Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Salem Goes Fuzzy

As reported in the Statesman Journal, the Salem-Keizer School District has adopted a "fuzzy math" curriculum. Here we go again. Another gullible school board unable to detect the crap dished out by their district administrators and curriculum adoption committees.

To quote from the article:

The Pythagorean theorem states that the sum of the squares of the lengths of the legs of a right triangle is equal to the square of the length of the hypotenuse. But the students in Dawn Eppler's eighth-grade math class won't hear that from her. Instead, they'll grab scissors, tape, paper and a partner to figure it out for themselves.

"I will not be helping you until both of you have tried something, even if it's wrong," Eppler tells the pairs.

That's right.... the kids have to try to figure it out by themselves. Now that's a pretty efficient way to teach a theorem that's been around a few thousand years. No, the teacher can't actually directly teach the students something that she knows - how oppressive. Better to have the students spend hours cutting construction paper to shreds in cooperative groups.

Forgive my scornful tone, but it is richly deserved. I've seen this time and again. I've read all the research on these math programs. I have personal experience with their failures. I've dealt professionally with the publishers of the curricula. I've read the curriculum reviews. I know the philosophies upon which they are based are completely bogus.

And I know that the mainstream educators are completely bought it to them.

I've written at length on this issue. Just last month I wrote a long article in Oregon's Future Magazine about my own experience with this kind of math program. A math program similar to the one Salem has adopted almost ruined my daughter's math education. If we had not intervened, taken her out of school and home schooled her for a year and a half, I am certain she would be a complete math illiterate.

As it is, she struggles mightily to keep her head above water as a sophomore in Algebra 2.

As a layperson, we tend to be very deferential to the "professional" educators. So here are a few questions to see if you think what they believe is reasonable:

Do you believe that calculators should be used by kindergartners for basic computation?

Do you believe that math is best learned in cooperative groups?

Do you believe that it is harmful for a third grader to memorize the multiplication tables?

Do you believe kids should not be taught that the best way to subtract two digit numbers is the standard "borrowing" algorithm, but should decide for themselves how best to do it?

If you think these propositions sound ludicrous, you are on the opposite side of the charlatans who keep shoving their theories about how kids learn math down the throat of the schools.

Spend some time on the Mathematically Correct web site, and then tell me if you think these fuzzy math curricula are worthwhile.

I know it is hard to accept.... but these "professionals" are utterly, completely, and tragically wrong.

And our kids pay the price.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Value-Added Assessment is the Only Way To Go

There are a lot of politically motivated claims and counterclaims made about whether or not charter schools are helping kids achieve. In recent months charters have been under attack by the NEA, who commissioned a study that used NAEP data to "show" that students in charters aren't doing as well as students in traditional public schools.

I wrote a response that that study, published in the Oregonian, that pointed out it is meaningless to measure snapshot academic levels of students in charters. What matters is academic GAINS.

That is, assume charter schools disproportionately draw students who are behind academically. (Which they do.) Why would we be surprised, then, if we give them a test and find they tend to be behind the other students? DUH!

Of course this doesn't prevent groups with a dog in the fight from commissioning studies that use this data to "prove" charters are failing. But it's just advocacy research. The NEA isn't interested in actually answering the question "How are charters performing relative to the tradional schools?" They want to create the impression that charters are not working for the students in them.

The question we should be asking is how much each student gains academically from any given year spent in a charter school (or any school.) Let's say a fifth grader enters a charter school in the poorest part of northeast Portland, reading at a second grade level. After one year, his reading ability grows to fourth grade level, and at that point he is given the Oregon reading test, upon which he of course will fail to "meet standard."

Has the school succeeded with that child? Not by Oregon's measure. He is below standard, even though his reading ability grew two academic years in a single year. It's a false negative.

On the other hand, take a child in Riverdale School District, an affluent enclave near Lake Oswego. She enters the fifth grade reading at a seventh grade level, and by the end of the year is still reading at the same level.

She takes the Oregon test, and meets the standard. Has that school succeeded with her? Yes, according to Oregon's assessment system. The school gets to take bows for their success. It's a false positive.

The problem is, Oregon's testing system is not geared to reveal academic gains, and until it does, it will continue to be of little value for the purpose it was designed: school accountability. We need an assessment system designed to reveal "Academic Value Added."

The fact that socioeconomic status is highly correlated to academic performance is perhaps the least contested research result in public education. Why would we have an assessment system, then, that fails to account for it? Without a "value added" measure, Oregon will forever be tagging schools in poorer neighborhoods as failures and schools in affluent neighborhoods as successes, even if the academic gains are precisely the opposite.

Guess who opposes changing Oregon's assessment system so it can measure gains? The teachers union. Why would they oppose it? For starters, if we could measure the academic gains of each student, we could also track the data back to the teacher. We would know which teachers were effective at raising every students' academic levels and which were not - something the unions cannot abide.

Tennessee has had such a system in place for several years. Oregon could have one, too, if the education establishment weren't so threatened by it.

My bill to replace Oregon's testing system, HB3162, would enable the state to measure annual academic gains of every student. We would know which teachers were effective and which were not. We would finally be able to separate the effects of socioeconomic status from our measure of school accountability, which has been unfairly categorizing some schools as failures (and others as successes) for years. You'd finally have an honest answer to the question: "How is my kid's school doing?"

The bill has powerful opposition: The Oregon Department of Education, the Oregon Education Association, the Oregon Business Council, the Oregon Business Association, and the Associated Oregon Industries.

I understand why the ODE and the OEA can't abide accurate measures of academic gains, but why would the supposed business advocates oppose it? Hard to say, other than the fact that they have been cheerleading the existing system of deeply flawed assessments for so long that they would lose face if they admitted its failure.

I think they have fallen victim to a medical condition that unfortunately has run rampant through Oregon's poilitical establishment:

Cranial Rectumitis.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Tim Boyle's Speech about the Portland City Government

Yesterday, Tim Boyle, CEO of Columbia Sportswear had some very pointed remarks to make about the city of Portland and how it runs. He was speaking to the Portland Business Alliance, but really his audience was the Portland City Government.

The question is: will they listen?

I've pasted his entire speech below.

It is about time that Portland business leaders started stepping up and telling it like it is.

Well, Mom is here somewhere selling her book this morning, so I finally get a chance to talk, and to express some long standing concerns of mine over the policies, actions and direction of local government.

Thank you very much. I am honored to have been asked to share some thoughts this morning with my friends and colleagues in the Portland business community.

First, let me make clear that while much was made a few years ago of Columbia Sportswear moving our headquarters to Washington County, we are and always have been a Portland company. It was here in Portland where my grandparents and my mother and sisters came when they fled Nazi Germany in 1937.

It was here in Portland where my grandfather bought a small hat wholesale Hat Company, choosing the name after he opened up the phone book and noticed that a lot of businesses had "Columbia" in their name.

It was here in Portland under the St John's Bridge where my father presided over the company after he took the helm following the death of my grandfather.

It was here in Portland where my mother, sister and I struggled to save the company after the death of my father in 1970.

It is here in Portland where we have our Flagship Store, Sellwood Outlet Store and our state-of-the-art 825,000 square foot distribution center.

It is here in Portland where many of our employees live and where my family and I call home.

It should also go without saying that Columbia's success is in many ways intertwined with the success of Portland. We depend on safe highways and thriving ports to move our goods by road and water. We depend on schools and colleges to produce a strong and talented workforce.We take heart in the beauty of this state and a style of life that leads folks to buy our product. And, of course, since we make rain gear, we are happy to embrace Portland's rain.

There was a famous business quote that declared "What is good for General Motors is good for America." Well, let me suggest that given all I have told you, it should be obvious that what is good for Portland is good for Columbia Sportswear.

The bottom line is that I have both a personal interest and a professional interest in making sure that Portland and this region succeed. And at the heart of my remarks this morning are some concerns over some recent actions by our local governmental bodies, and some suggestions on lessons government can learn from business.

Let me be clear in saying that I am not here today to simply suggest that government ought to be a business. Their roles and responsibilities are fundamentally different. But I ask you to consider for a moment if the City of Portland was a business, what would its prospectus look like?

Well, among other things, it would say: "Our financial obligations exceed our revenue and we have trouble maintaining our existing line of business. Management's attention in the last year has been focused on acquiring a new line of business, and if we acquire it, we will spend much of our time learning how to run it. While we are spending countless hours of our time, and millions of dollars to hire bankers and lawyers to study this acquisition, we are cutting funding to public schools. And while public safety is a top priority of our citizens, we cannot afford to jail offenders, and we recently severed our relationship with the federal government on a task force aimed at preventing terrorism."

Would you be willing to invest your money in an operation that offered this prospectus? The answer is obvious.

So, how do we go about writing a different prospectus for our city and our region? My first suggestion would be focus on the fact that cities and states now actually do compete in a global marketplace, just as companies like Columbia do. And it is worth asking – are Portland and this region doing all they can not just to compete, but to win?

Are they comparing our ability to educate and graduate students from high schools and colleges to efforts underway in countries like India and China?

Are they looking at the flexibility of its land use planning compared to that of Kentucky, where we recently built a new distribution facility?

Are they looking at how our investments in roads, rails and waterways -- and the ports generally -- compare to other locations on the west coast?

I would suggest that if the question was whether or not the PBA is doing all these things, the answer would be yes. But if the question is whether or not the City of Portland and Multnomah County are focusing on its competition to the degree they should be, the answer is no.

As a Public Company, we know our investors couldn't care less where we're located, they want high returns. Investors in our company, and in companies this area is competing to attract have choices. Are we doing all we can to make their choice here?

One of the best pieces of advice I received in my early days of running Columbia was that we made too many products that were not superior to our competitors, and that we should focus on the ones that were unique to us. Years later, our advertising agency sold us on a new campaign highlighting the fact that having a mother and son running the company was something unique in our industry.

What services does government uniquely provide? Safe streets and good schools come to mind. Running an electric utility does not.

The fact is that politics, like the apparel industry, is often driven by what it is in fashion. People in business, like people in politics, are constantly pressed by investors and others to leap to the latest fad. In recent years, there was substantial pressure for Columbia to get into the internet business. There were also those who proposed we open a huge chain of stores something we have no experience doing. And we are pushed to buy just about any company out there most often in the apparel industry, but not always. We have decided not to take any of these roads. Instead, we have stuck to things that we do well. I would suggest the City of Portland should do the same.

One of the things we do well at Columbia is to maintain fiscal discipline. Since our business nearly failed in the early 1970's, our mantra has been to have a "fortress" balance sheet. Fiscal discipline has seen us through good and bad times, and insures that our operations are sustainable.

Compare the success of our Rivergate Distribution Center -- which was a huge investment for us -- with what Multnomah County is going through with the Wapato Jail -- a 500 plus bed jail that the County built but could not afford to open and operate. Imagine if we had built Rivergate knowing that we didn't have the money to open it. Our shareholders simply would not tolerate that. And neither should the shareholders of government -- and by that I mean taxpayers -- be expected to tolerate the Wapato fiasco.

I want to finish where I began, by stressing that Columbia is a Portland company, and my comments and concerns reflect my affection for a city and region that have provided so much and can promise so much more.

And since I have talked about the responsibilities of local government, I need to also stress this: our government is what we make it. It is always easy to sit in the bleachers and complain about the players on the field. Those who are in the arena of public service take a lot of hits, personal and professional, while spectators sit back and boo and order another beer.

We need to do more than sit in the bleachers. I have no interest in ever running for office -- although my mother might. But I do believe we have an obligation to be involved, to encourage our employees to be involved in shaping our government, finding solutions, helping our city and region compete. It is not just about providing tax dollars, but about providing leadership, talent, and ideas.

I am pleased to note that Mayor Potter will soon be hosting a business summit here in Portland. I am confident that there will be a big delegation of PBA members at this summit, and it is our duty to be as clear as possible with our concerns.

Government at all levels should remember a statement that was a favorite of my father's -- "Self examination is better than self defense." It is easy, especially when times are tough, to adopt an "us versus them" mentality, and to think that anyone who questions your decisions is questioning your competence or your intelligence. I would hope that, with the encouragement of the PBA, our local government might engage in some self-examination to determine if actions they are taking will lead to a better, safer, and more prosperous Portland.

Thank you.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Cultural Competency - the issue stays alive

The Oregonian today had a letter to the editor signed by the superintendents of the three largest school districts in the Portland metro area supporting cultural competency training for teachers.

The educrats basically said that kids of different cultural backgrounds learn differently, and therefore the teacher must adjust his teaching methods to present instruction in a way that meshes with each student's culture.

There is a lot wrong with this notion. First, they make these sweeping generalizations about various cultures without an iota of evidence that they are true. Do black children learn differently than white children? Show me the evidence.

Second, this idea is inherently racist.

Third - how is this supposed to work? How many cultures are represented in Portland Public Schools? Remember: students from Swedish cultural backgrounds will be offended if they are treated as having the same culture as students from Norway. French kids are of a different culture than German. Japanese culture is distinctly different than Chinese, which is different than Korean.

So, has the cultural competency crowd figured out all the different nuances of kids from all of the cultures in our schools, and how each one learns, special vocabulary to teach them, different methods, etc? Of course not. They basically see the world in binary: white European and minority.

Fourth - the cultural competence crowd has it exactly backward. The underlying idea is that the schools should adjust everything they do in order to better fit whatever culture the students come from.

This is wrong. I have had the very good fortune to spend a good deal of time with one of America's most distinguished researchers on issues of race and the achievement gap, Abigail Thernstrom. Abigail is the Vice Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and wrote a book a couple years ago called "No Excuses - Closing the Racial Gap in Learning."

The book investigated the sources of the achievement gap, and took a hard look at the very few schools in the U.S. that have been successful at eliminating it. She found some very interesting things, all of which fly directly in the face of the philosophy of the cultural competency crowd.

Thernstrom found that when it comes to academic achievement, all cultures are not created equal. Some cultural attitudes toward academic achievement, it turns out, are superior to others. Asian cultures tend to stress academic achievement. Black culture tends not to. White culture is in the middle somewhere.

The good news, found Thernstrom, is that cultural attitudes toward academic achievement are not immutable. They can be changed.

And her research found that the schools that successfully eliminated the achievement gap all had one thing in common: they changed the students' culture as it relates to academic achievement.

In short, the schools created a culture of their own, and demanded that every student, regardless of his or her native culture, become a part of the school culture that values and stresses academic achievement. If the student was from a culture that didn't particularly value achievement, no problem: they instilled attitudes and values about achievement in the student that overrode her native cultural attitudes and values.

Now, contrast this with what the cultural competency crowd believes. They say a student's native culture should determine how the school teaches him - in other words, it is the school that should adjust to the student's culture, not the other way around.

It seems to me that the CC crowd has a pretty thinly veiled disdain for American culture. In fact, it seems as if they want to deny altogether that there IS a unique American culture. To the extent they acknowledge there is an American culture, it is only to denigrate it by always focusing on our deficiencies, and never our virtues.

The fact is, for hundreds of years people have come to America to be Americans. Being an American means something. It means you share the cultural attitudes and ideals upon which our nation was founded and thrived: individual (not group) rights and the rule of law.

America was built by immigrants who came here and embraced the American culture, assimilated and became a part of it. While they certainly did maintain their own cultural traditions in their homes and communities, they never believed that the institutions of our country should change to accomodate their native cultural beliefs.

It was the shared commitment to the American values that united peoples of every cultural background when they came here. Our strength was in this unity, and the amazing thing about America was how people from every imaginable cultural background could thrive, united by these shared values.

The diversity movement doesn't see America in this way. To the cultural competency (or diversity, or multi-culturalism) crowd, assimilation equals tyranny and oppression. They think assimilation implies some kind of American cultural imperialism. It makes sense: if you hated American culture, why would you want people to assimilate into it?

Cultural Competency is all about teaching kids they do not need to assimilate into American culture to succeed here. The schools will teach you in your native language, not require you to learn English, not teach you about the founding principles of American government, and tell you that the school must adjust to you, rather than the other way around.

It also teaches children that their race or native culture is the single most important factor in their personal identity. I believe this is dangerous. Why would we lead children to believe that something they do not choose and cannot change is the most important determinant of their character, rather than any one of the dozens of personal characteristics that they can choose?

One thing for certain: the vast majority of parents, especially immigrant parents, do not buy in to the cultural competency hogwash. Immigrant parents want their kids to be fluent in English and be a part of American culture. They came here because they want to be a part of the American culture. They reject the warmed over '60's-era identity politics of the cultural competency crowd.

Ironic, but we see it time and again. The cultural competency movement is pushed primarily by white middle class American men and women, most of whom populate universities and educational bureaucracies, as a way to help cultural minorities, the majority of whom reject every element of their agenda.

HB 3162 Passed the House

In a 34-23 vote, the bill to abolish CIM/CAM passed on the House floor yesterday.

Five Democrats voted in favor of the bill: Brad Avakian, Kelly Wirth, Jeff Barker, Larry Galizio and Robert Ackerman. Two Republicans voted against it: Debbie Farr and Vicki Berger.

Now it is on to the Senate, where the fate of the bill will be in the hands of Majority Leader Kate Brown and Senate Education Committee Chair Vicki Walker.

While there have been several attempts to rid Oregon schools of this poortly conceived and horribly implemented "reform," this is the farthest any such effort has ever gotten. Finally legislators were required to cast an up-or-down vote on CIM/CAM, so their consitutents and everyone else can plainly see where they stand.

As Rep. Kim Thatcher said in her floor speech, "Are we going to stand with the teachers, students and parents, or are we going to stand with the bureaucrats?"

With the leadership of House Education Committee Chair Linda Flores, the House finally voted to stand with the people.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Possible Vote Today on HB3162

The bill to abolish CIM/CAM and replace Oregon's tests with new ones that are actually valid has its "third reading" on the house floor today. They may or may not debate it and vote, depending on the calendar and time constraints.

There is a "minority report" which the Democrats on the Education Committee submitted as an alternative bill for consideration, which will be voted on first. The alternative basically says the Department of Education will conduct a study to decide what to do about CIM/CAM.

Oh great idea. Let's have more talk. Let's do a fact finding mission. Let's let the bureucrats who created this mess conduct an analysis and figure out how to get out of it.

We don't need any more fact finding missions. We need a FACT-FACING mission!

Face it: the assessments are not valid and connot be trusted. CIM and CAM are a statewide joke, but the joke is not funny because it is doing so much harm to our schools.

Unfortunately, this has become a partisan issue in the legislature, as the Democrats have come to the defense of the education establishment lobby, as usual.

At least today, for the first time in more than a decade, legislators will have to cast an up or down vote on CIM and CAM. No more hiding behind studies and committees and analysis.

The people of Oregon will know who is listening to them, and who is listening to the bureaucrats.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Blazers' Next Coach

This is dangerous territory for me. In one of my jobs (co-host of "Kremer & Abrams" talk show on KXL) I am employed by Paul Allen, the owner of the Blazers.

But what the heck. The Blazers haven't exactly had a lot of success lately. Maybe a suggestion from me can help out.

Here's my suggestion: Hire Terry Porter as the next coach.

Terry Porter. Succeeded in Milwaukie. Personified the class acts of the Blazers' glory days.

If the Blazers want to recapture the magic of the 1990's, why not bring back one of the central elements of that success?

I knew Terry when he played for the Blazers. We played some golf together, lived near each other, and both had young kids. I can't say I knew him as a close friend, but I certainly knew him (and his charming wife Suzy) well enough to understand what makes him tick.

And that is why I say that Terry Porter is precisely what Portland needs if it is to ever support the Blazers again.

What could be better? The Blazers' problem is that the people of Portland don't really like them very much. Do you remember the glory days? Why was Portland so gaga over the Blazers? One reason was that we liked the players.

We had Clyde. Huge talent, great guy. Total gentleman, perennial all star.

Buck Williams: Class act from start to finish. Extraodinarily intelligent person. I knew him pretty well, spent a good bit of time with him on the golf course. He was the President of the Player's Union, and so dealt with all the contract renegotiation issues during one of the most divisive and controversial renegotiations.

Jerome Kersey: another good guy. Maybe not as high powered as Terry and Buck, not as popular as Clyde, but a totally solid character. Almost a blue collar guy on court, and very respected off it.

And of course Terry Porter. All he did was play in the NBA for about 16 years then coach a loser team inot the playoffs against all odds.

My point is that if the Blazers are going to ever sell out the Rose Garden on a consistent basis, they must have a team that Portlanders are proud of. We know that the teams of the last few years had characters that Portlanders think are an embarrasment, and that is one of the reasons why the Blazers aren't exactly a hot commodity in town.

Could Terry Porter solve the Blazers' woes? Not by himself. But it seems to me a slam dunk:

The Blazers need a coach. Why not hire the guy who has already turned a team around, and who was a central figure in the glory days?

It seems kinda obvious.

But what do I know? I'm an education guy.

CIM/CAM and HB 3162

If you really want to know about CIM/CAM, read this. It is long, but that is because there is a lot to explain. I’ve worked on this issue for more than 5 years, and there is very little reason for anybody who is not in some way directly involved in the policy-making end of education to know much about the complexities of all the aspects of CIM/CAM, educational assessment, standards, and the like.

For those who want to know all the nuances, I offer the following. I do not try to hide my opinions that are liberally interspersed through the piece, and I stand behind every single factual statement that I make.

I wrote HB 3162, which would eliminate CIM and CAM, and replace Oregon’s troubled assessment system with a valid system designed by an independent testing company. Of all the political efforts I have been involved in, the effort to end CIM/CAM has to be the most frustrating.

The battle lines are very, very interesting. It is completely non partisan issue everywhere except the legislature. Parents, teachers, students who have direct experience with this failed reform are overwhelmingly in favor of getting rid of it.

Those opposed to getting rid of it are almost exclusively those who have been involved one way or another in implementing it. This includes ODE bureaucrats, district administrative bureaucrats, and the pretend business organizations such as Oregon Business Council, Oregon Business Association, Associated Oregon Industries, etc. Also supporting the status quo are all the pressure groups who feed off the education system – OSBA, COSA, OEA.

So basically we have an entrenched system that has been re-designing the methods and purposes of our school system for more than a decade. They have lots of bureaucratic inertia, lots of vested careers, and a track record with identifiable failure after identifiable failure.

Uprooting this disaster is not easy. In fact, I am not at all confident that it will be done. Much more likely: the CIM/CAM grip on the schools will get firmer and more intrusive, increasing further the public disenchantment with a disconnected school bureaucracy that refuses to listen to its customers.

I'm going explain a few things about CIM/CAM and what HB 3162 proposes. If you already know all this stuff, just skip it.

A Brief History of CIM
CIM/CAM came to Oregon with Vera Katz’s “21st Century School Act” in 1991. The Act front-ran the Bush 41 “America 2000” initiative and Clinton’s “Goals 2000” program, both of which basically gave incentives for state governments to establish “standards” for the schools and then design a system of tests intended to see if students met the standards.

OK so far. I’ve got no political or theoretical problem with this concept, although there is an argument to be made about local control, school district vs. state authority, etc. But let’s leave that aside for now.

So, Oregon was one of the first states to adopt a program of state-defined standards and tests. Why were we first? Interestingly, it was because the primary policy work surrounding the America 2000 and Goals 2000 programs were done on the east coast by a think tank called “National Center on Education and the Economy” (NCEE) upon whose board sat Hillary Clinton, Ira Magaziner, several corporate titans (including John Sculley, former Pepsico chief and Apple Computer CEO) and the Oregon connection, Vera Katz.

In the late 1980’s NCEE printed a white paper called “America’s Choice: Low Skills or High Wages,” which proposed a redesign of U.S Public schools around a skills/job training model. Schools would teach and certify students’ acquisition of the skills necessary for the job market.

Guess what phrase NCEE coined as the very first certification students would receive from their job training in school? Yup, you guessed it: Certificate of Initial Mastery.

Vera brought this conceptual design to Oregon in 1991, and got it through the legislature through a backroom deal with Larry Campbell, who had just deposed Vera as speaker. There was a good bit of resistance at the time. The House Education Chair, Rep. Oakley, refused to hear the bill at first, until Campbell strong-armed her and threatened to take her chairmanship away unless she went along. (She has confirmed this to me.)

So it passed, and the bureaucracy started churning away. There was lots to do. First the state had to develop all the “content standards,” and then devise tests to give students to see if they have met them. This is where we started going astray.

Big questions arise at this point – questions with very serious implications. The very notion of “content standards” implicitly involves defining what it is kids should know and be able to do at each level of school. This is where it gets political.

Whose views about what it is important for kids to know should become part of the standards? It’s a big problem.

After Goals 2000 passed in 1994, the Feds started funding all sorts of projects to create “National Standards” and gave money to states to help them in define standards. One condition of course was that the state standards had to be consistent with the national standards.

So now we’ve moved the very important question of what kids should be taught not just from the district to the state, but now to the feds – and really to various unaccountable professional organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and their equivalent organizations in science, English, history, etc.

You may not know it, but these organizations are overtly ideological. They take positions on cultural and political issues all the time, and their views got reflected in the standards they wrote. Even such seemingly non-political issues like how to teach reading and math are in actuality intensely politicized and controversial.

Virtual wars have raged for years over phonics vs. whole word approach to reading, and traditional vs. fuzzy math.

Well, the professional organizations developed their standards, and they were uniformly on the “progressive” end of the spectrum on all of these issues. For instance, the national math standards recommended that "Calculators must be accepted at the K-4 level" and that any "further efforts at mastering computation skills are counterproductive."

The national history standards were so offensive in their anti-American politically correct slant that the US Senate denounced them in a 95-1 vote. The single no vote was cast by a senator who believed that simply denouncing the standards was not nearly a strong enough statement.

So anyway, Oregon went down this path a little ahead of the rest of the nation, and was the one state that used the NCEE model as its structure. (At the time they all said we were the “national model.” Ira Magaziner visited Oregon and touted our leadership. Like so many other Oregon “models,” nobody has bothered to copy it. Can you be a model if there are no copies?)

By the late 1990’s Oregon had all its content standards in place.

Oregon’s standards aren’t very good. Various rating agencies have pretty much panned them. But they are in place, and they define literally hundreds of things kids should know in every content area at every grade level. They have, however, gotten somewhat more rigorous over the years as they have been revised.

Assessment Oregon Style
At the same time, the ODE designed its tests. This is where it made a major mistake. Testing, like everything else in education, is highly political. Some educators believe that tests are useless, and there is now way any test can reveal anything of importance. Others believe that they can design valid tests to measure things such as “critical thinking,” “problem solving,” “higher-order thinking skills,” etc.

My opinion is that tests are very useful at measuring acquisition of essential academic skills and abilities, but should be used only to measure those things we know for sure we can measure with reliability and accuracy.

Oregon’s assessment bureaucracy has a view on this issue, and that view has become codified in the system of tests they developed. They designed a combination of 1) multiple choice tests that supposedly measure basic skills in reading and math, and 2) types of tests that are known as “performance assessments,” which they claim measures abilities such as problem solving and writing.

There have been constant problems with both Oregon’s multiple choice tests and the performance tests.

The performance tests are especially problematic. They claim that such tests, such as the Math Problem Soving (MPS) tests, are a good measure of deeper mathematical reasoning, but there is absolutely no evidence to back this up.

The MPS tests involve a multi-step story problem of which the point is NOT that the student must get the right answer. Click here for an example of a 4th grade test question a student has actually answered with all the pictures and diagrams. You really have to see it to believe it. Remember - this is a FOURTH GRADE test question, proudly presented by the ODE bureaucrats as a shining example of the knowledge they believe 4th graders should know.

The actual math involved in the problem is trivial. What deeper level of understanding do they imagine such an inane problem is revealing?

In the MPS test the student is supposed to analyze the math problem and then make graphs or charts or illustrations to prove he understands the concepts, and then write a narrative explaining how he attacked the problem. The teacher scores this part by rating on a 1-6 scale the kid’s “conceptual understanding,” and “processes and strategies.” The teacher then scores the narrative on a 1-6 scale according to how well the student “communicates” the answer.

Finally, the student is supposed to “verify” the answer through some other method, and the teacher scores the verification, also on a 1-6 scale.

Does this sound like a valid test to you? There are so many problems with it that I’m not sure it is worth going into them all, but if you’ve read this far you are a glutton, so I’ll explain some of the problems.

1) We are not measuring math ability here, but rather we are measuring communication skills and calling it a math test. An economist from OSU did a correlation of scores on the math problem solving (MPS) test to scores on other standardized tests of reading and math. He found that the MPS scores were far more correlated to language ability than to math ability. Why would we give a language test and call it a math test?

2) This type of test can only measure a miniscule amount of math knowledge. This makes sense, since there is only a single question asked. (Actually, the students get to choose one of three different problems to solve.)

3) The subjective scoring absolutely guarantees that there will be inconsistency in how the tests get graded. The ODE has spent huge sums of money training teachers in how to make very subjective judgments. For instance, the scoring guide delineates whether the “pictures, models, diagrams, and/or symbols used to solve the task are complete” (which scores a 4 on the “processes and strategies” category) or whether they are “fully developed” (which scores a 5.) I’ve talked to the assessment people at ODE about this and they claim up and down that this is valid and reliable. They are wrong.

4) The cost of putting this all in place is far, far greater than the cost of administering multiple choice or constructed response (where students fill in blanks with words) tests. All the teachers have to be trained and re-trained in how to teach kids what to do, how to score the tests, etc. Then the cost of the scoring itself is monumental. The ODE spends about $7 million each biennium on performance assessment related activities.

5) Oregon has had constant validity and reliability problems with these tests, especially the MPS test. In 1998 they had to adjust the scores of the 8th grade MPS test because they made the question too tough. Last year they had to throw out the entire 10th grade MPS test, and then suspend the test for all grades, because only 17% of 10th graders met “standard.” This cost millions of dollars, yet not one assessment expert at ODE lost his job. Now they are trying to figure out how to re-design the tests so that they are reliable and valid. Earth to bureaucrat: IT CAN’T BE DONE!

If all the above wasn’t enough, here’s the REAL problem with these assessments. Take a fifth grade math whiz – she’s top of her class, brightest, way ahead of her peers in what she can do. Give her the math problem solving test. She’ll fail it. What kid would know what the bureaucrats want her to do without having extensive instruction in the process of drawing pictures, diagrams, tables, writing the narrative, verifying the answer, etc?

So, the only way teachers can have a glimmer of hope that their kids will do well on this kind of test is to take class period after class period to train them what they scorers will be looking for. And this is just what they do. In fact, the ODE itself recommends that math classes take one day a week to practice the format of the math problem solving test.

So, we are basically forcing our teachers to take vast amounts of time away from instruction on important math concepts and use it to teach kids how to go through an entirely artificial and faddish process for solving a math problem.

This is a cost that can never be recovered. A day out of the instructional life of a grade school student can not be replaced. They only get one time through the system, and we cannot afford to waste day after day teaching them stupid processes rather than essential knowledge and skills.

Yet that is what our system of tests does, and that is the real problem with it.

So, the “performance assessments” have to go. They don’t work. All the ODE assessment experts will object, they will whine, they will say that we cannot back away from our commitment to measuring deeper conceptual understanding, but they are wrong. Remember – these are the same folks who designed the tests that they themselves had to throw out because they weren't valid and reliable. Why would we trust them?

Now, onto the multiple choice tests, where Oregon again made a huge mistake.

There are many companies who have spent decades developing tests that measure English and math skills. They’ve spent millions writing and testing the questions, figuring out exactly what content the questions measure, calibrating their difficulty, testing their reliability and validity, and doing all the other wizardry known as psychometrics. (For you real wonks – reliability and validity have scientific definitions. Plainly put, reliability means that if the test gets taken over and over by the same person it will get basically the same result. Validity means it actually measures what it purports to measure. So, for instance, Oregon’s math problem solving test has low validity because it measures verbal ability more than math ability.)

These companies have huge banks of questions, all of which have gone through their extensive analysis, and from which they draw when printing a version of the test. Academic assessment is a high fixed-cost/low variable cost business. That is, there is a huge up-front cost to develop all the questions and assemble the individual questions into valid, reliable tests, but the incremental cost of giving one more test is relatively tiny.

So, what did Oregon bureaucrats do when they were designing Oregon's testing system? Did they take advantage of the huge fixed costs already incurred by the testing companies, and contract with them to use their question bank to design a test targeted to Oregon’s content standards? No, of course not.

How many bureaucrat jobs would that create? (Oregon right now has 22.5 FTE in the ODE assessment division.) The ODE never met a wheel it didn't want to re-create. After all, Oregon bureaucrats can do the extremely technical and expensive job of creating valid, reliable tests so much better than the testing companies that have collectively spent billions of dollars and hundreds of years doing it, right?

So, we went trippingly down the path redesigning the wheel, and when all was said and done, we got a beautifully designed, very very expensive, square wheel.

Oregon’s multiple choice tests do not allow us to measure how Oregon’s students do compared to kids in other states. If you were going to design a test to measure 3rd grade math ability, wouldn’t you be interested in how Oregon compares to other states? Apparently ODE is not.

How do we know that the difficulty of Oregon’s math tests or reading tests have remained the same year in, year out? Because they say so? If the percentage of Oregon 3rd graders meeting reading standard has gone from the high fifties to the low eighties, as they claim, how do we know that isn’t because the test got easier?

We don’t. We have to trust them. I don’t know about you, but I do not trust state department of education bureaucrats to do anything other than to perpetuate their jobs. Remember – these are the very same people who designed the math problem solving tests that had to be canned, and then they recommended they spend a couple million dollars to get a do-over.

We actually have pretty compelling evidence that these “experts” have manipulated the difficulty of Oregon’s tests over the years in order to create the illusion of test score gains

If you look at Oregon math and reading test scores statewide from the mid 1990’s through 2002 or so, you will see a steady but slow increase until late 1990’s, then basically a spike, and after the spike, the steady slow increase again.

The OSU economist I mentioned thought this looked suspicious. That is not how large scale test data would normally behave. So he did another interesting study. He compared student results on Oregon’s multiple choice tests over several years to those same students’ scores on another test – the Terra Nova – which they also took those years.

You would expect the scores on the two tests to track pretty much the same, because the two tests are highly correlated. But he found basically that the same spike in Oregon-designed test scores in the late 90’s but the same students’ scores on the Terra Nova had no such spike. So it looks as if for one reason or another, Oregon’s tests got easier in the late 1990’s which explains at least part of what the ODE touts as increases in student performance. You can read the study yourself at OregonEducation.org

We pointed this out to the ODE at the time. They ignored it. We asked them for copies of prior years’ tests so we could do an item analysis that would reveal any difference in difficulty, and they refused. We asked them to prove us wrong by giving two different years’ tests to a group of students, and they refused. We got the old stonewall. Were they hiding something?

As a matter of public policy it makes no sense at all to have the state design tests that measure the success of the state’s school reform initiative. Do we let agencies audit themselves too?

So, the situation we find ourselves in, 14 years after Vera ramrodded the reform through the legislature: we have mediocre content standards, and we are proud owners of a slipshod basket of multiple choice and performance assessments that are very expensive, that we cannot trust, that give us very little useful data, and that consume huge amounts of classroom time that should be devoted to instruction.

So, that is the system of assessments that we have now, that HB 3162 would replace.

The CIM Design

And that brings me to the CIM. What is the CIM, anyway?

The CIM is basically the 10th grade assessment. The assessments at grades 3, 5 and 8 are as I described – a math and English multiple choice test, coupled with a math problem solving test in the 8th grade (it used to be given in the 5th grade too, and it is currently suspended,) and a writing test in the 5th, and 8th grade.

But in the 10th grade they really went full Monty. They designed the educrat’s dream assessment system for our 10th graders, a system that allows them to try out all their fanciful theories about how to measure all the meaningful things they want to measure.

As it now stands, the CIM involves multiple choice tests in reading, math and science, and then the fun begins. To get a CIM, students must complete their “CIM portfolio.” The CIM portfolio includes three classroom “writing samples,” three classroom “speaking samples,” and two classroom “mathematics problem-solving samples,” and one “science inquiry sample.”

The teachers job is to oversee all this work and then score it according to the scoring guides the state has developed.

So, lets run the numbers: take a 1000 student high school with 250 sophomores. All told, that makes 2250 CIM items that must be collected and scored if all the 10th graders are to get their CIM. But the scoring is the easy part.

If all the sophomores must give three speeches - that’s 750 speeches, given in class while the other kids watch. Assume you can get through 6 speeches in a class period. That means 125 entire class periods are devoted in a given high school’s sophomore class to watching each other give speeches!

That give you some idea as to the impact this has on what high school students spend their days doing. Talk to teachers – they know this is a waste of time. Talk to students. The problem is that the system the bureaucrats have devised is unworkable everywhere except in the minds of the bureaucrats.

And again – the true cost is not the money, but it is the time wasted that could have been used for productive learning activities. That cost can never be recovered. It dwarfs the actual direct dollars that are spent on CIM, although the direct dollars are considerable.

High school students know this is such a waste of time that only 30% of them bother to go through all the hassle to get the CIM. And that is for graduating seniors – this is a 10th grade assessment, but fewer than one in three get their CIM by the 12 grade – and that doesn’t take into account the 25% or so who have dropped out by then.

The CAM – The Next Boondoggle
Faced with the monumental failure and waste of opportunity of the CIM, the state is forging ahead with the next big idea - the CAM, or the Certificate of Advanced Mastery.

The CAM basically takes all the flaws of the CIM and takes it to the 10th power. I am constantly amused when I talk to people who are supporting the continuation of this stuff, people like Associated Oregon Industries. They say they support the CAM. I always ask: have you read the current “CAM Design Guidelines" that the State Board of Education adopted a few months ago? I have yet to have a single person know what I am talking about. Yet they support it. Totally irresponsible.

To believe what they have planned for our high schools with the CAM, you simply have to read this document. Words simply cannot describe it. The people who dreamed it up are living in some kind of Alice in Wonderland dream state.

The CAM starts when a kid steps into high school. At that point, he’s supposed to sit down with a counselor who has been trained in the newly developed “Comprehensive Guidance and Counseling Framework” to develop the student’s “Education Profile,” and his “Education Plan.”

The Plan is supposed to be a comprehensive roadmap for his high school years, taking into account his “strengths, likes and dislikes, aptitude, talents, learning styles, and skills through self-awareness activities, ” and laying out his short and long term “personal, educational and career goals.”

Stop right there. They have already proved that they are not to be taken seriously. There really is no reason to go further except for the sheer entertainment value of it. Remember, we are talking about 14 year old kids here. I have a 14 year old boy. He’s gunna be a major league baseball player. ‘Nuff said.

But wait there’s more. After our 14 year olds map out their journey through the wonders of CIM and CAM, they are directed to document their “personal progress and achievement toward: CIM academic standards, Career-related learning standards (CRLS) , Extended Application (EA) standards, and Career-Related Learning Experiences (CRLE.)"

What is all this stuff, you ask? That’s what the CAM is all about. It establishes a whole new basket of “standards,” all of the subjectively measured by the same type of scoring guides we have in the CIM, and almost all of them have nothing whatever to do with academics.

As you read this, please remember I am not making this up. I’m taking it directly from the CAM design document that you can get right off the ODE web site.

OK, here goes - Career-related learning standards: There are six so-called “standards” that students must meet in order to be certified that they are “career ready.” Remember: each of these so-called “standards” will have a basket of assessments, all of them subjective.

The standards are 1) Personal Management; 2) Problem Solving; 3) Communication, 4) Teamwork; 5) Employment Foundations, and 6) Career Development. Each of these has a definition, and then a set of “criteria” that schools are supposed to use when developing the assessment to see if kids have met the standard.

I love some of the “criteria.”

Under “Personal Management” is a criteria: “Take responsibility for decisions and actions and anticipate consequences of decisions and actions.” Oh I’d like to see a valid assessment for THAT.

Under “Problems Solving” is the criteria: “Identify problems and locate information that may lead to solutions.” Huh?

Under “Teamwork”: “Identify different types of teams and roles within each type of team;
describe why each role is important to effective teamwork.”
OK, Johnny, now what type of team is this? Basketball! Good Johnny! Now, why is the forward’s role important?

Under “Employment Foundations”: “Identify parts of organizations and systems and how they fit together.” What can they possibly be talking about?

So, as the poor student is trying to navigate all these vague and meaningless career standards, he is also supposed to be pursuing his “Extended Application Standards.” These are standards that show the student has taken the skills he learned in the CIM (such as sitting through endless speeches of his peers, a skill that state department of education bureaucrats obviously have in great quantity,) and can apply them on an “extended” basis.

This is supposed to be proven through “collections of evidence,” and in “a variety of ways.” There of course is a “Standards and Guidelines for Developing a Collection of Evidence” they have created to steer the schools through the understanding of exactly what does and what does not constitute sufficient “evidence.” In other words, meeting this “standard” has no “standard” meaning. It is not a standard at all.

Finally, to get a CIM, a student must complete a Career Related Learning Experience, CRLE. This takes idiocy to a new level.

The CRLE calls for every student to go “beyond the classroom” for a learning experience. The schools are supposed to partner with local businesses, non profits, community groups and others to create “internships, structured work experience (paid or unpaid), clinical practicums, and mentorships.”

Now, this isn’t supposed to be just some kind of menial job type of thing. No, the CRLE must be relate to the student’s personal interests and goals, and must be “structured around learning goals with identified outcomes.”

So, supposedly the schools are going to have to arrange and monitor hundreds and hundreds of such internships, each with their own goals, assessments, learning objectives, etc? Is this realistic? Have the bureaucrats even considered the logistical implications of such a mandate? Are local businesses clamoring for teen babysitting projects?

Are we to believe that school staff would have the time to design an individual learning goals and assessment plan for every single student’s CRLE? Remember – the outcomes have to be identified and assessed!

The ODE has spent millions developing this phase of Vera’s reform, and it is just about ready for implementation. Last session we got the date pushed back to 2008, but the State Board of Education formally adopted the structure just a few months ago.

They are serious about this, and we can’t let it happen.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

K-12 Forecast: Perpetual Crisis

The 2005 legislative session is in full swing, and the debate over schools is once again centered on the question of money.

The governor has proposed that $5 billion of the state’s roughly $12 billion general fund go to schools, which is slightly more than the $4.9 billion that the schools got in the last budget. Public school interest groups are saying the schools need at least $5.3 billion if they are going to avoid cuts to programs, increased class sizes, and a shortened school year.

They are correct. That is, given the constraints they operate under by virtue of state mandates and their own collective bargaining contracts, the only way they can manage to live within the proposed $5 billion allocation is to resort to these unpopular cost control measures.

The problem is that nobody in the legislature or the public education establishment seems to be willing to even have a discussion about ways to limit cost increases.

First let me explain some numbers, which come from the Oregon Department of Education. The $5 billion the governor has proposed is only part of the revenue picture for school districts. Added to this is the local revenue from property taxes, plus certain state and federal grants available to schools.

If we total them all up, according to the Department of Education, it looks like this:

Source Amount Change from last biennium
State Funding from General Fund $5.0 billion +$100 million (2%)
Local Property Tax Revenue $2.55 billion +$170 million (7.2%)
State and Federal Grants $1.2 billion +$165 million (16%)
TOTAL $8.75 billion +$435 million (+5.2%)

These numbers do not include local option revenue for those districts who receive it, or other federal grants that districts get directly from the US Department of Education, or debt service funds, capital expenditures, nor does it include several other revenue streams the school districts have access to. Leave those revenue streams aside.

The upshot is that school district funding will increase by more than five percent under this budget, according to the Oregon Department of Education. So what’s the problem? Why will a five percent increase in revenue translate into a shorter school year and increased class sizes?

Because school district costs are going up faster than five percent this biennium, and districts do not have the legal authority to control them.

One culprit is PERS. The employer contribution that school districts will be required to pay into PERS next school year went up by more than 50 percent, to about 15 percent of payroll. (Most school districts also pick up the six percent employee’s portion of PERS, which means they will pay a whopping 21 percent of payroll into the retirement system.)

School districts have no control over these costs; PERS literally has first claim on a district’s budget, and whatever is left over can be used to educate students.

The other culprit is collective bargaining. Most every school district pays its teachers according to a salary grid that virtually guarantees their salary costs will escalate by at least five percent each year, regardless of how much funding increases. In any given year, a school district has no way to control the salary escalator, since it is mandated by the collective bargaining agreement.

So, when automatic cost increases outpace the five percent or so biannual funding increase (as they do virtually every time), the only cost management tools available to a school district are cutting staff, programs, or shortening the school year. They quite literally are legally prohibited from taking rational steps to reduce their cost structure.

So that is why we can have the paradox: ever increasing funding to schools, along with ever more draconian cuts to school programs.

Is it possible for the state to allocate enough funding to schools to cover their built-in cost increases? No. If the state tried, then by the year 2013-15 budget, K-12 would consume more than the entire state general fund.

Obviously, it is time for a different conversation. All the legislature ever talks about is funding, but the fact is there is no possible way for revenue increases to match the cost increases unless we are prepared for the state to fund nothing other than K-12.

A new discussion must be centered on giving school districts more control over their cost structure.

Give them a way out of PERS. Unstack the deck in their negotiation with public employee unions. Release them from ridiculous state mandates such as CIM and CAM.

Unless we give school districts the governing authority they need to keep their cost increases in line with the five percent or so biannual increase in revenue, it is easy to predict what is in store for Oregon’s public school system.

Perpetual, deepening crisis.

Official Deceit

What do we do when a statewide elected official publishes an opinion piece in the state's major daily newspaper that asserts a bald-faced lie?

In today's, Oregonian, State Sup't of Public Instruction Susan Castillo opposes HB 3162, which would abolish CIM/CAM and replace Oregon's failed testing system with one outsourced to an independent testing company. Castillo says we shouldn't just dump the CIM, but rather should allow her staff to conduct a year long study and make recommendations about where to go from here.

Great idea... let's let the people who for 13 years have so monumentally botched the implementation of the CIM/CAM mess figure out what to do next. I've always had a guiding principle: if you want to solve a problem, don't look to the people who caused it - if they knew how to solve it, they wouldn't have created the problem in the first place!

But, nobody is really suprised by the suggestion. After all, bureaucracies love to create "task forces" made up of "stakeholders" to conduct "studies" and "make recommendations." It's a great way to look as if something is being done, make sure everyone is busy, and whatever "solution" is proposed doesn't threaten the status quo.

But what does surprise me is that Castillo would tell a bald faced lie in her column. Strong language, you say? OK, perhaps she just made a misstatement; perhaps the untruth was told unwittingly.

Here is the issue - you be the judge whether it is possible for Castillo to make such an errant assertion on a matter so central to the question at hand.

Castillo wrote:
"House Bill 3162 requires Oregon to scrap those tests and purchase new ones -- even if the new tests deliver less information at higher cost. If that wasn't bad enough, those off-the-shelf tests would not meet federal requirements, putting Oregon's $400 million in federal funds at risk.

Oh really? That's odd, I wrote the bill myself and I distinctly remember covering that base. Oh here it is, right there in the bill, Section 11:

the tests "shall: (a) Meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left BehindAct of 2001 (P.L. 107-110, 115 Stat. 1425);

It strains credulity to think that Castillo was unaware of this provision in the bill. It was discussed openly in hearings attended by her staff. In one hearing, her associate superintendent in charge of assessment was asked point blank whether HB 3162 would leave us in compliance with federal requirements, and he said yes.

If I were inclined to be charitable on this point (and believe me I am not, I have seen far too much soft corruption out of the Oregon Department of Education for me to give them the benefit of the doubt,) I could allow for the possibility that perhaps Susan Castillo was simply mistaken, and that her assertion was wrong, but unintentional.

Of course to believe that, you would have to believe that 1) she is utterly ignorant of the bill she is opposing; 2) she did not bother to ask her staff if one of her central arguments against the bill is true, and 3) no one on her staff read her column before it went out (far from it.... they probably WROTE the thing) and that nobody bothered to correct the misstatement.

That is hard for me to believe. They just aren't that stupid.

But they DO think YOU are that stupid, and that is what irritates me so much about this kind of official deceit. We see it all the time in our state agencies. They lie and they know they can get away with it. There is no accountability; they think they are untouchable. The local media never challenges what they say; rather, they basically are stenographers for the bureaucracy.

So Castillo doesn't even have a second thought. Go ahead and lie. After all, it is for a good cause, saving a jobs-for-bureaucrats program.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Cultural Competence Redux

From my column this month in BrainstormNW Magazine:

Perhaps you followed the controversy raging over the subject of my column last month – the Governor-sponsored bill that would force teachers to meet “cultural competency standards” in order to get a teaching license.

The bill, Senate Bill 50, slipped quietly through a gullible Senate with almost no opposition. When it got to the House Education Committee, Chair Linda Flores shined some light on the bill, and boy did the cockroaches scatter.

Flores’ chief of staff, Dave Mowry, did a little digging to find just what the educrats have planned for making Oregon’s teachers “culturally competent.” Mowry found a paper trail several feet deep – entire books written on the subject, essays, web sites, and the now infamous “Oregon Cultural Competency Summit Proceedings.”

State Superintendent Susan Castillo convened the invitation-only Summit last May, where a hundred or so mostly public employees schemed about five year plans to bring cultural competency to Oregon schoolchildren. The Summit decided that cultural competence was far more than just being able to teach children from difference ethnic backgrounds.

Rather, they said, “cultural competence is based on a commitment to social justice and equity,” and requires that teachers “have a defined set of values and principles, demonstrated behaviors, attitudes …” They went on to say that cultural competence “involves actively challenging the status quo and advocating for social justice and equity.”

In other words, if you want a license to teach in Oregon, you better pass the ideological litmus test. You better have the officially approved values and attitudes, and you better be ready to advocate for the correct political issues.

Rep. Flores and Dave Mowry wondered whether it was constitutional to require teachers to be advocates for a political viewpoint in order to get a teachers license. They asked Legislative Counsel, who said that to do so would violate the free speech guarantees in Oregon’s constitution.

Flores promised that the bill would never see the light of day in her committee. No matter, said Vicki Chamberlain, Executive Director of the Teachers Standards and Practices Commission, which would develop the cultural competency standards. "The commission has made it a personal goal of ours to begin work on cultural competency standards,'' Chamberlain said. "We don't need legislation to pursue those goals.”

In other words: “We don’t need no stinking legislation to shove cultural competency down the throat of the schools. Go ahead, kill the bill. We’ll do it anyway. Try and stop us.” Such is the arrogance of our public servants.

Susan Castillo, for her part, beat a clumsy retreat. She baldly denied what the Summit so plainly stated. As reported in the Oregonian: “[Castillo] said the group never intended to require teachers to take a position on social justice. Their aim, she said, is to make sure all teachers have the skills they need to feel comfortable reaching out to all students, no matter what their language, culture, economic level or other background.”

Wait a minute Susan, not so fast! Your Summit explicitly rejected this definition of cultural competence, and explicitly inserted the language about social justice and advocacy. If she had any qualms about it, she sure didn’t speak up at the time. Only now, after the scheming is exposed to the ridicule it so richly deserves does she try to run away from the language she clearly supported at the time.

There’s a word for Castillo’s explanation. It’s called lying. She got caught, and she’s trying to lie her way out of it. Sure, the Oregonian let her get away with it (the reporter, Besty Hammond, neglected to point out the obvious falsehood.) But here at BrainstormNW we aren’t so polite.
Castillo and Chamberlain implied that when the actual standards are written, they won’t include anything about social justice or advocacy. They say that the definition of cultural competence at the Summit was just the consensus of a few attendees, and won’t find its way into the standards.
"I agree absolutely, you can't make it part of the rules to advocate," Castillo told the Oregonian. "That is not our proposal."

But they have a problem. The state already adopted cultural competency standards for administrators, and the standards include specific reference to both social justice and advocacy. Yep, right there in plain sight: OAR 584-017-0251 (6)(a)(G): "… the role of the school in promoting social justice," and OAR 584-017-0251 (6)(c)(A)… in advocating for adoption of improved policies and laws.

What is going on here, anyway? Did I miss the public outcry for cultural competency standards? Have they already eliminated dropouts, reading failure, and the achievement gap? Is there so much spare money lying around they can use it for pointless summits and re-tooled licensure standards?

While the educrats pursue their social engineering schemes, frustration grows with the lack of progress on the real problems facing the public schools. One of those problems, perhaps the biggest: the educrats themselves.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Real Reformers

I just got back from a conference in the bay area put on by New Schools Venture Fund, which provides venture philanthropy to school reform efforts in various states.

Talking with the clear-eyed, bold and courageous people at the conference and hearing about their school reform efforts provides quite a contrast to the fake school reform projects here in Oregon.

For instance, both Oakland and Chicago school districts have embarked on aggressive reforms to build a competitive system of schools. They are inviting proposals from school management organizations to run failing schools in their districts, and start new schools from scratch. They are closing down failing schools and reopening them as charters or contract schools. They are putting every school on a five year performance contract - which, if they don't measure up, are closed and re-opened with another operator.

Compare that to what passes for school reform in Oregon: CIM/CAM, Project Chalkboard, the Quality Education Model, Cultural Competency -- just a mish mash of establishment empowering piffle.

Will Oregon decide someday that it wants to be competitive? Signs are not good. As you may know, I'm behind a bill in the house, HB 3162, which would repeal CIM and CAM and replace Oregon's chronically unreliable and costly assessment system with one that would actually work and give us good data. Guess who recently lined up against it?

The Associated Oregon Industries, who pretend to represent business. I cannot imagine that a single one of the members of AOI would continue to throw money at an initiative with such a 13 year record of failure as CIM/CAM - yet this pretend business association is protecting the education bureaucracy by throwing its weight behind preserving the status quo.

Why? My theory: they supported CIM/CAM at the start, and don't want to admit they were wrong, because they would lose face.

This is the same organization that refused to oppose the tax increase that was obliterated by the voters almost 60/40 last year. The dirty little secret why they sat it out? Because it would have shifted the tax burden from large business to small business. AOI's members are Oregon's larger businesses.

Also, word is the Governor has told Senate Education Committee Vicki Walker to kill the CIM/CAM repeal if it gets to her committee. And the State Board of Education recently decided that since 70% of high schoolers find CIM to have so little value they don't bother with getting it, that the best thing to do is to make it mandatory for graduation.

With leadership like this, is it any wonder Oregon has the lowest graduating standards in the county?

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Portland School District Cost Structure

I originally posted this on another blog, BlueOregon.com, but now that I have my own blog, it made sense to paste it in here.

The biggest question facing the Portland School District is: Why does PPS have significantly higher per-student spending than other metro area school districts, and what are the plans to reduce the district's cost structure so that it can survive without program cuts on what we can expect to be the 3% or so annual increase in per-student revenues from all sources?

For this school year, the district's all funds budget is $577 million. This number, of course, includes several line items that should not be counted if we are trying to honestly arrive at the answer to the question "what does the school district spend per student."

To get an accurate answer, we must do the following: 1) Back out any ending fund balances, because this $$ is not spent.2) Back out any inter-fund transfers, because this $$ is double counted.3) back out any capital expenditures, because they are paid out of debt service, and to count both cap exp and debt service would double count.

This results in an actual all funds spending for PPS this year of $522,604,501. Divide that by the # of students (ADMr of 44,301.8) and we get PPS all funds spending per student of $11,796.46

Doing the same calculation for other metro area school districts, we get the following:

  • Reynolds spends $9,918.95 per student, 16% Lower than PPS
  • Gresham spends $9,190.03 per student, 22% lower than PPS
  • Hillsboro spends $8,899.40 per student, 25% lower than PPS
  • Beaverton spends $10,093.37 per student, 14% lower than PPS
  • N. Clackamas spends $9,549.30 per student, 19% lower than PPS.
Why is Portland so much more expensive? Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT demographics (% ESL, Special Ed, low income).

Here are the comparative demographics for these districts:

  • PPS: 11.7% ESL, 11% special ed, 17.2% students in poverty
  • Beaverton: 11.6% ESL, 11% special ed, 10.1% students in poverty
  • Hillsboro: 16.2% ESL, 11% special ed, 10.5% students in poverty
  • Reynolds: 23% ESL, 11% special ed, 21.3% students in poverty
  • Gresham: 8.9% ESL, 11% special ed, 11% students in poverty
  • N. Clackamas: 10.4% ESL, 11% special ed, 10.4% students in poverty

So, my question for Dr. Phillips (and for anyone who thinks that PPS' problems are due to lack of funding) is this: How are you going to reduce your cost structure?
(All of this data is for the 2004-05 school year, and is available to anyone right off the ODE web site.)

Monday, May 02, 2005

Cultural Competence

Cultural Competence is in the news again today. Perhaps you've caught wind of the growing controversy. If not, here's the background:

A bill in the legislature which recently passed the Senate would require the state to create "cultural competence standards" for teachers that they would have to meet in order to get a teaching license. Obviously, that brings up the critical question: what do they mean by cultural competence, anyway?

On that topic, I wrote the following in Brainstorm Magazine:

A Culture of Uniformity
People want schools to focus on the traditional academic skills. Why do the public education elites insist on focusing on everything but that?

It's a century-old battle that dates back to the days of John Dewey, father of progressive education. Although the public just want academics, progressive educators don't try to hide the fact that they want to use the schools to re-shape society. In Dewey' day, it was in vogue to be a socialist, and Dewey and his band of progressives knew that the schools would be critical to their effort to mold society to their vision.

At Dewey's Columbia Teachers College, and at the hundreds of schools of education that are modeled after it, the coursework is overtly political, rife with classes on diversity, oppression, gender and ethnic studies, discrimination and social change. Students who don’t accept the humanistic/liberal worldview are basically shunned.

So when we wonder why the public schools push social transformation rather than academics, we only have to look at the teachers colleges, which for a century now have been minting the nations teachers.

In the days of Dewey, you could be an openly socialist Bolshevik sympathizer (as he was) and not be shunned in polite society. So they could openly discuss their plans to use the schools establish their utopian social reforms. These days, the education elites have to be more sneaky.

But occasionally they do or say something that reveals what they think. A few months back I took to task Dr. Peter Cookson, Dean of the Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education, who wrote a revealing Oregonian commentary. In the piece, Cookson said reading and math were "antiquated knowledge," and said that schools should instead teach, among other things "all Oregonians to be culturally competent."

Cultural competence - remember this phrase, because you"ll be hearing it more and more. It is the latest banner under which the education priesthood is flying their social change schemes. They know that if they were open and honest about their plans, the public would never stand for them. So they keep the target moving, constantly re-naming their cause with another feel-good vague moniker.

The last one - diversity- has pretty much run its course. The gig is up - the general public realizes it was just another name for the same old politically correct agenda. So now they're pushing "cultural competence."

Who could be against cultural competence? It sounds so bland and non-controversial. But they have a problem: in order to establish all the institutional infrastructure such as certification requirements, curricula and teacher training programs necessary for cultural competency to fully permeate the public schools, they have to actually sit down and define what they are talking about and lay out some plans. That gives people like me a chance to listen in, and pull back the curtain.

Last May, the Oregon Department of Education got started with the "Invitational Summit on Cultural Competency," held (where else?) at Dr. Cookson's Lewis & Clark All the usual suspects were there, and the good news is that when they think they are talking amongst themselves, they almost always reveal too much.

The first order of business at the Summit was to define cultural competence. Most people would be very comfortable with the notion that teachers should be able to teach kids of all cultures, and if this is what it means, no problem. But the Summit participants rejected this definition of cultural competence.

Instead, they said cultural competence means "advocating for equity and social justice," and that the definition they agreed upon needed to incorporate "institutionalized notions of power, privilege, and oppression." And so, in the Summit's "Revised Definition of Cultural Competence," the very first sentence reads: "Cultural Competence is based on a commitment to social justice and equity."

So there you have it. Their own words -- cultural competence has nothing to do with teaching culturally diverse kids to read, write and do sums. It's a political movement to transform society based on openly Marxist notions of social justice.

This would be just a tragically funny waste of time and money if they weren't so deadly serious about forcing cultural competency down the throats of an unsuspecting public. The Summit laid out a five year plan for how to do it, and we recently saw the first step: legislation to require teachers to meet "cultural competency standards."

Senate Bill 50 does just that: it would require applicants for teaching licenses to meet cultural competency standards. The standards, of course, will be developed by folks such as those at the Summit. The bill easily passed the Senate (eight Republican Senators voted in favor of it,) and now sits in the house.

Unless the bill is killed in the house, there will be an ideological litmus test to become a teacher in Oregon. If you don’t prove your fidelity to social justice and equity, no license.
And this is just the beginning; their five year plan touches virtually every facet of education, from kindergarten through higher education. You can read it yourself - right off the Department of Education's website.

And mysteriously, public support for public education erodes.

Copyright April 2005 BrainstormNW Magazine

Well, when my column hit the streets, I could tell I hit the mark because they really screeched and scattered. They tried to run away from the Summit's definition of cultural competence, and claimed that it's just about trying to make sure all kids get educated.

I wrote a follow-up in my next Brainstorm column, which goes to print next week. When it does, I'll paste it into the blog.

Meanwhile, Susan Castillo's chief of staff, Ed Dennis, tried to defend his boss's honor by sending an e-mail out to his "undisclosed recipient" list. The e-mail whined about me mischaracterizing what they meant by cultural competence (all I did was transcribe their own definition) and went on to say:

"I worry when our institutions of higher education are attacked in this way. Does this not create its own free speech infringements when campuses may fear public criticism....?"

Huh? So the political expression of individuals in the media should be silenced because it might produce a chilling effect on government institutions? This guy is a highly placed public official. Can you imaging a more errant understanding of the 1st amendment? Yet these are the people in charge.

And take Dr. Peter Cookson (now referred to on the blogosphere as Kook-son.) This guy is the HEAD of the Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education. Today he wrote a rebuttal to our criticism of cultural competence, printed in the Oregonian.

I won't paste the whole thing in here - you can go read it yourself http://www.oregonlive.com/public_commentary/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/editorial/1114855160326240.xml&coll=7
but there is one highlight that just has to be read.

After complaining that the critics of cultural competence are all wrong, that it is not about enforcing any particular ideology in our schools, just about making all kids achieve, he writes:

"I hope that in the coming years we will continue on the path of creating a just and excellent school system that graduates students who take a deep pride in themselves and their traditions, who have open and inquiring minds, who understand the importance of moral courage, and who are not prone to the rigid ideologies that undermine American democracy."

There it is! He admits it! ".... school system that graduates students who..... are not prone to the rigid ideologies that undermine American democracy."

A bald admission that in his opinion the main purpose of schools has nothing to do with academic achievement - but is to teach the correct ideology! Nowhere did he even so much as mention academic knowledge. Where is his yearn for graduates with a deep understanding of US history, the founding principles of our country, advanced math, chemistry, and science?

Truth be told, none of that matters to "progressive" educators like Cookson. After all, his last published piece in the Oregonian referred to reading and math as "antiquated skills." He knows he has to pretend he's all about academics, otherwise he'll lose creidbility with the public. But even while he is trying to rebut our claim that cultural competence is about ideology, he proves our point with his own words!

These are the people in charge of our schools. It is clear that the schools will never improve until people such as Cookson are exposed for the charlatans they are.

Welcome to my Blog

After months of putting it off, I finally decided to join the blogosphere.

I'll be chiming in regularly on issues of education and politics, mostly Oregon-related, but not always. Your comments are invited and appreciated, especially if your views differ from mine.

I am an education reformer in Oregon, a critic of the education establishment groups who control Oregon's schools, and a political commentator on the Oregon beat. I have a monthly column in BrainstormNW magazine (www.brainstormNW.com) and a weekly talk show on the #1 rated talk radio station in Portland (www.kxl.com/personalities.aspx?ID=56&SecID=13.)

In 2002 I ran for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, finishing second to current Superintendent Susan Castillo in a three way race.

I spend my days running my education-reform non-profit organization, which is active in the charter school movement and also advocates for common sense changes to Oregon school legislation. (www.oregoneducation.org)

I hope you enjoy this blog, and weigh in often.

Rob Kremer