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This link leads to an editorial posted by the Chicago Tribune, March 25, 2014.  This editorial is a disturbing example of propaganda.  Even more disturbing were the comments made below the editorial by Bruno Behrend.  Two pieces of evidence he used to support his point of view include The Evaluation of Charter School Impacts:  Final Report and Teacher Certification Reconsidered:  Stumbling for Quality.

The Evaluation of Charter School Impacts:  Final Report claims to be, “the first large-scale randomized trial of the effectiveness of charter schools in varied types of communities and states.”  It was prepared by:  Arne Duncan, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and John Q. Easton, Director of the Institute of Education Sciences and Acting Commissioner of the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.  The report summarizes the following points:

•  On average, charter middle schools that held lotteries were neither more nor less successful than traditional public schools in improving math or reading test scores, attendance, grade promotion, or student conduct within or outside of school. Being admitted to a study charter school did significantly improve both students’ and parents’ satisfaction with school.

Translation:  The only thing that improved was the satisfaction of students and parents because their reality is based on the propaganda that charter schools were better.

•  Charter middle schools’ impact on student achievement varied significantly across schools.

Translation:  I’m actually surprised this is used as a selling point.  If the impact of charter middle schools on student achievement significantly varies, then it does not support a consistent, quality education.

The attached Executive Summary states that after two years, the effects on reading scores were estimated to be greater than zero in 11 sites and less than zero in 17 sites (with magnitudes ranging from -0.43 to +0.33 standard deviation units), with 4 of the site estimates statistically significant (The Executive Report does not note whether or not the statistically significant sites had a statistically positive effect or a statistically negative one!).  In other words – not much progress was made, if any, in the area of reading.

[•  The summary just so happened to leave this point out, which was made in the Executive Summary:  In our exploratory analysis, for example, we found that study charter schools serving more low income or low achieving students had statistically significant positive effects on math test scores, while charter schools serving more advantaged students – those with higher income and prior achievement – had significant negative effects on math test scores.

Translation:  How interesting! It is no surprise that smaller class size helps.  Teachers have made this point very clear, for years.  What is surprising is that charter schools actually had a negative impact on advantaged students.  I see why this point was left out of the ‘propaganda summary’.]

•  Charter middle schools in urban areas—as well as those serving higher proportions of low-income and low achieving students—were more effective (relative to their nearby traditional public schools) than were other charter schools in improving math test scores (This is a very bias paraphrase from the Executive Summary – it was actually worded as I quoted directly in the last point – conveniently left out was the part about the negative impact on advantaged students). Some operational features of charter middle schools were associated with less negative impacts on achievement. These features include smaller enrollments and the use of ability grouping in math or English classes. There was no significant relationship between achievement impacts and the charter schools’ policy environment.

Translation:  Every teacher knows that smaller numbers of students and use of ability grouping for differentiated instruction are sound educational practices.  Unfortunately, class size and ability grouping are administrative decisions, not decisions left to teachers.  Teachers can have input, but administrators must be willing to listen and respond accordingly.

Because the study could only include charter middle schools that held lotteries, the results do not necessarily apply to the full set of charter middle schools in the U.S.

The Average Impacts of Study Charter Schools, according to the Executive Summary, are as follows:

1.  On average, study charter schools did not have a statistically significant impact on student achievement.

2.  Study charter schools positively affected parent and student satisfaction with and perceptions of school (These are opinions, not fact).

3.  Study charter schools did not significantly affect most other outcomes examined, including absences, suspensions, and other measures of student performance, as well as survey-based measures of student effort in school, student well-being, student behavior and attitudes and parental involvement.

4.  Study charter school’s impacts on student achievement were inversely related to students’ income levels.  Higher income students were negatively impacted.

5.  There was some evidence of an inverse relationship between students’ baseline achievement levels and charter school impacts on achievement.  There was a “strong and statistically significant negative association between students’ baseline test scores and charter schools impacts on their subsequent reading and math scores.”  In other words, the better students did when they came into the charter, the worse they did when they left!  WOW!  But, if you read further, the Executive Summary states, “On the other hand, when we split students evenly into two groups – those with higher versus lower baseline achievement levels – differences in impact between the two groups were not statistically significant after adjusting for multiple treatment-control comparisons.  Take a good look at this one, people – this is a great example of “playing with numbers”.

Translation:  We balanced how negatively high performing students were impacted by combining this number with how positively low performing students were impacted (low performing students suddenly had the benefit of smaller class size and differentiated instruction that is available to the affluent students).

6.  There were no significant differences in charter school impacts for other student subgroups defined by race, ethnicity, and gender.

My Conclusion:  Bruno Behrend, read your own literature.

Teacher Certification Reconsidered: Stumbling for Quality cites the following deficiencies characterizing the work advocating teacher certification:

•  Research that is seen as helping the case for certification is cited selectively, while research that does not is overlooked.

•  The lack of evidence for certification is concealed by the practice of padding analyses with multiple references that appear to provide support but, once read, do not.

•  Research is cited that is too old to be reliable or retrievable.

•  Research that has not been subjected to peer review is given unmerited weight, with particular reliance on unpublished dissertations.

•  Instead of using standardized measures of student achievement, advocates design their own assessment measures to prove certification’s value.

•  Basic principles of sound statistical analysis, which are taken for granted in other academic disciplines, are violated routinely.  Examples include failing to control for such key variables as poverty and prior student achievement; using sample sizes which are too small to allow generalization or reliable statistical inference; and relying on inappropriately aggregated data.

The Abell Foundation (2001) overlooked one very important criteria:  common sense.  I wonder how many of the authors of this publication would prefer to have surgery performed by a surgeon without certification?  Or ride in an airplane with a pilot that is not certified?  Or have a lawsuit handled by an attorney who didn’t pass the board?  Or how about contract work done in their homes by a plumber, carpenter, or an electrician who were not certified (what’s one little supporting wall anyway)?  Or, I bet they would love to have the breaks in their car fixed by a mechanic who wasn’t certified.  Obviously, there is an existing minimum requirement of competency that exists in most every profession.  So, why would it be appropriate to completely do away with certification standards for those who form the very foundation of education in America?

Abell Foundation states in its Executive Summary, “The teacher attribute found consistently to be most related to raising student achievement is verbal ability.”  Abell claims, “Most researchers understand verbal ability usually measured by short vocabulary tests, to be a measure of a teacher’s general cognitive ability.”  So, anyone with a large vocabulary who can explain a concept using a language most students will not understand ‘has better cognitive ability’ than those who are clear, concise, and understood?

Apparently, Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Levels was not included in the large body of research examined in this report.  As traditionally taught (there are variations), Bloom’s Taxonomy is diagrammed in the shape of a pyramid, with Knowledge on the bottom.  Next, is Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and at the top of the pyramid is Evaluation.

So, one might ask, where does vocabulary fit into this Taxonomy?  Vocabulary requires rote memory – apparently, that would be the bottom of the pyramid:  Knowledge.  I assert that if a large vocabulary becomes the new prerequisite to employment in the field of education, what the public will witness is the development of a very cognitively disabled educator workforce.

For instance, based on Abell Foundatian philosophy, a fourth grade teacher giving the following instruction to his class would be considered competent,

“This geometric drawing can be made by drawing a four-inch circle. Draw the horizontal and vertical diameter ab and cd. Mark the point of intersection e. Bisect eb and mark the point of intersection f. With f as a center, and cf as a radius, describe an arc cutting ae. Mark the point of intersection g. With gc as a radius and c as a center, describe two arcs cutting the circumference at h and j. With h and j as centers and the same radius, describe arcs cutting the circumference at k and l. Form a star by connecting c and l, c and k, h and k, l and j, and h and j.”

There are many quality examples of content-specific vocabulary used in the direction above, but I think this teacher would have been better understood by his class if he simply stated, “Draw a star.”  There is a time and a place in a student’s cognitive development when appropriate levels of complexity should be built into instruction.  Those participating in the field of education, should have a background of education in these stages of a child’s development.  Students enrolled in primary and secondary education are not mini-adults, they are in the process of developing into adults.

I contend that vocabulary allows student access to information, but it is not the appropriate measure of aptitude in higher level cognitive abilities that enable students (and teachers) to process and apply information.

How about I sprinkle in a bit of cognitive theory?  If there is anyone out there who has access to brain scans and can test this theory, I would be exceedingly grateful.

THEORY:  I contend that those who are highly developed in mental processing requiring rote memory (vocabulary and trivia, for instance) function with a lower mental capacity than those who process information conceptually.

Take, for example, a child who was born with sight, but later in life becomes blind – Ray Charles.  When a specific part of the brain becomes inactive, the neurotransmitters that brought information to that part of the brain divert to other parts of the brain.  Ray Charles lost his sight, but his sense of hearing, touch, and smell became more acute.  I believe this is because these senses were enhanced by the neurotransmitters that once supported his sight.

I contend that people who have specific areas of their brain that are highly developed, such in the area of rote memory, are lacking the support of neurotransmitters in other areas of their brain.  Therefore, they can remember much, but they can apply this knowledge to very little.  What should be considered as a highly cognitively developed brain is one that processes information conceptually.  In this case, neurotransmitters would provide balanced support to multiple areas of the brain, not specific areas of the brain.  A person with such a brain would be able to see the whole, and would be able to see how the parts effect the whole, rather than perseverate on specific details that are unrelated and have no pattern.  Those in roles of leadership should be “big picture”, wholistic thinkers.  Those in subordinate positions should be “the detail people.”

If I am correct in my assumption, standardized testing is promoting the stupid and hindering the intelligent.

In truth, my personal belief is that all people have within them special gifts, and all would benefit from strengthening these talents while utilizing the aptitudes of others.  For example, the wholistic thinker needs detail oriented people to bring to light the specifics that may have been overlooked, and those who are focused on detail need the conceptual thinker to capitalize on the strength of the parts, so the whole can function optimally.  So, who is more important?  Also, many people do not function at either end of the two extremes mentioned; they may demonstrate elements of both characteristics, depending upon the situation.  Unfortunately, standardized assessment does not take these truths into account.