states that the Texas legislature desires to have at least 1,800 TFAers in Texas classrooms. So, for those desired 1,800 TFA recruits, Texans are paying TFA $6,111 per recruit for a two-year stint.

If the TFAers stay for the entire two years.

And here is where my curiousity was piqued: In the TEA budget conditions noted previously and repeated below, what is meant by “retention”? Does “retaining” a TFAer mean remaining in the classroom longer than the usual two-year stint, or does it only mean managing to get that very costly TFAer to stay for an entire two-year stint?

As a condition of receipt of these funds, the Commissioner shall require Teach for America to work jointly with the Texas Education Agency and representatives of districts which employ Teach for America graduates on implementing a plan to improve retention rates of Teach for America teachers.

In order to find out what “retention” means in this case, I located one of TEA’s annual reports on TFA. This one from 2016-17 utilizes data provided by TEA grantee, TFA. (Note that the report references appendices that are supposed to be part of the report but are missing.)

The 23-page report mentions “retention” once, and it refers to the percentage of TFAers who remain in the classroom for two years:

  • Houston: 89%
  • Rio Grande Valley: 88%
  • Dallas-Fort Worth: 90%
  • San Antonio: 90%

If they arrive in the first place.

The word “resignation(s)” appears six times, as in “due to resignations,” TFA couldn’t meet teacher needs in specific subject areas because recruits bailed before arrival, and  “lost” appearing twice, as in TFA losing recruits prior to beginning in the classroom.

The report includes no information about TFAer retention beyond Year Two, which puts quite the short-term spin on a long-term word.

Furthermore, regarding TFAer exit from the classroom, TFA offers the following astounding excuse for lack of information on its recruits being “no longer employed by a public school district or charter”:

Upon further investigation of our survey data and alumni database, we found that
we have not consistently inquired as to the reason for leaving public school
employment over our 25 year history and are therefore unable to report on this
detail.

“We have not consistently inquired.” That acrobatic wording provides a convenient dodge for the fact that TFA seeks permanence in shaping policy, expanding its market and garnering increasing profits, not in providing career classroom teachers.

The 2016-17 TEA-TFA report has more info that I leave to my readers to pore over, should they choose. I will note that it does include test results for TFA teachers, none of which I expect to see featured in any glossy, TFA promotion purchased in part by the current, $11M dose in Texas-taxpayer, biennial bucks.

shocked-dollar

__________________________________________________________________________________

Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

.

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

 

“Your Blog Dropped Me”: Restoring Email Notifications for WordPress Blogs

I began following Diane Ravitch’s blog in 2014.

Several years ago, I stopped receiving email notifications of her posts, and I was able to restore the notifications by “unfollowing” and then immediately choosing again to “follow” her blog.

Then, in April 2018, the same issue happened: No more email notifications of her posts. I tried numerous times to “trip the switch” by unfollowing-following again, but to no avail.

I also checked to see if my email was somehow sending the notifications to my spam folder, but it was not.

Contacting WordPress only produced a circuitous non-resolution in which their personnel could not seem to understand that my unfollow-follow again attempts did not cause a loss of email notifications but was instead my effort to reset WordPress’ mysteriously and spontaneously ceasing to provide email notifications of Diane ‘s new postings.

I had somehow been “dropped” from receiving email notifications through no effort of my own.

As it happens, individuals following my blog have occasionally complained of being “dropped,” meaning their email notifications from my WordPress blog had ceased appearing in their email inboxes.

I do not know what occurs at WordPress to cause the site to suddenly block those following its blogs from receiving desired email notifications. However, today, I learned how to reset the notifications, and today, for the first time in over a year, I am again receiving email notifications from Diane Ravitch’s blog.

First of all, be sure that you are indeed following the WordPress blog in question. If you are, then click this link to WordPress subscription management; one of two things will happen: 1) The link will recognize your email address and show a listing of WordPress blogs that you follow, or 2) the link will provide a box in which you can type your email address, and WordPress will email you a link that enables you to see the listing of WordPress blogs that you follow.

Once you access the “blogs I follow” subscription management link, you will see another link under “Subscription Management” entitled “Settings.” Below is a picture of my WordPress subscription management page, with “Settings” in the selection bar right under “Subscription Management”:

IMG_1509 (1)

Once you click on “Settings,” you will see the following:

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Now, here is the key: In order for me to restore email notifications for Diane’s blog, I had to uncheck the box next to the statement, “Block all email updates from blogs you’re following on WordPress.com.” (Even though I had not ever checked the box to stop email notifications, it somehow *became* checked.)

Uncheck that box, and voila! Email notifications restored!

smile

_________________________________________________________________________________

Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

.

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.