Month: <span>August 2015</span>

Putting hedge fund owners ahead of educators


Several of the candidates who want to be our next president have no intention of improving our public schools or rewarding the hard work of educators. I mean, education is barely an afterthought among most Republican White House hopefuls.

Ted Cruz doesn’t want to govern. He wants to campaign and entertain tea partiers who think we already are spending too much money on education, health care and other programs they don’t care anything about. Donald Trump wants to boost his ego by insulting everyone on the planet who has less money than he has, and that includes every educator I can think of.

Jeb Bush will talk about education, but as governor of Florida, he promoted school privatization and a preposterous, counter-productive evaluation system for teachers, and he shows no signs of changing his mind about those failures now. Meanwhile in Wisconsin, as I have written a few times before, Gov. Scott Walker is trying to drive education and public employment into a ditch.

Now, Walker has added insult to injury. Last week, just one month after slashing $250 million from the University of Wisconsin System, Walker and the Legislature approved a deal committing at least $250 million in tax dollars (and maybe twice that much) to help two super-wealthy hedge fund owners from New York build a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team.

Walker does have his priorities, and they certainly aren’t education and educators. A few years ago, you probably recall, he pushed legislation to weaken teacher and other public employee unions and, in so doing, shrunk Wisconsin’s middle class.

According to The New York Times, the two hedge fund owners who are the new majority owners of the Milwaukee Bucks are major Democratic donors. But, otherwise, they are Walker’s type of pay-for-play people. They are rich – and about to get richer, courtesy of Walker and Wisconsin taxpayers.

One of the new minority owners in the Bucks is, perhaps not coincidentally, Walker’s national finance co-chairman.




When a perfect test score hurts a teacher


The absurdity (and that is putting it mildly) of using computerized interpretations of student test scores to evaluate teachers is on display once again, this time in New York, where a suit brought by a veteran, highly regarded teacher against New York state education officials was scheduled to be argued this week before the state’s Supreme Court in Albany.

Sheri G. Lederman, a fourth-grade teacher in the Great Neck public school district, is a highly regarded educator whose students consistently score higher than the statewide average on standardized math and English Language Arts tests. Yet, she has run afoul of the value-added, or VAM, model, a concept that has been repeatedly trashed by educational experts but which New York persists in using to help evaluate its teachers.

The Washington Post story, linked at the end of this post, presents a good account of the lawsuit and the problems with VAM. The article is long, so here are some highlights (or lowlights):

# Lederman’s record is “flawless,” according to her superintendent. But a complex computer program used to measure and adjust student test scores for various factors determined that she was “ineffective” in promoting student growth. Her attorney called the process “a statistical black box which no rational fact finder could see as fair, accurate or reliable.”

# A teacher in Florida, which also uses VAM, saw his evaluation hurt because a computer ruled that his four top-scoring students – to demonstrate “progress” – had to score higher than the maximum number of points that could be earned on an exam. One of his sixth-grade students, for example, had a computer-predicted score of 286.34 on the exam. In reality, the highest score the student could earn on that particular test was 283. She scored a 283, a perfect score but not good enough for the VAM computer, which counted it as a negative toward the teacher’s evaluation. (Sounds like something from the “Twilight Zone.”)

# Because high-stakes tests were administered only in math and English language arts, an art teacher in New York City was evaluated on his students’ math test scores and saw his evaluation drop from “effective” to “developing.”

And, don’t forget, taxpayers are spending millions of dollars on this nonsense, dollars that should be spent directly on the classroom.



Public schools – and dictionaries – crucial to success

Newsman Dan Rather attributes much of his success to his education in Houston’s public schools and Sam Houston State University, but he acknowledges he wasn’t quite a finished product when, as a young man, he applied for a job at the Houston Chronicle. He didn’t get it because spelling wasn’t exactly his strong suit.

In a visit to TSTA headquarters yesterday, he recalled the late Dan Cobb, a strong-willed editor who was still running the Chronicle’s newsroom when I started working for the paper years later, saying something to the effect, “We can’t afford to hire a reporter who will spend half his time thumbing through the dictionary.”

As it turned out, Cobb was doing Rather a favor. If spelling remained a weakness, it certainly wasn’t an obstacle to a prestigious career in network television news.

Rather and his grandson, Martin Rather, are now partnering with Rice University’s Center for Civic Leadership in the creation of the Rather Prize, a new award designed to recognize the best ideas for improving education in Texas. It was Martin Rather’s idea, and it will be worth $10,000 to the winner and maybe much more than that to Texas school children.

It also is important to note that contest applicants are primarily limited to teachers, retired teachers, students and very recent graduates, people who actually know first-hand about public schools. That means the Dan Patricks, the Donna Campbells and other school privatization advocates and self-styled “experts” who haven’t been in classrooms in years need not apply.

You can find more details about the prize, eligibility, how to enter, deadlines, etc. by clicking on:





The lottery and education, a legend that won’t die


I think most of us were relieved long ago of the delusion that the Texas Lottery can be the financial savior – or even primary sponsor – of Texas’ public schools. Despite what the late Gov. Ann Richards may or may not have led anyone to believe when she was promoting the creation of the lottery during a budget crunch back in 1991, the lottery never was intended to be more than a contributor to public education. And, as it has turned out, a very minor contributor.

Occasionally, though, I still read online comments from newspaper readers that say something to the effect, “But I thought the lottery was paying for the schools.”

Here is what the lottery is doing, according to an old news release from the Texas Lottery Commission, which I found while cleaning some clutter off my desk.

During fiscal 2014 (roughly the 2013-14 school year), the lottery contributed $1.2 billion to the Foundation School Program, its largest annual contribution to public schools so far.

Granted, $1.2 billion is a lot of money. Everyone reading this item could split it and be very happy. But anyone want to venture a guess as to how much the total public education budget is in Texas for one school year?

More than $50 billion (with a b) in state, local and federal funds was spent on Texas public education during the 2014-15 school year, according to the Texas Education Agency. The lottery contributed less than 3 percent of that.

The lottery doesn’t raise enough a year to even cover the $5.4 billion in budget cuts imposed on public schools by the legislative majority in 2011.

During its 22-year history, the lottery has contributed more than $17 billion to education, less than half of what was spent on schools last year alone.

But go ahead and buy that lottery ticket. You are making a contribution to your neighborhood school, albeit a tiny one, about as tiny as your chances of striking it rich.