On State Takeovers of School Districts

Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana

Recently there has been a number of high-profile cases of states taking over school districts. The Kentucky State Board of Education will soon decide whether or not they will take over Jefferson County Public Schools (Louisville), a move that both parents and teachers object to.

The Indiana Legislature voted in May to strip power from Gary and Muncie school district’s school boards. In Muncie’s case, Ball State University has been given control. In Gary’s case, MGT Consulting Group, based in Tallahassee, Fla., a $6.2 million contract to serve as Gary’s emergency manager. The emergency management team leader, former educator Peggy Hinckley (a native of Lake County where Gary is located), is the sole decision-maker.

The State of Louisiana took over New Orleans Public Schools after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 transitioning many of the public schools to charter schools. It was not a success. Mercedes Schneider writes in The Huffington Post:

An overarching goal of state takeover of Louisiana schools was for the state to assume control of most New Orleans public schools– which it did in 2005– and to convert all of those formerly local-board-run schools into charter schools– which it did by May 2014.

Louisiana’s RSD New Orleans (RSD-NO) was an experiment, one that was supposed to “turn around” those failing schools and make the RSD charter conversion a modern-day miracle.

By 2017– twelve years post-Katrina– it is clear that the experiment has failed. There is no incredible test-score-based miracle, and in no place is such failure more obvious than in the average ACT composite scores for RSD-NO in general and its high schools individually.

The state of Michigan controlled Detroit Public Schools from 1999-2006 and 2009-2016, the newly formed Detroit Public Schools Community District has an elected school board.

Tennessee has experience in taking over schools, with Memphis Public Schools being the largest district, and two studies show it is not working.

A 2016, paper by Michigan State University researchers studying the Detroit and Memphis takeovers concluded:

The formation of the EAA and ASD reflected the leadership of state and external partners in both urban districts. In practice, their introduction has added yet another district-like bureaucracy to the complex and evolving systems of school governance in both places. Key challenges involving finances, competition among schools, leadership turnover and lack of district-wide governance remain unaddressed by state policies.

The first study from Vanderbilt University cast doubt on the state’s achievement school district plan, The Tennessean reported in 2015:

District-run turnaround efforts of low-performing schools have yielded better results than that of Tennessee’s Achievement School District.

The finding, released Tuesday in a policy report by Vanderbilt University, casts doubt on the effectiveness of the district meant to help improve the bottom 5 percent of all schools in the state. The study, however, adds that most reform efforts take three to five years to change a school.

“Some years results are bouncing down or up, and across all years the change is basically a zero,” said Ron Zimmer, a professor of policy and education. “The overall story is that we’re not seeing an effect.”

And although he said reform efforts generally take years, district-run efforts have yielded positive results in a relatively short time.

A study from the Tennessee Education Research Alliance released on Tuesday shows three years later it still isn’t working. From The Tennessean:

The finding from a Tennessee Education Research Alliance research brief released Tuesday reinforces what researchers discovered in 2015 about the district over the course of three years. That district-run turnaround efforts of the state’s lowest-performing schools yield greater results than that of Tennessee’s state-run district

“The model that said to bring in a new manager and them give autonomy and good things will happen doesn’t work,” said Gary Henry, a Vanderbilt University researcher on the study and expert in education policy.

It brings about a moment where Tennessee’s education leaders must refocus on how Tennessee’s Achievement School District goes about its work because the threat of a state takeover has spurred action in districts, according to researchers of the study.

So the threat of a takeover appears to do more good than the actual takeover itself.

Local control in education is waning nationally and a state takeover of a local school district takes away the voice of the taxpayers and parents when elected boards are either abolished or neutered.

This is not to say each of these school districts were without problems, that certainly is not the case, but in the case of school takeovers, we see that the loss of local control does not produce the results the state promises.

Centralization fails yet again.

238 Education Data Bills Hit State Capitols in 2018 So Far

Photo credit: Nick Youngson (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Data Quality Campaign (not our ally in the fight against data mining) provided a snapshot of the number of education data bills hitting state capitol buildings near you.

They report there are 238 bills related to education data this year so far, and less than a third (70) have anything to do with protecting student data privacy.

They highlight bills before state legislators this year where they are trying to “make data work for students.”

Addressing inequities and underserved students’ needs

Echoing national conversations about disciplinary disparities and the unique needs of traditionally underserved students, numerous state bills this year target the reporting of data to address education inequities. For example:

  • Tennessee is considering a bill (HB 2651) to establish a commission on the school-to-prison pipeline. The commission would submit a report to the legislature including school discipline data and policy recommendations to implement restorative justice practices.
  • Indiana has a new law (HB 1314) requiring a report on how the state’s homeless students and students in foster care fare in school and how these students could be better supported.

Informing policy decisions and meeting state goals

Nearly 100 bills considered so far in 2018 have focused on how state policymakers themselves can use aggregate data to make policy decisions or meet their state’s education goals. For example:

  • California has introduced a bill (SB 1224) to create a state longitudinal data system (SLDS) with student data from kindergarten enrollment to workforce entry—a system that could help inform education policies across the state.
  • Mississippi considered a bill (HB 405) to use the state’s education data system to better understand the state’s workforce needs.

Empowering the public with more information

Over 60 bills this year would require states to publicly report more, or more useful and accessible, information about their schools. For example:

  • New Jersey is considering a bill (A 2192) to include data on chronic absence and disciplinary suspensions on school report cards.
  • Arizona is considering a bill (SB 1411) to create a new dashboard as part of the state’s school achievement profiles with new data on academic progress and school quality.

Empowering educators and families with student data

In years past, legislators have not frequently used legislation to give educators and parents secure access to their own student’s data. This year is seeing some more legislative activity on this important priority. For example:

  • Louisiana is considering a bill (SB 107) to ensure that teachers receive student-level assessment results in a format that is easy to understand and includes longitudinal student data if possible.
  • Massachusetts is considering a bill (S 40) that would create an electronic data “backpack” program for foster youth. The backpack would contain a student’s education record and would be available to the adults authorized to make decisions for that student.

The best way to “make data work for students” is to not collect it without parental knowledge and consent and to keep it at the local school level with the teachers where it could possibly do some good. The problem is, evidenced by the Louisiana bill, when data gets collected it heads to the state (and the feds and who knows what other third parties) who don’t teach the kids and have no business having that data.

Louisiana Elementary Schools Are Teaching Cursive Again

Last year, Louisiana joined 15 other states requiring that children are taught cursive in elementary school. The law went into effect this year, and New Orleans Public Radio highlighted the change.

Susan Roesgen reports:

Educational studies have shown that taking notes in cursive is better for students’ brain development, better than printing or typing on a keyboard.

Teacher Niki Gazley agrees. She’s teaching cursive this semester to her second-grade students at Cedarwood School in Mandeville.

“There is so much research out there about cursive,” says Gazley. “Children are accessing both hemispheres of the brain, when in printing it’s only one hemisphere. So they’re actually… building more circuitry in the brain, which is making them smarter.”

Gazely also says the kids seem to enjoy it, taking pride in carefully crafting each looping letter on worksheets at their desks.

“It’s kind of different from printing,” says second-grader Regan King, “It’s like you’re drawing.”

Cedarwood Principal, Kathy LeBlanc agrees with Gazely that learning cursive at this age will help students long after grade school.

“Learning is scaffolding, we scaffold skills,” says LeBlanc. “Students who master cursive at this age will go on to college more efficient at taking notes, so it’s a skill they will use their entire life.”

Louisiana students will be better off with the opportunity to relearn this skill. Children do need to be able to read important historical documents, as well as, the handwritten letters they may get from their grandma. There are other benefits as well as Dr. William Klemm summarized in a Psychology Today article he wrote in 2013.

He said it helps with hand-eye coordination, but it does more than that (reaffirming what Ms. Gazley said in the excerpt above).

Handwriting dynamically engages widespread areas of both cerebral hemispheres. Virginia Berninger, a researcher and professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, says that brain scans during handwriting show activation of massive regions of the brain involved in thinking, language, and working memory.

Learning to type makes little demand on the brain: you just have to punch a key. Learning to touch type (typing without looking at the keys) is mentally demanding, and I encourage that kind of teaching too. One should not be taught at the expense of the other.

He also notes that it has a positive psychological effect as well:

Since, reproducing a single letter is rather easy, the child knows that success if obtainable. Positive feedback, instant and specific, comes from the very act itself.

Without realizing it, children learning cursive are also learning self-discipline. I can’t think of any school task more important than that.

As each letter is mastered, the child says “I can do this! I can even do this better!” Then it is just a matter of moving on to mastery of the next letter and eventually to the relatively easy task of joining letters. Maybe the best emotional boost of all is when children learn they have acquired this skill on their own. All the teacher did was show them how to hold and move a pencil and show them the objective. Nobody force-fed this new skill into their brain. They did it themselves.

So I applaud Louisiana for this new law, and I hope states that don’t yet require cursive will join the 16 states like Louisiana and Alabama who do.

The Scary Square Root Symbol

The square root symbol, in the past some high school students may have felt dread in the pit of their stomachs when they saw this symbol. Before it was due to a student struggling with math, but not anymore.

Last week I saw a story in the Miami Herald that I wished I read in The Onion. It reads:

A discussion among students at Oberlin High School in Oberlin, La., about a mathematical symbol led to a police investigation and a search of one of the student’s homes, according to the Allen Parish Sheriff’s Office.

On the afternoon of Feb. 20, detectives investigated a report of terroristic threats at the school, where they learned that a student had been completing a math problem that required drawing the square-root sign.

Students in the group began commenting that the symbol, which represents a number that when multiplied by itself equals another number, looked like a gun.

After several students made comments along those lines, another student said something the sheriff’s office said could have sounded like a threat out of context.

Police searched the student’s home, where they found no guns or any evidence that he had any access to guns. Authorities also wrote there was no evidence the student had any intent to commit harm.

“The student used extremely poor judgment in making the comment, but in light of the actual circumstances, there was clearly no evidence to support criminal charges,” the department wrote, adding that the school board had been contacted to determine any disciplinary action for the student.

This says more about these students’ understanding of math than anything else.

New Orleans School Ratings Drop for Third Straight Year

Schools in New Orleans have experienced a three-year drop in their state ratings The Lens reported. The city has experimented with charter schools post-Hurricane Katrina, and naturally, charter schools get the blame for the decline.

Scores at some schools tumbled. Mahalia Jackson Elementary School dropped almost 30 points to a score of 50 on the state’s 150-point scale. That’s a D.

Sylvanie Williams College Prep fell about 22 points to 32.4, an F. It was the second-lowest elementary school score; the one with the lowest score, McDonogh 42, has been turned over to another charter operator.

Charter networks KIPP New Orleans Schools, New Beginnings Schools Foundation, ReNEW Schools and Algiers Charter operate a combined 23 schools. Only one of them improved its School Performance Score from 2016 to 2017.

Overall, New Orleans schools slid 14.2 points, from a B to a C.

The three-year drop appears to confirm education leaders’ fears about what would happen when tests aligned with tougher standards were introduced in 2015. Those tests are the primary factor in elementary School Performance Scores.

Some school leaders say those standards have caught up with the city’s schools, which have generally have gotten better since the state took over, closed and doled out schools to charter management organizations after Hurricane Katrina.

Others think charters were slower than traditional school districts to adopt curriculum aligned with the more rigorous standards. District-wide School Performance Scores dropped for 34 percent of traditional school districts in the state from 2014 to 2017, compared to 65 percent of New Orleans schools.

This year, 34 of the city’s 84 schools with School Performance Scores (not all schools have grades that take state tests) were rated a D or an F. Eighteen of them, including three alternative high schools, have had a D or an F three years in a row.

I’m not a fanboy of charter schools, and I think educrats have seen them as a silver bullet answer to what woes public education. There are some excellent charter schools, and there are bad ones.

I will say this, requiring charter schools to adopt Common Core hamstrings the flexibility that is supposed their greatest strength.

Also, here again, we see a refusal to admit that perhaps the standards and aligned-curriculum are to blame. Maybe they are to blame not due to being tougher, but because they are poor. Being surrounded by scapegoats must be nice.

An Open Letter to Louisiana Senate Education Committee

Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge
Photo credit: Farragutful via Wikimedia Commons (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Sara Wood, a contact and fellow advocate in Louisiana, shared a letter with me via email. She graciously gave permission for me to post it here. This is a letter she sent the Louisiana Senate Education Committee after they killed SB73. SB73 would have allowed “each public school governing authority to determine the education content standards and assessments to be used in the schools under its jurisdiction.” Thank you, Sara, for permission to publish your letter and more importantly, thank you for your advocacy efforts. I know many parents who, unfortunately, will relate to what you expressed so well in this letter.

Dear Senators,

For years our hope as informed parents has proven to be eternal in the face of stonewalling by those who are meant to protect freedom and limit government—>you, the members of this Committee and the entire legislature—>while at the same time unabashedly kowtowing to special interest/donors. In spite of the stonewalling and cronyism, and in the face of the highest of financial and otherwise interested opposition, we, the informed parents, have remained vigilant and persevered in our endeavor to shed light on the destructive and abusive path upon which we were forced so many years ago. This destructive and abusive path of the Common Core State Standards Initiative was heaped on parents and children in a very undemocratic and unconstitutional manner as we have proven until blue in the face to no impact on you, who were elected to protect freedom and limit government. What was heaped upon our children and what continues to manifest itself is overwhelmingly, in too many degrees, a form of mental and emotional child abuse to those of us outside of the special interest/ruling elite circles and whose decisions are not financially motivated (you and your cronies). Nonetheless, here parents were again today attempting to have you do your job to protect our freedom and limit government and again you failed. This attempt was in the form of Senator John Milkovich’s SB73 which the majority of you gave short shrift, as usual. TRUE LOCAL CONTROL IS THE ONLY WAY OUT OF THIS FAILING INITIATIVE FOR THE MAJORITY OF THE SCHOOLS IN THIS STATE! I know you don’t give a squat beyond maybe GIVING THE APPEARANCE of care for anything with regards to non-special interest, parents and children. No need to deny it, the conclusion comes from many years of rational observation. So I really only write to convey my disgust with this majority, though it was totally expected, because I want to burst any delusional bubble in which you might be living with regards to your obligation of acting to protect freedom and limiting government.

Thank you for doing nothing once again to actually stop the centralization of education and the standardization of children, AS EXPECTED. If I believed in Karma, I would take comfort that one day what you have brought around to us, the everyday taxpaying parents and their families, will come around tenfold to you and yours. But I don’t believe in Karma, I believe in God and so I will continue to pray for God to move you to that which is right. A move that would have you act TRULY, GENUINELY AND HUMBLY to protect our freedoms and to limit government in education and in all else greatly affecting our everyday lives rather than burdening our freedoms to the point of decimation, growing government through increased laws; unelected commission/boards passing regulations; taxes, fees, licensing, etc.; and doing so in a manner that serves yourself by serving your special interest cronies/donors. Further, I pray that one day, my children will see a true shift towards having A TRUE AND GENUINE MAJORITY of our elected officials uphold their oaths and promises of protecting freedom and limiting government. God help us!

Sara Wood


Louisiana Parents Complain About Common Core Review


Louisiana parents complain about the Common Core review process currently underway in the state.

The New Orleans Advocate reports:

The goal of the committee meeting that Carla and Carl Hebert turned up for was to draft a new set of math standards for grades three through 12 by the end of the day. Small groups of teachers divided by grade level spent two hours coming up with proposed changes, then reconvened to debate the proposed alterations. Members of the public who had come to provide input had to sit and wait. Public comment was not scheduled until after the debate.

This was only the first step of a long, arcane process. The proposed changes were to head next to a “standards committee,” a second group of educators who would hold public hearings and then send notes back to the original committee.

Separate sets of committees would do the same for English standards in grades three to 12 and those for kindergarten through the second grade.

Finally, when all of the committees have wrapped up their work, the changes will go before the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for a final vote in March.

Given the breadth of material to cover, the process can be unwieldy. At the math committee meeting, Dufrene suggested changes to most of the fourth-grade standards, leaving the committee no time to debate the other grades. The meeting broke up after 7 p.m. without taking much public comment, though only about two dozen members of the public showed up.

Dufrene’s changes focused on areas in which she felt the standards had crossed the line from telling teachers what they needed to teach to dictating how they needed to teach.

For example, she called for removing language from a fourth-grade multiplication standard that suggested teachers should ask students to explain answers by using equations, arrays or area models. Arrays, where students use dots to represent numbers, and area models, in which students shade in parts of a rectangle, are visual tools used to show their work.

While some of the educators agreed with Dufrene, others felt the language was necessary to ensure teachers go beyond teaching the procedure and use techniques that encourage deeper, more conceptual learning. Those who opposed cutting the language eventually won out.

Carla Hebert, meanwhile, felt completely shut out by the process. “If they really wanted to include us, they would have started with public comment,” she said late in the afternoon. “It’s after 3 o’clock; we’ve been just sitting here for six hours.”

As in other states, an online survey was designed to be the primary vehicle for parents to weigh in on potential changes. But in state after state, this has proven to be a highly imperfect and fraught way of soliciting parent feedback.

Read the whole article.

The online review process that parents were allowed to participate in was not parent-friendly. It appeared to be designed to lead to a positive result for Common Core. Also because the online portal was not parent-friendly fewer parents participated. Louisiana legislators were concerned that the compromise made that launched this review was not being honored by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

This is the same trend we’ve seen time and time and time again in states that offer a “review” it’s totally stacked against parents and it does not look like Louisiana will be any different.

Changing the Name Won’t Make the Standards Better

louisiana-state-flag-2The Louisiana Standards are currently being reviewed and will be revised so now educrats want to drop the term Common Core because it’s “toxic.”

The Advocate reports:

Brigitte Nieland, who follows public school issues for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and backs the changes, noted that the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education calls the guidelines Louisiana standards.

“I just think most people want to get away from the phrase ‘Common Core,’ ” Nieland said. “We are all aware of how toxic that term is.”

BESE President Chas Roemer, one of the state’s most outspoken backers of the changes, agreed. “The Common Core issue is really done with in this state,” Roemer said.

“People can still use it for political purposes but the reality is we have set a system to review the standards and we will end up with something that is Louisiana standards,” he said.

One committee and three subcommittees — about 100 members in all — are reviewing Common Core before making recommendations to BESE next year.

BESE will then suggest changes of its own and send the plans to the House and Senate education committees and the next governor.

However, Common Core is in public school classrooms for the second year, and it is unclear whether the changes will be sweeping or cosmetic.

How about this… let’s see what kind of changes Louisiana actually makes.  If they make “sweeping” changes and end up with quality standards then great. More than likely based off what I’ve seen with the educrats down there, it’ll be cosmetic, and then I’m sorry we can’t call it anything other than a Common Core rebrand and a farce.

But just changing the names won’t make the standards better.

Louisiana Standards Compromise Not Kept

louisiana-state-flag-2The members of the Louisiana House of Representatives who negotiated new education standards now say that the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education are not agreeing to a spirit of compromise.  Color me not shocked that educrats are not acting in good faith. I do appreciate the legislators calling attention to it.

From a news release sent last week:

The group of House members who negotiated the agreement on developing new standards in the 2015 legislative session, (Geymann, Schroder, Pope, Harris, Henry, Havard and Hensgens), have declared that the spirit of the compromise has not been kept by BESE or the Department of Education.  While negotiating the agreement, Superintendent John White made the point that the review committee should have access to anything they need to make their decisions.  The legislators who have concerns with the existing standards worked in good faith on this agreement with other legislators and stakeholders.  The intent was to identify the areas of concern and make appropriate adjustments to improve the standards and remove the controversy while making them Louisiana’s own.  This week the BESE members voted 7 – 4 not to give the standards review committee the data necessary to judge the validity and appropriateness of the existing standards. 

Without the appropriate data, the review committee cannot perform their job and have no way of judging the validity of the standards.  It is now the opinion of these House members that the majority of the current BESE board and department of education are not willing to allow this panel to achieve the intent of the legislative agreement to remove Louisiana from the existing standards and develop the state’s own high standards that have been improved by making adjustments in the areas of concern.

There is no reason to participate with a committee whose outcome has been predetermined by the lack of data and resources from the Department of Education. The House members also call for the four major candidates for governor to bring forth in their legislative package, legislation that will remove our state from the existing standards and create strong and appropriate Louisiana standards. 

They then listed some additional concerns about the review process given to them by some of the review panelists. Which you can read below:

Chamber Echoes Warning About Low Test Scores

louisiana-state-flag-2The Baton Rogue Area Chamber is warning about low test scores in Louisiana.  Perhaps they are receiving some blowback over their mindless support of Common Core and related assessments (one can only hope). All chambers of commerce do is parrot what Common Core advocates say, warnings about low test scores are the new thing.  They are just spinning the impending bad news.

The Advocate reports:

In a second warning, a report issued Thursday by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber said Common Core test results next week are likely to be low for students in Louisiana.

“BRAC does not expect the scores to be exceptionally high,” according to the report. “In fact, we anticipate quite the opposite.

“But we further posit that that’s a reasonable outcome, because transitioning to higher standards is difficult,” it says.

The comments mark the second time parents and others were told results on the exams are likely to be lackluster.

State Superintendent of Education John White said last monththe scores will be sobering.

“The fact is we have a long way to go to be competitive with other states,” White said then. “I think it will be sobering, but it will show evidence of progress.”