The Problem with RTTT’s Big Data Banks: Garbage In Garbage Out — The Data can Simply be Wrong!

One of the RTTT mandates for states is the implementation of massive data storage and reporting systems for students that extends from preschool through their college years.  Education reformers’ devotion to the infallibility of data is misguided and troubling.  I remember a quote from my days in a college computer programming class — a long time ago now: “Garbage In Garbage Out” (GIGO).  The concept was quite simple and highly understandable and still applies today.  It is still used to explain the problems inherent when humans make decisions based on faulty or incomplete data.

Valerie Strauss shared an article by New York principal Carol Burris that illustrates just how problematic it is when big brother Orwellian data systems are used to drive education reform decisions.  The New York State Education Department released a report recently that demonstrates the problems associated with GIGO errors.  While the NYSED soon realized their mistake and notified school districts that the data was incorrect, one must wonder how many GIGO – type errors actually occur within data systems and the egregious problems that result when policy makers cite faulty or incomplete data as the rationale for policy decisions.  How many times does the data go unchallenged and, thus, uncorrected?

This most recent example of GIGO error ridden data is NYSED’s report about the number of students leaving high school to attend — and remain — in college.  Carol Burris questioned the low percentage of students graduating from her high school in 2012 that were currently successfully enrolled in college as reported by the NYSED.  She quickly realized that a number of her most successful students were left off the list entirely.  And it was chilling to see the extent of the data reported for students who were on the list: whether or not they received free or reduced lunch, their special education status, their race, the name of the college or university they attended, and sometimes their major.  Why were some students left off the list?  Because, in some cases, they did not receive financial aid or perhaps because they did not require remediation once in college.  And some colleges refuse to share data.

What was the potential fall-out of this GIGO error by the NYSED?  Once again, public schools would be blamed for not adequately preparing students to be college and career ready and, thus, a ready argument for the Common Core State Standards would be on hand.  GIGO errors like this have too often been left to stand and have been used to perpetuate the zeitgeist that all public schools are failing.

As a matter of fact, the data used by the Reagan commission that created A Nation at Risk can be cited as the GIGO error that culminated in the freight train of systemic education reform we’ve been living with since the early 1980s.  The National Commission on Excellence in Education (NCEE) relied heavily on SAT data to draw their conclusion in 1983 that the education system in America was an abject failure. While citing statistical data that SAT scores had been dropping since the early 1960s, they ignored the very real data about the societal changes that led to these drops.  Was that data available to the NCEE?  Absolutely.  In 1977 the College Board, the organization that oversees the SATs,  published their own report explaining that the drop in scores was largely due to changes in the number and type of students who were taking the exam in preparation for attending college.  Far from being a negative phenomenon, this was a positive reflection on a nation that had for too many years excluded students of color, students from low income homes, and women from realizing the dream of higher education.  With larger numbers of diverse students taking the SAT, it was only logical that, at least for a period of time, scores would drop.  The SAT scores could not, therefore, be used as an adequate measure of school or instructional quality.  The NCEE’s lack of acknowledgement of the College Board’s findings about SAT score declines is a clear example of a GIGO data error — and one that had a disastrous impact on education policies in the U.S.  Their use of incomplete data to draw decisions and make policy recommendations in A Nation at Risk has brought public schools in the U.S. to the brink of destruction as their conclusions have gone largely unchallenged by the federal government, policy makers, and corporate education reformers who persist in declaring that our education system is a complete failure.  Even when William Turnbull, Distinguished Scholar in Residence for the Educational Testing Service, elaborated on the College Board’s findings and published his report Student Change, Program Change: Why the SAT Scores Kept Falling in 1985, his report was largely ignored by policy makers.

Federal education reformers had an opportunity again in the early 90’s to clarify their position on education quality in the U.S.  The Sandia Laboratories was commissioned to write a report about the status of the American education system by Secretary of Energy James Watkins.  Far from echoing the findings of the NCEE and A Nation at Risk, Sandia researchers found that there was no need for systemic education reform across the country, citing some of the same data the College Board and Turnbull relied on for their respectives reports.  However, by the early 1990s, the federal Department of Education was well entrenched with systemic education reformers hell-bent on radically reforming the education system and the Sandia Report could simply not be tolerated.  The report was buried.  One can only wonder the outcome for education policy in our country if the DOE had officially published the report with the same accolades as A Nation at Risk.  What a triumph of patriotism!!  The headlines could have read “Guess what, America?  New Report Says Your Education System is a Source of Pride!”

That was not to be, however.  It was best to squelch research that contradicted education reformers in their quest to free-marketize public schools and radically reform the education system.  What was needed was a steady stream of reports that labeled public schools as a total failure.  Stalwart critic of education reformers, Gerald Bracey began publishing annual reports in 1991 on the condition of public education.  His reports were an annual event for 18 years.  Bracey revealed to America the misuse of data by policy makers intent on destroying our education system and he wrote about the Sandia Report debacle.  He passed away in 2009 and his voice is missed.  He angered a lot of education reformers with his truth speaking, but he continued to speak out on behalf of supporters of public education, teachers, parents, and children.  His many books are a good place to start when questioning the GIGO data continually trotted out by education reformers.  And you may want to go to Susan Ohanian’s website to learn more about Gerald Bracey’s life and work.  Her index of tributes to Dr. Bracey is a touching reminder of his legacy.


Howie Hawkins on Governor Coumo’s Teacher Hate and Public School Disdain

Hawkins Condemns Cuomo’s Attack on Schools. Stands With Teachers, Parents, Students

“Education is Not a Game”

NY Times Story on LIPA Cover-Up Shows Cuomo: Has Pattern of Coverups and Can’t be Trusted

(Syracuse, NY) — “The battle for the future of our schools is on. On one side are powerful and wealthy figures who see our public schools as a potential source of profit. On the other side are parents, teachers, and students who are fighting to defend and improve our public schools. We, Brian Jones our Lt. Governor candidate and I stand solidly with our state’s teachers, students and parent,” said Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for Governor.

After Governor Cuomo’s recent description of schools as the “last public monopoly,” Hawkins said that this is just the latest episode in Cuomo’s ongoing attacks on public education and teachers.

“Andrew Cuomo is turning New York’s schools into the Hunger Games. He pushes a game of competitive grants, charter schools, and high-stakes testing. This type of competition leaves a lot of losers. But our children’s education is not a game.”

“What is Cuomo going to attack after he breaks the schools and teachers? Break up the police and fire departments? Have competing companies to deliver drinking water?” asked Hawkins.

Hawkins noted that under Cuomo funding for education has fallen to the lowest percentage of the state budget in 65 years, with a $9 billion cumulative shortfall from what the courts have ordered. He has also enacted tax caps to undermine the ability of local schools districts to make up for the state’s funding shortfall.

Cuomo has also led a drive to privatize the schools, favoring charter schools and promoting high stakes testing, both of which increase profits for his campaign contributors. Last week he vowed to challenge public school teachers by supporting stricter teacher evaluations and competition from charter schools.

“A governor who treats public education as some corporate entity, who shows no support for public education doesn’t deserve a second term. The remarks made clear that Cuomo is an enemy of our public education system. And that he wants to break it,” added Hawkins.

“Cuomo claims to want competition in the education market, but he doesn’t really want a free market—he’s rigging the game. He’s underfunding the public schools at a 65-year low as a percentage of the budget. He’s providing extra subsidies to privately managed public schools. He is not for competition; he’s favoring the charters. His real agenda is about undermining public education to privatize it.”

“This whole idea of competition is wrongheaded anyway. Education should be a human right. New York’s constitution says every child should be provided a sound education; that’s not to be outsourced to corporations and investors, yet that is his goal. ”

Hawkins wants assessments written by educators, not corporate contractors. “We want to end the role of using testing to punish schools, students or teachers. We support community—parent, teacher, student—control of schools, with adequate resources to write their own curricula. We need schools that respect, nurture, and support the cultures and languages in our communities,” said Hawkins.

Hawkins said that Cuomo’s deeply disturbing comment on education is part of a pattern of increasingly erratic behavior by Cuomo in the closing days of the campaign, starting with his mishandling of the Ebola epidemic. Yesterday he dismissed the Moreland Commission scandal as “political baloney.”

Cuomo also has shown a clear pattern of cover-ups, where he hides or alters information from the public for his own political needs. He shut down his second Moreland Commission once it began asking questions about the massive campaign contributions he was receiving. He altered a federal hydrocracking study he commissioned to downplay fracking’s threat to the water supply. And today the NY Times reports in an expose that Cuomo hid from the public the role his administration played in leaving the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) short staffed, which contributed to its disastrous performance in Hurricane Sandy. He also blocked their efforts to communicate with the public during the Sandy emergency. He used the report to privatize LIPA.

“Cuomo has a Nixonian compulsion for cover-ups. He can’t be trusted to tell New Yorkers the truth,” Hawkins said.

“There is a reason why Cuomo’s nickname is the Prince of Darkness. He is the top dog in the culture of corruption that dominates the State Capitol. He deceives the public, he bullies_—his administration has been one of the most secretive in history, evading the Freedom of Information law. And he trades political favors, at taxpayer expense, in exchange for massive donations,” added Hawkins.

“One has to wonder why a party like the Working Families Party wants people to vote for a candidate who attacks workers and public education, opposes making the rich pay their fair share of taxes, waffles on fracking, doesn’t support universal single payer health care, and covers up information critical to the public to suit his political goals.”

Hawkins has been endorsed by a wide range of teachers union and educators, include Diane Ravitch; Nassau County’s East Williston Teachers’ Association; northern Westchester County’s Lakeland Federation of Teachers; Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association, Valley Central Teachers Association, Buffalo Teachers Federation, The Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers.; New York Badass Teacher Association, United Opt Out Independent Community of Educators, Independent Commission on Public Education (ICOPE), and Coalition for Public Education.
Video: April, 2014 Howie Hawkins on Education –
July 2014 – An Open Letter from Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones for Lt. Governor to NY Teachers

Number of Homeless Children in NYC Spikes

Robbie Couch wrote a devastating piece for Huffington Post about the sharp increase in child homelessness in New York entitled, “Number of Homeless Kids in NYC spikes 63% in 5 Years: Report.”

Couch writes:

“New York City neighborhoods known for their middle-class appeal may be tumbling down the socioeconomic ladder, and children are suffering the consequences.

A new report by the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness found that the number of homeless kids in public city schools has jumped 63 percent in the last five years, with the borough of Queens experiencing an alarming 90 percent spike. As New York Daily News reported, most of the increase was felt in neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens known to house middle-class families.

There were 77,915 homeless students living in shelters or staying with friends or extended family in the 2012-2013 school year — an increase of 30,020 children from 2007-2008.

The statistics are staggering,” the report reads. “Unless something is done to address the underlying issues driving families into extreme poverty, more children will become homeless. Community and government officials already know what the data show: that instability and homelessness have dire and long-lasting negative effects on children.”

New York City — which has been trying to halt growing income inequality among residents — is not the exception.

There was a record number of homeless students in the U.S. during the 2012-2013 school year, according to a survey by the Department of Education released last month. The report, which recorded 1,258,182 children living without stable shelter, tracked an 8 percent increase in homeless students from the previous school year.

As The Washington Post reported, 75 percent of homeless students nationwide were living “doubled up” with extended relatives or friends, 16 percent were staying in hotels or motels, and 3 percent were living without any form of shelter. Schools also reported that 75,940 homeless students were living without any caregiver supervision.”

This should be a wake-up call for all Americans.  While corporate reformers continue to seek ways to make huge profits off the backs of America’s school children, the reality is that a growing number of children really just need a home, parents who earn a living wage, healthy food, high quality affordable childcare, and safe neighborhoods.  Reform the lives of children and test scores will rise.  Finland did it.  We can, too. Finland focused their efforts on eliminating child poverty and they did.  Let’s focus our efforts on improving the lives of our citizens, and in particular those who have no vote or voice in policy, our children.  Nothing is more important.



Elmira Heights, Church Bells, and a Stop Common Core Sign

As I sat on my little deck in my backyard after work yesterday, I found myself looking forward to the 6:00 hour. My dog had just rested her head on my knee, looking for a good ear scratch, and my husband had just lit the Weber grill.  But at 6:00 every day something magical happens in my small town of Elmira Heights, New York.  Church bells emanate from the Methodist church a block from my house.  They are lovely and while it is true that they are prerecorded – not the old fashioned bells produced by bell ringers of yesteryear – they are lovely and always remind me of Thorton Wilder’s play “Our Town” and why I love living in a small town.  I am new to Elmira Heights. I have become friends with several of my neighbors.  While we are very different in some respects, we share a common bond in that we enjoy living in our little community and going about our lives doing those things people do to make our lives enjoyable and meaningful, like cutting our grass, planting petunias and impatiens in the summer, grilling outdoors, and watching the neighborhood kids playing and walking up and down the streets of our neighborhood.  I can say with all honesty that when I bought my old house, a house in much need of love and repair, I didn’t just buy a house, I bought a neighborhood and a community.


Parents I speak to in Elmira Heights like their local schools.  They like the principals, the teachers, and the school buildings.  In the morning I often see dads and moms walking their young children to school and in the afternoon I see the promenade in reverse.  A few months ago, a sign appeared in one of my neighbor’s front yard.  It’s pencil yellow with bold black words simply stating, “Stop Common Core.”  I haven’t formally met these neighbors yet, but I do see them outside regularly, so I know they have young children.  It’s not without irony that as they engage in their own simple form of protest I have been huddled inside my house over the past few months, using every spare minute trying to decipher the decades long political wranglings that have culminated in the Common Core and all the other education policies that accompany the standards.


I often wonder about the individual parents who are resisting the Common Core.  Are they conservatives concerned about government intervention in education?  Are they liberals fighting against the transformation of teaching and learning into days filled with standardized testing and test prep?  Or perhaps they understand that the Common Core, as a set of national standards, represents an attempt to dismantle the public school system and wrestle control of their public schools from local school boards.  Perhaps the anti-Common Core movement reflects parents’ concerns about the influence of corporations over education reform and the use of their children as capital to fatten the wallets of CEOs and venture capitalists.


As I read the growing number of blogs devoted to efforts to resist Common Core I have come to believe that the answer is somewhere in the middle and that parents on both sides of the political spectrum are uniting over their concerns about current education policies.  They speak for their children, citizens who have no vote or ability to impact education policy.  And perhaps they understand that current education policies will inevitably result in their diminished capacity to have a voice in how their schools will be governed.  Current policies are squeezing the life out of community schools.  State budgets are stretched almost to the limit, leaving local school boards no option but to either raise local taxes or find alternative ways to finance their schools.  With much of the public money being funneled into expensive testing schemes and purchasing the technology required to administer these tests, local schools districts are scrambling to maintain some kind of autonomy over how they spend what remains of their budgets.


With my book finally written and in production, I plan to get to know more of my neighbors.  One of my students enrolled in the graduate literacy program at Elmira College where I teach is starting a preschool program at the Methodist Church in my neighborhood, the one with the lovely bells.  I plan to visit her new preschool and offer her assistance and support.  She tells me that the church has a little room that serves as a museum dedicated to the church’s history and that, yes, the original church bell is still there with a bell pull still in place.  I can’t wait to see it and learn more about that old church and my community.  I plan to introduce myself to the young family who has posted the Stop Common Core sign in their front yard.  And I plan to continue in my quest to help preserve what I believe is one of America’s best institutions — our public schools.

 Deborah Duncan Owens