Saturday, March 28, 2015

Professor Jack Schneider, professor at Holy Cross, "Measuring School Quality Beyond Test Scores"

Posting these now as I couldn't get on Blogger in Medford High. All notes mine, and Prof. Schneider has the distinction of being one of the few people I've run into who talk faster than I can type. The below is my best:

Jack Schneider, presentation to MASC Division IX
Measuring School Quality Beyond Test Scores
“let’s start with what we have: state data and where most people get it” on the DESE website
limitations for policy and governance
clear quantifiable aim for, for example, raising SGP
don’t have the same information for, for example, educating the whole child
not same easy access to data
sends a message: if you don’t measure what you care about, you’ll start caring about what you measure
at most basic level, poorly designed interface
most people engage through Globe’s ranking ordering of MCAS performance
has more to do with family education and socio-economic
sends message of some schools are good, some are not
sends message of false precision: that we know what the number one and two schools are
which we don’t
“Dreamschool finder” reaction to Globe’s “Dreamtown finder”
“catagory called ‘hipster’ which if you ranked really high, you naturally have to live in Somerville”
if you ranked education really high, his hometown didn’t come up
“as long as schools were highly valued, you couldn’t get to Somerville”
if you dropped schools, you could get there
they were using SATs scores and another variable
whomever at the Globe was savvy about dealing with people, offloaded it all onto me
looked at the available data, have to work with that
some of the available data doesn’t stink: college aspiration data, survey of students about plans to attend college
can have a lot of low income students and still convince them that college is an aim
looked at available data: six categories
I wanted to use “the less bad use of available data” but became “Dreamschool finder”
tried to be a little fairer
did not rank order schools: had to input values
“good schools are about good fit as much as they are about a generic high-quality performance”
eventually talked about what other people should do in Somerville: put out RFP
was convinced that “it was going to be some huckster” who would do it
put together a team to propose starting with a blank slate
“What do people actually care about?”
a lot of polls used to build a draft framework to reflect what we believe a good school does
Somerville “pretty representative” of the US as a whole
began holding focus groups to amend the draft framework of what people care about in schools
made fewer and fewer changes over time until we got to a place where more and more people were looking at the framework and agreeing that those are their values in schools
“why we think the things we do about schools”
interesting to see teachers, administrators, parents, community members look at it and agreeing, common ground
Two large divisions: essential inputs and key outcomes
inputs: teachers and teaching environment, school culture, resources
outcomes: indicators of learning and character and well-being outcomes
for academic outcomes: using only growth and developing portfolio assessments
“there are ways to ask teachers questions to ensure an honest response: ensuring anonymity and collating at the school level”
School Culture: safety, relationships, academic orientation
every category is made up of subcategories and every subcategories has multiple measures
cannot presume precision
bring thirty measures to the task assuming that some will fall short, but eventually will get to answer
“don’t just want absence of bullying, want trust between students”
lots of questions to ask: absence rate, on time graduation rate, academic press questions of students: how much does this teacher encourage you to do your best? when you feel like giving up, how likely is it that your teacher will encourage you to keep trying?
have some measures of asking teachers: what do you see in the hallways? how much support do you have?
when asking questions of teachers and students, dozens of scales of measure
Data collection: all students grades 4-12
all teacher surveys (developed a sped survey specifically to be sure those students weren’t missed)
district data (teacher turnover)
state data (SGP)
data compilation and visualization:
web tool for School Committee and district leaders: secure portal just for them
able to attach measures to things schools and district care about
web tool for the public, as well: to be able to say that public can make more informed decisions and would strengthen the schools
many parents are desperate to advocate for their schools but don’t have the language: too often dismissed or that they themselves dismiss as it’s non-expert (in language) knowledge
imagine if they could say “this is what we care about”
“we’re hearing from parents that this is what they want to change at their school”
“the vision that parents have is the vision that matters: the schools belong to us”
urban schools are so badmouthed, so pilloried
wasn’t always that way, people clamored to get into urban schools, as those were the place to be
“very powerful stereotype of urban schools, that is then reinforced by that data we have” from MCAS rankings
“of course if you talk to the parents whose children have gone there, they seem pretty happy”
“if you’re in a school during off-hours and there are kids in the hallways and they’re working and they’re happy: that’s a good school”
currency of the realm is data: that’s the language people are talking now
question about equity: measurement of resources
enough measurements tell you where there are issues: and thus what can be fixed or needs to be fixed
“we’ve got a great principal, great teachers..the problem is can then activate” those who want to improve their schools and give them direction on energy
“public schools don’t market themselves” ad on T for charter schools or private schools
“exact opposite of what happens with public schools...slick version of reality” that’s being sold
“public schools aren’t even in control of the version of themselves that’s being presented to the world”
only a benefit that she was exposed to one more kind of thing
public schools aren’t even in control of the version of themselves that’s being presented to the world
“I believe a lot of our problems are solved if our kids go to school together, but our kids don’t go to school together, because parents have had the bejeezus scared out of them”
parents told this story that they can’t stay in cities, or, if they stay in cities, they have to send their kids to other schools
Q on ensuring all kids are paid attention: disaggregation of data, producing snapshots of all subgroups
“absolutely something that needs to be done”
school “fit is as important as whatever the generic good qualities of a school are”
parents need to figure out “who’s my kid, and how do make sure that” a school is right for my kid
Q measuring family background of kids in schools not accounted for within data
also levels of ELL and levels of special ed
charters taking least disadvantaged of disadvantaged: parental engagement...and “let’s look at the correlation of parent engagement and higher test scores”
Belsen: huge battle over what the purpose of a public schools: creating those for a job market. If you believe it’s more comprehensive than that, then you get a different picture.
Globe is pushing civics education: “well, who in the heck pushed it out?”
broader picture of what we want school to do
colleague refers to the “learnification” of schools: implies that everything in schools are something that can be measured
“the way to counter that is with the voices of the American people”
have evidence that this is what people want in their schools
“if all you do is measure two subject areas narrowly” then that’s all that’s going to get done
Q special education: if kids with particular needs don’t test well, and results bear that out
how to be more persuasive?
Schneider: focus group with special ed teachers: what Qs don’t apply to your students, what Qs aren’t here that should be on here to give us a picture of what your students are doing in the classroom
“every one of my kids has a personal goal, and when they meet that, it’s the best thing that happens to them all year”
gave students cell phones and texted them questions: have an 80% response rate on questions
building with real-time data: helping teachers use data to improve what they’re doing in the classroom
professional development site driven by what is known about (for example) around school climate
“and guess what? Suddenly you’re treating educators like professionals”
might make a difference and might also turnaround this slide on job satisfaction for teachers
“we’re better at our work when we are satisfied in our work” and are more likely to stay around
“and guess what? There’s data to show that” teachers who are in the classroom longer DO know more
Q on implementation: capacity? and how to continue? Much work is done and can be a starting point for other districts
thinking of starting a non-profit so “we could pay some people to come in and do the work” to create the framework specific to community
doesn’t take a lot in money: people have a lot of good systems and processes
creating a group so that this is self-sustaining with someone working quarter time to sustain it
in interest of urban superintendents, in particular, to ensure that measures are done in a more broad way
Q something that could be instead of the more corporate planning process: strengths, weaknesses, coming up with goals that are measurable...simplified process that could be done at the school council level for school improvement plans which are too driven by test scores; parents want to talk about school climate, rather
Schneider: easy first approach from broad categories of inputs and outcomes
want this to be an educational device: want parents and community members to learn more about each measure
something like “hallways are dark and dingy” when it’s backed up by the same data being used by system
“felt sense of things real and important” but set up against quantifiable; falsely set up against each other
Q found that student surveys are one of the most consistently reliable sources of information on teachers
questions put in words that are meaningful to students: test Qs with students, then take responses to teachers…”long iterative process”
Schneider: set up “so we can give everything away”
support schools as low cost as possible
student data currently being tested against other data across the country: going to be tested for strong correlation along with other student data
Q open sources would be useful, anything developed put back into open source; thinking of trying to have anyone who uses inputs data for aggregated data to start to understand across districts
interesting Q, not going to answer...don’t want to require entering data that requires student responses
at same time does empower communication and transparency
Q (this from a sped teacher) “comments about rigor, which is a word that I’ve really come to despise”
in grade 2, I give eight standardized tests a year
when people come in and give a snapshot look, not looking at everything that’s going on
students persevering in a task, sitting a chair “that’s important”
“we’re trying to teach in spite of everything they’re telling us to do”
Schneider: comment that parents support you
parents feel that standardized tests tell them the LEAST about teacher conferences of all the information available to them
tests don’t even aim among their aim of what a successful school does
Schneider: PARCC and MCAS are like a blood pressure test or a temperature
sometimes a high temperature is really bad, but some people’s temperatures run a little high
“when a good doctor says, ‘hey, you don’t look so good’ what is that even based on?”
Comment that this is a grassroots activism, start proving workable
Schneider: willing to work with districts in whatever way we can; want to be able to part of ongoing conversation
once we build it, we can give it to you
some basic texting thing, small costs involved
Comment (Belsen) sustainability of some of these gains on MCAS and so forth: don’t go on and complete college in same numbers, SATs, jobs long term
“inability that the gains that are leading the charge for this expansion are not sustainable and don’t really produce real gains long term”
fighting against a juggernaut that tells us what is
Sen. Jehlen: “you have more power than you realize”
bunch of bills in the Legislature: people will say ‘there’s nothing we can do; we need the information’ Now you have something to say.”
“Don’t underestimate how powerful you can be as the voices of your community.”

Friday, March 27, 2015

Nelson Place easements revised

I'd been told this yesterday, but it's always good to have the Council agenda confirm it: 
Assumption College has withdrawn their request for an easement across Worcester Public School property. They are, however, still granting the easement which will allow emergency back access to the new school. 
Thanks, Assumption! 
And remember, there's a neighborhood meeting at Nelson Place Monday night at 7. I can't go, so we'll have to depend on others for notes. 

All means all

I've been doing a good bit of thinking since the Monday/Tuesday whirlwind Board of Ed meetings, which were the first in which the consequences of last November's election came home to the Board of Ed. Where Governor Baker is on public education hasn't been a mystery, and he'd certainly made that clear in his inaugural address. That was followed, of course, by his choices of Secretary of Education and Board Chair. This was the first meeting at which both men were present and participating.
I'd say the most telling moment of the meeting was when we pivoted from a long section castigating Holyoke--a district which is 78.8% Latino and 47.7% of students do not speak English as their first language--to a section praising Mystic Valley Charter--a school which serves cities with significant ELL populations, which somehow has not a single ELL student. Secretary Peyser made a motion, supported by Board Chair Sagan, that Mystic Valley be granted their enrollment expansion, despite their board not having the training that they are required to have under Mass General Law and have been told repeatedly they need to have, and despite their having this mysterious lack of ELL students. In other words, they could simply be trusted to fix their violation of rules and regulations, despite a clear history of their not having done so.
Sagan opened the meeting with his own sort of statement of principles, in which his and his family's history with MATCH Charter figured largely. To hear him state that his own top priority is the child for a school whose attrition rate looks like this:
(Thanks to John Lerner for the chart) to doubt how much the individual child actually matters. Where did the 17 kids go between freshman and sophomore years? Or the 10 kids between sophomore and junior years?
I'll bet that most went to the Boston Public Schools. Because they, like all district public schools, take everybody.
Every kid. Every day.

Public education isn't about how high you can manipulate your MCAS scores or your graduation rate. By Constitutional mandate, public education is in the "different parts of the country and the various orders of the peoples." All of the country. All of the people.
Not just the ones whose parents can show up to sign them up or the ones who do well on MCAS.
Every kid. Every day.

All means all.

Charter-izing "turnaround districts"

Here's Secretary Peyser on Boston Public Radio this week:
Currently, low-performing school districts can be taken over and operated as Horace Mann charter schools, meaning that teachers are still in the union, for example, but don't have the same protections as in district schools. It's a model Peyser says he'd like to expand to include other kinds of charters too.
"I would love to have the ability to use commonwealth charter schools, which are the ones that are totally free of district control—they don't have teachers in the union*—I'd love to see them have the same opportunity," he said.
Yes, that means he'd like Level 5 districts to be "charter-ized" like New Orleans has been. And how has that worked for New Orleans?
 Flooding New Orleans with charter schools has been disastrous.
Here's what the parents think:

Note that this would require a change in Mass General Law.

*Small correction: there are charter school teachers in Massachusetts that are unionized.

Friday linkages

An ICYMI list for the weekend: 
  • John Monfredo, Jack Foley and I (among others) were at a presentation this morning by the Building on What Works Coalition, a joint project of Mass Inc, Mass Business Alliance for Education, Mass 20/20 and some others. They're calling for a three year $75M competitive grant program open to districts with 50% high need students or above for early childhood ed, extended day, and innovative programs. I don't want to speak for others, but my sense that they were met with some polite skepticism here in Worcester. I know that Mr. Foley spoke for my concerns as well when he spoke of the importance of a focus on the Foundation Budget Review Commission and the core funding of education in the state.
  • Important detail from the Brookings report on the gender gap in reading (as flagged by Libby Nelson at Vox) that the much-praised Finnish PISA test results, which lead the world, rely entirely on girls for their superior performance. As per usual with Brookings, I have my doubts about some of their other points. Nonetheless, good catch.
  • If like me you have a soft spot for a literary spoof, you'll enjoy Scot Lehigh's take on Boston 2024 via Poe.
  • Novelist Richard Russo is helping to raise funds for his hometown library, which he credits for much. 
  • Looking ahead to the presidential election, here's Hillary Rodham Clinton's relationship with various education perspectives. 
  • Education Next has a "Defense of Snow Days," with some research showing that days off don't hurt student performance (yes, on standardized tests) but student absence due to snow on days there is school DOES. 
  • And Jarrett J. Krosoczka shares a bit of excitement on reading

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Music Magnet Spring Recital

The citywide Music Magnet program housed at Burncoat High is holding their spring recital:
Monday, March 30
7 pm
First Unitarian Church
90 Main Street
admission is $3

City that Reads donations!

Worcester: the City that Reads! is launching its annual donation drive, so please clear out your bookshelf and send them in!
Please donate a new or gently used books, Pre-kindergarten to grade 8, at the following sites from now  to May 15th.
  • People’s United People’s Bank ( (all six city branches) including the town of Shrewsbury,
  • Worcester Public Library
  • Commerce Bank (all four city branches) including Holden
  • Bay State Savings Bank (all branches)
  • Bank of America ( at Tatnuck Square)
  • TD Bank ( all branches)
  • Stop and Shop on Lincoln Street
  • Stop and Shop on Grafton Street
  • Stop and Shop on West Boylston Street
  • Shaws Market on West Boylston Street
  • RSVP and the Senior Center on Vernon Street
  • Worcester Credit Union
  • Starbucks Coffee on one West Boylston Street and in Auburn
  • Panera’s on West Boylston Street
  • Austin Liquor at Gold Star Blvd
  • Jewish Community Center on Salisbury Street
  • Leader’s Way – Kung Fu Academy on Burncoat Street
  • Greendale YMCA
  • Main Street YMCA
  • Bagel Inn on Main Street in Holden, Ma.
  • St. Vincent’s Hospital at the entrance door on Summer Street
  • Summit Elder Care on Grafton Street
  • Worcester Public Schools School Committee Office – 20 Irving Street
  • Worcester City Hall at the City Manger’s Office
  • Anne’s Books Shop on James Street in Worcester