(Un)accountability

What does an accountability enthusiast do when a favored charter school gets a low score? Why, he cheats.

What does a Republican charter-school enthusiast who believes in school-level accountability for educational results do when a charter school run by a big Republican donor gets a lousy evaluation score? Why, he cheats, of course.

Tony Bennett, former head education honcho in Indiana and current head education honcho in Florida, to his chief of staff:

Anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work.

Bennett to the official in charge of the grading system for schools:

I hope we come to the meeting today with solutions and not excuses and/or explanations for me to wiggle myself out of the repeated lies I have told over the past six months.

Somehow, magically, the score for Christel House went from 2.9 (C+) to 3.75 (a solid A).

Look: I believe in outcomes measurement. I believe in accountability. I even believe in school choice. (After all, I live in the jurisdiction of the LA Mummified School District.)

What I don’t believe is that the current testing/accountability/choice con artists and racketeering enterprises are going to make things better rather than worse. The cheating is so pervasive that I now see no basis for believing any claimed good result. That’s why Diane Ravitch has switched sides.

You’d have thought that charter schools, like private prisons, could hardly have done worse than their big, clumsy, bureaucratic, union-dominated public competition. But you would have been wrong, twice.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

50 thoughts on “(Un)accountability”

  1. Now this, too? Is there a single state-wide “testing accountability” regime that hasn’t had a cheating scandal?

  2. All of this, on top of the fact that the “accountability” model is idiotic to begin with. Schools do about as well as the capital of the kids who attend them. You want better results, either adjust the structure of the school to account for the discrepancy in student capital, or adjust social structures that create the inequality in family capital. All families are not the same, and expecting a teacher in a class of 30 to make up for this fact is the greatest current failure in public education thinking today.

    1. Eli

      I know you are on the front lines of this one and I respect that. I would though differentiate a stronger and weaker aspect of your argument. Holding schools accountible for things they can’t change is not accountability, its simply punishment of the least fortunate, you are in my my view on strong ground there.

      But that does not extend logically to say schools are never accountable, it’s 100% the outside environment so it’s “idiotic” to assess the performance of schools. If that were true, all schools with the same sort of kids would perform the same, which as you know they do not. This argument also, in more regressive hands could be taken as a case to eliminate public funding for schools…after all, if they have no effect, why keep them?

      1. Keith, what I find idiotic is the current testing regime, and the underlying premise that what needs to change is teaching practices. More than anything, what seems to have happened since NCLB is that instead of designing innovative strategies to target low-performing populations with the kinds of interventions necessary to remediate their disadvantage, we’ve been dickering around with ways of putting pressure on teachers, as if they are the root of the problem. After 9 years in education, I’ve actually recently left because I couldn’t take it any more.

        While it is true that there are differences between schools serving similar populations, they are generally marginal. I do believe that there ought to be accountability, but I’m fine with it coming in the form of individual, subjective site administration, which doesn’t cost a fortune and waste a ton of time. We already know what drives poor performance, and testing isn’t telling us anything we don’t know already know. It is as if we’re doing the testing so that we can hide the fact that we’re doing no real reform.

        I always use the following analogy: military operations are entirely different in different regions. When we go to war in Afghanistan, we try to match the resources with the task. We don’t give units wildly different assignments and expect them to do the job with the similar resources. Imagine if we then “tested” battlefield outcomes so as to divine which units were performing better and why? The whole premise is absurd.

        Where I’m coming from, we need a radically different model for different schools and populations, including those within schools. I’d like to see more of a special education model for disadvantaged students – most likely under a different department because of stigma. But this already happens at the high school level with sorting by SES in core classes. Yet a serious, systematized policy of intervention that follows students and families with robust, sustained support generally does not exist.

      2. I’ll grant that there are some small number of schools that are screwed up due to personalities combined with established culture, just like there are some screwed up Starbucks locations. And obviously these should be fixed.

        But what is your evidence that, other than this small number, schools do not in fact generally do as well as the capital of the kids (once statistical variation is taken into account)?

        1. If all schools do equally well, given the student population, then why shouldn’t we save money by increasing class sizes and hiring the cheapest warm bodies we can find to fill the classrooms?

          1. I think we could get away with a lot more of that, in fact. For instance, my daughters go to a public school which, because of SES segregation, routinely tops out their state API. Because of numerous SES- related factors, you could easily double their class sizes and their scores wouldn’t suffer terribly.

            But look at what happens at the other end, where at poor schools reducing class sizes by half would be hugely beneficial. It isn’t that all schools are the same, but that the less capital the child has, the more public education becomes an intervention. If all you’re doing is offering a measly free lunch and the same teacher/student ratios, then there’s just so much you can do over the course of a low-SES child’s education.

            In educational pedagogy, the thing they drill into you is differentiation: the idea that each learner is unique and has different needs. Yet our Mcdonaldized system is structured around standardizing all children, explicitly not taking into account their personal situations. Like I said above, what we need is to move towards the special education model, which has a legal obligation to do just this. We’ve decades of research on how different home environments produce achievement gaps, yet we completely ignore it.

            With special ed, it took legal precedent to mandate acknowledgement of need. We’ve seen a tiny bit of this happen regarding things like availability of materials. The causal relationship between something like drug addiction at home and school performance is going to be much more difficult to track than, say autism or speech problems. But I thing the case is waiting to be made. At the very least, we ought to throw out all state testing and opt for the kind of intensive assessment and monitoring we do for English learners, with kids getting flagged and sorted for interventions/enrichments *that we actually fund*, and not merely kick back to overworked teachers.

          2. OTOH, why don’t we do what our local school district did when we noted a pattern of some of our SES-disadvantaged 1st-3rd graders falling behind in reading and math? We’re not poor, but we’re not wealthy either; however we dredged up the money to hire enough teaching assistants [2] for each school that the disadvantaged kids could have up to 2 hours/day of one-on-one interaction with a TA, providing whatever assistance that child needed (e.g. teaching a 2nd-grader to count). Those sessions were actually backed up with whatever profit-making “metrics” system our state currently requires; the TAs reported that the measurements were good to have but 90% of the time told them what they already knew.

            Oh wait… I know why we can’t do that. Because hard Radical Right Republicans have not only chopped funding for universal public schooling just about everywhere but have worked hard to destroy the entire concept of high quality free universal public schools – and have been aided and abetted by neoliberal Democrats [3]. The idea that paying more people reasonable salaries to help the kids who are behind for as long as is needed just can’t be discussed in our society today.

            Cranky

            [1] Mostly, but not exclusively, from the nearby urban district from which we take interdistrict transfers

            [2] Mostly, although not exclusively, primary caregiving parents returning to the out-of-home workforce after shepherding their own children through the same schools.

            [3] I’m looking at fellow Bryn Mawr Elementary graduate Michelle Robinson on this one, for example (since renamed renamed Bouchet Academy; still a Chicago Public School)

      3. I think you both make good points, though I tend to side with Eli, in the sense that I think the current “reformers” have caused a great deal more harm than good. Which is too bad, because not everything they say is wrong. But because of their twisted motivations, they mostly cause dissension and unnecessary resistance to the 2% of decent ideas they have. And no, I mostly don’t blame teachers for that. So.

        But anyway, I am chiming in here to point out, that in fact what I see happening is that *vastly more resources* are put into the charter schools that “work.” That is, they aren’t really comparable to these supposedly comparable public schools anymore, because, they’ve been given much larger amounts of funding.

        Mind you, I haven’t seen data on this, it’s just gleaned from reading the paper. But I’m pretty sure it’s true.

        And to answer Mark, below, “we” have decided that we want to give every kid a good education. I would have said most of us agreed on that much, except that I think the “reformers'” real motivations were in fact something much different. Which is why their policies don’t work.

        1. Just to clarify, I am referring to private donations when I say that a lot of these charters have a funding advantage. Though, I also hear that there can be advantages with respect to public funding as well, as in Granada Hills. But I don’t know the details on that.

          Plus, they don’t have to accept all the kids. So there’s that too.

      4. Keith, the way I would be phrasing it is that the various accountability measures are trying to solve a problem that we currently don’t have.

        Two big problems that schools face are the massive inequality gradient and that teaching simply isn’t a very attractive job anymore.

        If anything, “holding schools accountable” makes the situation worse. Teachers already have a high burn-out rate (half of them quit within five years or so), and teaching at a problem school becomes a career risk.

        It’s a system that is all punishment, with zero or little reward. It is entirely structured around disincentives, but is simultaneously lacking in incentives to make things better.

        What I absolutely don’t see is the causal mechanism by which standardized testing in particular is supposed to make schools better.

        1. Katja and Eli:

          On Katja’s point, good performance monitoring system include rewards – that is the experience of health care anyway. I do not agree with your claim that in school performance improvement, it’s all punishment. Race to the top for example is reward based. I see stories every day about extraordinary teachers in difficult circumstances winning awards.

          As for morale, holding people responsible for things they can’t control is indeed demoralizing. But complete lack of accountability can also weaken morale. Talk to a teacher who works very hard to do the best and is paid less than a lousy, lazy teacher in the same school who has been there forever and gets paid far more and you will see this morale-killing potential of lack of accountability. It is also demoralizing to parents when their kid gets an abusive or ineffective teacher to tell them that they have no right to expect teachers to be accountable. If that is the school’s attitude, parents will pull back support, feel alienated, feel angry and that hurts the school, the kids and the community.

          To both Eli and Katja: I think your arguments, which are designed to defend schools, are in fact deadly for public services. The nation’s parents are going to be justifiably outraged if you tell them it’s just mean old Republicans who want schools to be accountable and in a perfect world schools would never have to answer to anyone. Lots of parents who don’t vote, aren’t political, aren’t shills, they are just people who love their kids and want the best for them, are unhappy with schools. And if the school and it’s defenders’ response is that those parents have no right to demand accountability for how their tax dollars are spent on their children’s education, that is the death of public services, the message that schools exist for their own ends and may not be questioned by mere citizens.

          If you want to know why the conservative critique of schools has resonated so broadly, it is part because of the elite leftist defense of public services which de-legitimates the concerns of the citizenry. People who are disappointed in public services do not want to be dismissed out of hand. That is one reason why, in my opinion, if you care about public services, you should be at forefront of criticizing them when they fail rather than arguing that no one has the right to expect accountability from their government.

          1. = = = To both Eli and Katja: I think your arguments, which are designed to defend schools, are in fact deadly for public services. The nation’s parents are going to be justifiably outraged if you tell them it’s just mean old Republicans who want schools to be accountable and in a perfect world schools would never have to answer to anyone. Lots of parents who don’t vote, aren’t political, aren’t shills, they are just people who love their kids and want the best for them, are unhappy with schools. = = =

            A substantial majority of US citizens live in suburbs and exurbs, where they have locally-taxed, locally-controlled public school districts. Modulo the funding differences caused by corresponding wealth and real estate value differences they are generally happy with their own schools and school district. What they are unhappy with is all those failed districts “over the next hill” – which generally aren’t any more failed than their own – and the genuinely failed district in the far-distant central city where the poors and the blahs live. The failed city districts are indeed a massive social problem (albeit one created by the same forces that created the suburbs); I wonder however where this discontent with the local school districts is coming from? Could it be that there is an agenda to create that discontent? Hmmm…

            Cranky

          2. Cranky,

            I have been living in challenged school districts for a number of years now and know many parents. If you really believe that they have no complaints about their own schools, I invite you to meet them anytime. What you would find is people who do indeed care about their own children and their own schools, not some school over the hill. And your implication that their disappointments and frustrations are just the stirrings of outside agitators demeans their intelligence, agency and investment in their children.

          3. Keith,
            I know you are an intelligent person & close reader, so I figure you were in a hurry this morning & didn’t have time to read what I wrote thoroughly. I didn’t say there were no schools with problems & I specifically noted that even among the average inequality of resources is a problem. However, the majority (at least) of US public schools are doing a fine job yet are being attacked with the same broad “reform” tools designed by the Kochs, the Rhees, the ALECs, etc. I tend to think there is a long-range plan there personally.

            Cranky

          4. Cranky: I am sorry if I misread you.

            If “the majority” of schools are doing a fine job, to me that is discouraging, as it implies a large proportion are not. I’ve have spent an inordinate amount of time in low-income neighborhoods going back a quarter century and parents there were upset with schools back then, long before the Kochs came to prominence.

            There is real, legitimate disappointment of parents with schools in the U.S., and to the extent the official response is anything other than respectfully listening to those parents, taking their pain seriously and avoiding reflexive denial or finger-pointing at everyone else, the Koch approach will grow stronger every day because it offers something to people who want change. Whether it works is irrelevant — given one option, people who feel shut out, abused and desperate will grab onto it with enthusiasm.

          5. Keith: Race to the top for example is reward based.

            Race to the top is a great example … for inflicting a corporate dog-eat-dog culture on the educational system.

            Keith: Talk to a teacher who works very hard to do the best and is paid less than a lousy, lazy teacher in the same school who has been there forever and gets paid far more and you will see this morale-killing potential of lack of accountability.

            The “lousy, lazy teacher” is largely a red herring. Which isn’t to say that these teachers don’t exist, but (at the moment) accountability measures are trying to cure the symptom rather than the disease.

            Let’s say you have the skill set to become a teacher in a STEM discipline. You can now get a graduate degree (which will cost you a pretty penny at current tuition rates) and go on to earn $50k, or you can get a degree for a job in the industry and earn $100k. And teachers don’t have the status they once had to compensate for what has grown to be a significant income gap. Now, plenty of them will still go for the teaching job, because there’s more to life than money, but we’ve already reduced our pool of the best of the brightest.

            Once our starry-eyed new teachers enter school, reality sets in. In practice, about half of all new teachers give up after five years or so. This has a number of reasons, but overzealous accountability measures get mentioned a lot [1]. And when your accountability measures drive out good teachers along with the bad, it’s time to rethink them.

            When you run the education system like a McDonalds franchise or a dollar store, you’re optimizing for cheap rather than good. Don’t be surprised if that’s exactly what you get. If you want to have good teachers, worry about getting good ones before kicking out the bad ones, because chances are that otherwise you’ll only create churn rather than quality.

            When I am talking about incentives, I mean incentives that make young people want to take up teaching as a vocation and makes them keep doing it. These cannot be rewards that selectively target a few percent, but need to reach a broad base of current and prospective teachers to work.

            Keith: I think your arguments, which are designed to defend schools, are in fact deadly for public services. The nation’s parents are going to be justifiably outraged if you tell them it’s just mean old Republicans who want schools to be accountable and in a perfect world schools would never have to answer to anyone.

            No, I’m not defending schools. If you think that, you are misunderstanding me completely. My point is that the current accountability schemes perpetuate the status quo rather than fixing it, and possibly make things worse in the process. That they are about managing scarcity rather than eliminating it.

            Think of my argument as me criticizing the use of antibiotics to treat a viral infection. I wouldn’t be saying that the viral infection isn’t bad, but that using antibiotics won’t fix the underlying problem.

            [1] Yes, that’s an NEA site, with its share of biases, but plenty of it can be confirmed independently.

          6. Katja

            I see a lot of “accoutability is bad” in this thread. If the point is not that, then it would seem the case should be made for better accountability systems. Saying the current system is bad is not a policy or a constructive proposal, and if it is not coupled with a better proposal, it is logically equivalent to opposing accountability.

            I may well be misunderstanding you (and Eli too). The feedback I would offer is that I suspect many parents are and will continue to do so if there is no acknowlegdement of what it is like to be a parent in a school that gives poor service. I know absolutely this is not your intent, but it is easy to read your comments as if you don’t care about people who rely on public schools and are disappointed in how their children have been treated.

            For example, my family just spent a year dealing with a lazy, lousy teacher. When you dismiss that as “a red herring”, you dismiss me, my wife and our kids. You dismiss the other parents and kids who suffered, especially the ones who really needed a good teacher (There are a number of kids in the school who are second-language, or poor, or disabled, or some combination thereof). The principal did the same thing when parents came in to complain, including the parents who volunteered in the classroom to try to compensate for the terrible teacher. There are roomfuls of disappointed parents all over the country being dismissed, and they want someone to listen.

            That has been the line of the defenders of schools for a long time, to delegitimate criticism. And so opponents of schools have prospered, because people want to be listened to.

          7. Keith: I see a lot of “accoutability is bad” in this thread. If the point is not that, then it would seem the case should be made for better accountability systems. Saying the current system is bad is not a policy or a constructive proposal, and if it is not coupled with a better proposal, it is logically equivalent to opposing accountability.

            Saying that the current system is bad and asking that it be abolished is very much a policy proposal. Just as “don’t use antibiotics for viral infections” is a policy proposal. I don’t have the expertise to draw up an alternative treatment plan for all kinds of viral infections, but if a policy has a net negative effect, then the smart money is on abolishing that policy. Coming up with an alternative is a totally separate question.

            If there were an accountability measure that required that one out of ten teachers of the 10% worst performing schools were randomly shot, would you also require an alternative policy before dismissing it as unsuitable?

            If you want accountability for just bad teachers, you don’t need the standardized testing, Race to the Top, etc. rigmarole. You’d do what you’d do in just about any other job with underperforming employees: a combination of sanctions and attempts to fix the underperformance (with the option to appeal sanctions to an independent body, of course, to avoid witch hunts and such). Mix according to policy preferences. You could use the Finnish model (give underperforming teachers extra training, fire only as a last resort) or the Apprentice model (“You’re fired!”), or anything in between. If union rules prevent that, that’s a problem with labor law, not with the educational system.

            Rather more important, however, is to make teaching more attractive first, so that you get a bigger pool of good, motivated teachers and have fewer bad teachers that you need to fire (because, in the end, replacing one bad teacher with another bad teacher isn’t going to help anybody). And part of that would be to kick excessive standardized testing to the curb for all the reasons that Eli explained so much better than I could.

            This is where I get to point you at Finland again. What Finland does isn’t rocket science: Teaching is a high status job (average pay, but because of little inequality, that’s not much of a concern), so there’s enormous competition to become a teacher. Becoming a teacher requires a graduate degree (obviously, tuition-free, but still requiring skill and effort), followed by a couple of years of training on the job. Finnish schools, as a result, do get to pick from the best and the brightest. When you have such a selective process, you don’t need a whole lot of accountability, because most of the bad apples never got through it. Note that it’s basically the same way we pick college professors, who, even when tenured, are generally among the best in the world.

            But we don’t pick the best and the brightest for K-12 teaching anymore. We pick those who’re willing to put up with the current system and are willing to rack up a fair amount of student debt in the process, which is a much more mixed bag. And which is why I think that merely trying to tweak the current system is not going to fundamentally improve anything.

            Keith: For example, my family just spent a year dealing with a lazy, lousy teacher. When you dismiss that as “a red herring”, you dismiss me, my wife and our kids.

            I’m not dismissing anyone, and you should know that. I’ve had bad teachers myself. But we are talking here about national or state policy. You will always, even in a near-perfect system, have some bad teachers, just as you will always have some crime. No practical policy can avoid that entirely. Now consider that the policy that you seem to prefer may burn out more good teachers and add more bad teachers to the pool and that the net result is that you have more, not less, families dealing with bad teachers, and you have more good teachers frustrated by a process that harms rather than supports their efforts.

          8. Katja

            I agree with you that we can abandon harmful policies and if I implied otherwise I was quite wrong.

            But you did not respond that I see to my point that to get rid of accountability policies and replace them with nothing is the same as opposing accountability.
            More money, more professionalization and less accountability in schools sounds like the US health care system. I don’t see how going that route will help, but I know my individual opinion does not matter on this issue, which is moved by millions of families. They will be drawn to those who take their concerns seriously. Conservatives get that on this issue, and that’s why they are shaping policy and debate.

          9. Keith: But you did not respond that I see to my point that to get rid of accountability policies and replace them with nothing is the same as opposing accountability.

            For the same reason that opposing the death penalty does not mean that one thinks that murderers should go free? Abolishing a policy generally means leaving a sane default policy in place.

            I don’t really see where you are getting the idea that getting rid of excessive standardized testing is the same as saying “no” to accountability. Nobody, to the best of my knowledge, has any problem with reviewing teacher performance and sanctioning/firing bad teachers. I am not sure why I have to state the bloody obvious. Do you really, honestly think that anybody here is actively advocating job safety programs for bad teachers out of some wide-eyed, idealistic notion that “lazy, lousy teachers” are just misunderstood individuals that will come around by themselves? My last name, FYI, is not Pangloss.

            The actual issue here is that rather than having a simple, straightforward, and goal-oriented process for that (like practically any other functioning workplace on the planet), we have a ridiculous dog and pony show that embroils students and good teachers in a harmful negative feedback loop and doesn’t even seem to do particularly well at accomplishing its stated goal of accountability. I don’t really think that excessive standardized testing in particular is about accountability to begin with: it’s a feel-good measure so that we can keep lying to ourselves how we’re improving the system without having to face the hard realities.

        2. Katja — Just for accuracy, I didn’t design the current testing system nor did I say it was perfect. I began by reacting to to claim that accountability for schools is a bad thing. If someone had said get rid of the tests in exchange for allowing bad teachers to be promptly and easily fired, I might have agreed. But no one that I saw argued that or anything like it, it was just anti-accountability, which is what has made many parents hostile to schools and to those who defend them.

          You said “Nobody, to the best of my knowledge, has any problem with reviewing teacher performance and sanctioning/firing bad teachers”.

          I know you have no problem with it and are not a Pangloss. But, come on, “nobody” has any problem with your and my willingness to sanction bad teachers? You haven’t met the principal of our local school (who has that problem), but that isn’t necessary to know that firing bad teachers is very hard in much of the country, you must know that, it’s been covered to death in reputable media. I wish I could remember the series name, I think it was in NY Times, of the room where teachers sit all day and do nothing because they can’t teach but can’t be fired. Saying it isn’t so only serves to turn the parents who know it is so against you.

          I don’t think unwillingness to fire bad teachers on those people’s part is out of the idea that bad teachers will come around. It’s out of the idea that school exist for the staff and not the students and that schools should not have to accountable to the families that rely on them (but those families should give the schools more money when asked). That attitude within too many schools has led many parents to seek alternatives. Denouncing those parents for their lack of forelock-tugging makes them seek them more vigourously. So does telling them that their experiences didn’t really happen.

          1. Keith, as I mentioned above, the problem with firing bad teachers is primarily one of labor law [1], not of the educational system. I don’t really see what standardized testing does here, for example, except creating a monumentally expensive (opportunity cost to other teachers and students, not just economic cost) and destructive review process.

            I see the problem with firing bad teachers primarily as the result of the combination of weak labor laws that provide no job security combined with leaving pretty much everything up to the power of contracts. As soon as unions then get in a position where they can leverage their power, there is a strong desire on their part to fix the job security issue and no effective countervailing force to resist that. This is not just limited to teachers. See, e.g., the problems surrounding BART in San Francisco. Other countries have long since fixed that issue by (1) limiting an employer’s power to fire an employee so that it can only occur for cause (modulo probationary periods) or economic reasons and (2) establishing processes through which employers can show and document that. Or, alternatively, a system of disciplinary sanctions for public employees.

            Tenure is a different problem. Tenure works when you have a highly selective hiring process and an excess of good candidates (e.g., college professors). But eliminating tenure, while it can fix the problem of getting rid of bad teachers easier, doesn’t fix the quality problem [1]: it’s a tacit admission that schools aren’t considered as competitive as workplaces and don’t attract the best of the best anymore. Eliminating tenure might still adjust quality upwards, but you’re still indicating that you are willing to settle for middling teacher quality. Note that while teachers in Finland do not have tenure, it is extremely rare for one of them to be fired, because the selection process results in very few bad teachers to be hired in the first place.

            Which brings me to the point that I’ve been harping on, namely that the bigger problem is that we hire bad teachers in the first place (and, in some places, turn good into bad teachers, too, I suspect). As long as we don’t fix the hiring problem, easier firing just accelerates the “revolving door” process which is such a big part of the problem. At a national policy level, you will be mostly just replacing bad teachers with different bad teachers. If your goal is to perpetuate mediocrity, fine, that’s a valid approach.

            A final note on the “nobody”: One of the things that I seriously hate about the internet is that I have to qualify everything, so that my writing is riddled with “mostly” and “primarily” when a statement is not 100% absolute. When I said, “nobody”, I meant: nobody who is arguing in good faith, isn’t an advocate for a partisan organization, isn’t stupid, etc. Well, maybe that’s not enough, and I should write “practically nobody who is arguing in good faith, etc.” I think I should have enough credibility by now so that I get the benefit of the doubt. And yes, that was also the entire reason that I wrote the footnote about tenure so that I wouldn’t be mistaken for a tenure advocate, just because I didn’t expressly denounce it. Sigh.

            [1] It does not mean that you need tenure, either. Tenure is about guaranteeing independence, not job security. Fo what it’s worth, I’m ambivalent about tenure myself. While I think that life tenure can be necessary and important to protect professors in “political” disciplines against public backlash or to guarantee the independence of judges, I also think that it’s overused.

          2. The percentage of US K-12 teachers who are protected by tenure is quite small. And tenure in a local school district is not what tenure means for a full professor at a D1 university: it is closer to “right not to be fired arbitrarily without going through an appeals process, and to have some level of layoff protection based on seniority” – basically what all employees in the Nordic countries are entitled to by right. Very weak protections outside NYC (and note that although Chicago CPS teachers had once negotiated tenure rights similar to New York those were simply taken away by a combination of mayoral fiat and state legislative action).

            Cranky

  3. Mark — There have been massive cheating scandals in the traditional public system as well, so I don’t think this is some unique problem of charter schools (and I don’t think we can assume without evidence they are more likely than public schools to engage in fakery).

    1. Correct this if it is wrong:

      • Public school cheating scandals involve individual teachers helping students pass standardized exams.
      Why do teachers do this? Because they worry about losing their jobs more than they care about tests sent from afar.
      This is cheating at the microscopic level.
      This sort of cheating always happens on exams (from afar and from home) — even without “nudges” from teachers.

      • The cheating scandal Mark points at involves overseers and administrators.
      Why do these folks engage in a sort of “white collar” crime that will — no doubt — go unpunished like most white collar crime?
      Because the overseers care more about their reputations than they do about the legitimacy of the system they have argued for and built.
      This is cheating at the macroscopic level.

      Now given the assumed veracity of those two bulleted points….

      Which cheating do you find most toxic?
      The granular cheating that has always existed and always will?
      Or the newly monetized one committed by “know-it-alls” in suits?

    2. yThe issue isn’t public v. private. It’s the current dimwit version of testing and accountability, which operates as if Frederick Taylor were still alive and Edwards Deming had never lived. Cheating follows high-stakes census testing as night follows day.

  4. I hate to say this, but it appears to be the profit motive. In theory, you could have a privately-run school or a privately-run prison that did a better job at less expense than its public version, but that wouldn’t make a lot of money, and would require people dedicated to the job they were doing, rather than to ROI or growth or salary.

    And meanwhile, we put a lot of the bureaucracy for prisons in place for really good reasons. Versus the private prison company in our state that is apparently claiming that all of the information that would allow people to determine whether they’re housing inmates in a safe, decent fashion is proprietary and may not be released to the public…

  5. I think people misunderstand the meaning of this statement: “Anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work.”

    It’s not accountability of schools to the children or parents or public he is talking about. It is accountability of our elected officials to their corporate funders….

    1. Initially, it seemed to me that the whole charter school thing was a pretty good idea.

      Then I learned a little more.

      For example, not so far from my house is a Magnolia charter school (one of a dozen or more in Southern California) which is related to a Turkish religious group (apparently the Gulan Foundation) and which brings in many of its honchos from Turkey to push a religious agenda on the primarily poor Latinos who go to the schools, using public funds to do so. http://magnoliapublicschools.org/ Interestingly, there is no mention that I could find of the religious impetus of the schools on their website.

      They keep a pretty low profile and very few know what’s happening there there. If I hadn’t talked to teachers who worked there I would have never know what was going at at my local Magnolia school. I’m told that if you are not one of the Turkish imports with a heavy Islamic background there is no future for you at the school.

      Wonder what the charter supporters would say if the info they got included that public funds would be used to push Islamic education on non-Muslims?

      Of course, it is not just Muslims who can do this. I am sure there are many charter schools out there pushing all sorts of things that would be prohibited in public schools. Guess that might be part of the hidden agenda behind charters.

  6. Kleiman offers a straw-man argument and apparently doesn’t even realize the significance of what he is saying.

    The issue is not incompetence or cheating as any honest participant in the school choice debate will acknowledge — the issue is the *choice* of the parents to send their children to the type of school that they desire.

    In a privatized school system, cheating and incompetence will of course exist. But it will result in schools closing, customers (parents and their children) going elsewhere, and/or employees & administrators being fired or demoted, just like in any other enterprise.

    It is only in the fairyland world of public education that a school can lose 40-70% of its customer base (“dropouts”), graduate others who are illiterate and/or criminalized, and retain utterly incompetent teachers & administrators… and still remain open for business.

    1. @ProfNickD — “The issue is not incompetence or cheating as any honest participant in the school choice debate will acknowledge — the issue is the *choice* of the parents to send their children to the type of school that they desire.”

      Somebody didn’t read the post that he’s responding to. Mark explicitly says he’s in favor of school choice.

      So, actually, the issue here is NOT school choice. The issue, in fact, is a prominent advocate of one type of “education reform” building his career advocating the need for “accountability” and then browbeating his employees into manipulating an entire state’s school assessment data in a desperate attempt to make a single school look good, where that school is owned by someone who’d given him $130,000.

    2. Children in the 5-11 range generally crave a setting of stability and safety in their social structures. Particularly if they are coming out of unstable or dangerous home situations. Routinely ripping them out of a school and away from their familiar teachers and classmates is as good a formula as any for ensuring that they never do well at any school.

      In any case, those wonderful thoughts of pure Schumpeterian competition turn out on closer examination to be subsidized by healthy doses of socialization of losses:

      = = =
      http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/education/imagine-schools-mark-graduations-closings/article_d56fad3a-72b5-5b03-914e-21ead05f52f5.html

      It was a bright spot in what has been an extraordinarily tumultuous year for the pupils and staff of Imagine charter schools.

      But just where Jamaal and other Imagine pupils will be when the new school year begins has been the big question for Johnson and other parents from the buildings that officially closed this week as Imagine schools.

      After years of questionable finances and academic failure, the State Board of Education unanimously voted to close Imagine’s six St. Louis schools in what has been called the largest charter shutdown in the country.

      The closures are displacing nearly 3,800 pupils and about 280 staff.

      Under a plan announced last week, nearly half of Imagine pupils could end up at two schools created by St. Louis Public Schools specifically for them. The first would be at the Imagine Academy of Environmental Science and Math, near Chouteau Avenue and Grand Boulevard, where St. Louis schools is taking applications for 800 elementary pupils and 400 middle-schoolers. The second is for 450 high schoolers from Imagine, and will be at Madison School on Seventh Street.

      With that offer, school district officials say they have received about 2,000 applications from Imagine families to attend district schools.

      Charter schools report 75 enrollments from Imagine pupils.

      = = =

  7. It is only in the fairyland world of public education that a school can lose 40-70% of its customer base (“dropouts”), graduate others who are illiterate and/or criminalized, and retain utterly incompetent teachers & administrators… and still remain open for business.

    So you don’t believe in individual accountability? You are blaming public schools here for the choice of students to drop out? What happened to blaming the family? Hollywood? Cultural values? Liberalism (They know they can go on the dole)? You need to think a little harder on this. At least try a little to rise above right-wing plug-and-play stereotypes. By that I mean: Damn a public institution when it serves your purposes and an individual’s (or culture’s) lack of character when it doesn’t.

    That’s just some advice. You need only take it if you are interested in growing your brain’s ability to analyse things with style. Other wise, carry on: insert another plug-and-play chip and hit the “rant” button.

  8. I am reading Daniel Kahneman. One of his many pearls of wisdom is to look at the base rate before the specific case The base rare here is that American schools generally do OK. The “our schools are broken” story is a false premise. There’s a large but localised problem of inner-city schooling and poverty. But if there is no general problem ,then you should not look for a general solution.

  9. Good post over at Balloon Juice, with additional links:

    = = =
    http://www.balloon-juice.com/2013/08/02/value-added/

    Rick Perlstein been covering the melt-down in Chicago Public Schools. This (great) piece is about a teacher who was laid off due to budget cuts. It’s also about the same set of crazy priorities in “reform”that I wrote about yesterday, where Philadelphia public school parents do not know if their schools will be open in the fall yet they are supposed to attend meetings with consultants hired by a billionaire donor on a new school grading system. They cancelled the remainder of the new school grading system meetings in Philadelphia. I think that was a smart move “for the children” because the parents are probably busy trying to find a school that will be open and functioning in a month.

    “Displaying the sensitivity for which city government under Mayor Rahm Emanuel has become known, the layoffs came just before the announcement of the awarding of a $20 million no-bid contract to train principles[sic] and other administrators, to an outfit called “Supes Academy,” for which Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has recently enjoyed a lucrative consultation contract. Supes is co-run by an “education reform” hustler named Gary Solomon who took a settlement with a suburban Chicago district in 2001 for allegedly sending sexual explicit emails to students; he went on to such sterling and selfless educational endeavors as sales associate for Princeton Review (CPS was one of his clients). His partner Thomas Vranas, whose online biography, the sterling Chicago education reporter Sarah Karp found, boasts “that he got his start by creating an urban tutoring program in Chicago that served 8,000 students. However, none of the biographies specify the name of the tutoring program and he did not respond to email questions about it,” and “that he started a wireless Internet company, a sales and marketing company and a venture capital firm. None of the companies are named.””

    = = =

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