Locally Owned Federally Controlled

In 1988 President George H.W. Bush famously said, “Read my lips. No new taxes!”

Prior to that and continuing into the present, fellow western Pennsylvanian, Grover Norquist has been holding Republicans feet to the fire to hold the line on taxes. Norquist reaches down into state government also to bully Republicans into signing his “Taxpayer Protection Pledge.”

I know that’s not news but maybe this is.

In an effort to keep federal and state taxes low, taxes are continually being pushed down to the local level. Someone has to pay and its always going to be the same people – us. It just comes from a different revenue stream, local taxation.

This trend is especially evident in education. As state subsidies decreased over the last several years, local taxes have steadily increased. Most school districts are forced to raise taxes at the Act 1 Index every year. That is true at least for the districts who weren’t overtaxing their citizens prior to the election of Tom Corbett. Act 1 limits the amount that taxes can be raised in a school district without a tax referendum. In the 7 years since Act 1 was passed only 1 of 13 tax referendums have passed. 

This would make one think that as the funding for education is pushed to the local level the amount of local control will grow to match the original intent of public education.

Surely you’re not that naive!

No Child Left Behind began the whittling away of local control by forcing states to develop assessments in order to maintain federal funding. Local control was further eroded with the introduction of Race to the Top which required adoption of a set of nationalized Common Core State Standards and the multi measure teacher evaluation process. All necessary components of the application to compete for federal money for education.

Sounds like nationalized education to me! 

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Educationally Yours

I wrote this as an assignment for my graduate class. Ignore the parts were I claim to be the superintendent. That was part of the assignment. I’m sure this isn’t what they expect when they ask you to write to your senator about an issue in education.

 

Dear Mr. Corman,

I am writing to you today to request that you introduce a Common Core withdrawal bill in the Pennsylvania Senate. As I will explain, the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards that were tightly adapted from the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) should be withdrawn because they heighten the focus of schools on Math and Reading while marginalizing other subjects, they were developed without input from teachers, and they degrade what local control remains in education.

As the superintendent of the Greenwood School District, I believe that the emphasis on Math and Reading minimizes the importance of other subjects that are not tested. I believe that the components of education that are valuable cannot all be tested. Our school district has developed goals that include achievement in Science and Technology, Environment and Ecology, World Languages, Arts and Humanities, and seven other categories in addition to Math and Reading. We will struggle to meet those goals with an increased emphasis on only two subjects.

From sources that I have read, the writers of the CCSS, while maintaining that they communicated with the states, actually had minimal engagement with the public or classroom teachers. The developers of the CCSS, Achieve, Inc. and the National Governors Association (NGA) were heavily funded by the private sector including the Gates Foundation. As far as I know, the experts on what students are developmentally capable of achieving at each grade level are the people who do it every day. Creating a guidebook for their work without knowing what the know may lead some to suggest that the CCSS were developed to assure that public school falter.

Finally, in 2006 and 2007, I led a group of teachers, parents, and community leaders in developing the following mission statement for the District:

The mission of the Greenwood School District is to provide enriching, educational experiences for each individual student. We believe the foundation of these experiences is a partnership among the family, school and community. The learning environment will develop the skills necessary to produce responsible citizens in a rapidly changing, diverse world.

 

I would highlight for you the second sentence: We believe the foundation of these experiences is a partnership among the family, school and community.  The CCSS continue a trend that began with the 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that established No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and began a steady erosion of local control. Our community and our district value local control as evidenced by our mission statement. Creating a national standard for developing curriculum quite possibly will lead to a nationalized curriculum and from there eventually to a national standardized test. At that point the state will have lost control of educating their citizens and what little local control remains will dwindle to nothing.

Interestingly, many reformers of education point to the tremendous gains made by Finland on the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). The gains made by Finland are in part contributed to moving away from a nationally centered curriculum to a locally controlled curriculum. While they do have national standards in Finland, they are especially perfunctory.

In closing, I appreciate the time that you take to examine the issues that I have brought forth in this missive. Our children are dependent on people like you to do what is right to ensure them a bright future. Hopefully this future will include locally controlled schools utilizing teacher designed assessments to drive a well rounded curriculum.

 

Educationally yours,

 

Jeffrey A. Kuhns

Superintendent of Schools

Greenwood School District

False Proxy + False Proxy = Your Life

Inspiration to write can come from a lot of places. For me it comes quite often from Seth Godin‘s blog and a friend who goads me into connecting his work to education.

Today Mr. Godin blogged about false proxy traps. You can check out his blog for details. In a nutshell a false proxy is when a someone measures a component of something that is difficult to measure in order to justify the entire product. Good example: measuring the quality of a police force by how many people are put in jail. This measure would not take into account that a good police force may limit crime by there mere presence or that they are exemplary at solving problems. Crazy example: measuring the power of the Republican Party by watching Fox News exclusively.

Everyone may not agree but the forced high stakes testing required by NCLB is just such a trap. The idea of the testing program is to determine the quality of a school and its staff. Make no mistake about it. These tests, differently labeled in each state, were never meant to test the knowledge of students. The false proxy comes in when we try to take one test, administer it to thousands of students, and then compare them across a wide breadth of cultures, economies, and immeasurable demographics. My guess is that a district’s aggregate PSSA score can just as accurately determine the median income of the school’s coverage area as it can the success of the school. They could also pretty accurately determine the number of parents who attend parent conferences. The first thought would be easy to prove. Take every school and list them from high to low based on aid ratio (market value/personal income) and then make another list and sort them from low to high on district average PSSA score. I’d be willing to bet there is a high degree of comparability. It’s all public knowledge; give it a whirl!

So, I think we have shown pretty accurately that the PSSA is a false proxy for determining the quality of a school. Don’t get me wrong; some teacher’s should find a new career path. But I can compare scores of teacher’s that I work with who have abilities that are across the board in terms of quality instruction and the one’s that have limited skills have students who do just as well as the distinguished teacher’s students.

Second false proxy: The new Pennsylvania teacher evaluation model. This is even simpler. Charlotte Danielson developed this model to assist in improving the quality of teaching. Never, and the company developing the evaluation tool for Pennsylvania has admitted this, did she intend for the rubric to be diminished to a number. Statistically speaking, you can’t take a measure that is qualitative and quantify it. That is, however, what the Pennsylvania Department of Education intends to do. A tool built to determine the strengths and weaknesses of a teacher and guide him or her to being a distinguished educator will be used to measure his or her effectiveness.

Not only will it water all of this high quality information down to a single number but that number will count as 50% of a teacher’s – and eventually an administrator’s – annual evaluation. Throw in that another 15-30% of the annual evaluation will be determined by PSSA scores and you have a conglomeration of false proxies and statistical fallacies. Goog luck! Two years of low scores and poor observations or probably two years of average observations and average PSSA scores and you may be looking for a job – and me too!