Don’t Know Much About Chemistry?

Sandy Kress is spelunking through CA’s data in this debate over the Stanford charter school.

13 Replies to “Don’t Know Much About Chemistry?”

  1. Andy, I want to say that I agree with your original comment on this subject that there is nothing funny about this story. Nor is there anything that merits gloating, irrespective of one’s feelings about Linda Darling-Hammond.

    It’s sad and actually tragic to document the failings of this school. Darling-Hammond has been very critical of Teach for America, other non-traditional teacher preparation programs, many charter and choice programs, as well as, of course, accountability and NCLB.

    I think she set this school up to show the world that she had a better mousetrap than the reformers she criticized.

    And now we’re learning that she doesn’t.

    The reason I’m probing the data so deeply is that I think it’s important to learn why the school is failing. I don’t know for sure, but my hypothesis is that the school does not rigorously and effectively teach to California’s standards. If I’m right, that poses an unusual and very timely problem.

    We are in the midst of an energizing debate around the country about the need to raise standards, to make them higher, clearer, and fewer. This is a good debate, and much of value has come out of it, including solid drafts from the CCSSO/NGA work. It is also good, in my opinion, in that some states want to argue that their standards are EVEN better than the proposed common standards. I don’t know whether any such arguments will be proved correct or not. The main thing is that there’s a very productive stir to raise standards around the country as the next step in the reform movement.

    What’s worrisome about the Stanford school may be that despite the pretty words and high fallutin’ goals this school gives us a peak into the future where high standards are just a “thing on the page.” And the real teaching and assessment are really about something else – perhaps looser, lesser, less agreed-upon learning objectives.

    I saw this trend close-up when I first got into reform activity 20 years ago. A lot of effort then went into developing “world class” standards and then states, districts, and schools pretty much ignored them, allowing sort of an “anything goes” approach.

    Whatever its shortcomings, the standards based reform movement, including importantly the IASA and NCLB and legislation in the pioneer states, changed all that, and the NAEP data from 1999-2009 show we’ve made great strides at most levels and for most kids.

    We have much further work to do. And the direction of this administration is largely positive in showing us the next steps we need to take to keep making progress and gains.

    But this school is, I fear, the canary in the dirty mine of low expectations where fuzzy goals and actual neglect of the power of standards are the operative strategy. The miserable results for poor and minority students in the school, particularly relative to the data for such students in similarly situated schools, must lead us to ask many questions.

    The answers to these questions will be important as we go forward, not only in completing the Raise to the Top, innovation, and assessment programs, but also in reauthorizing ESEA.

    I don’t mean to be light about this, Andy, but I see that you titled this segment with an echo of the old Sam Cooke song, “Wonderful World.” In the spirit that you’ve set, my next post will be about history and biology.

  2. Let’s talk biology. Less than 10% of the African American, Hispanic, and low income students in the Stanford high school are proficient or above in biology. It’s clear from scatterplots of schools in California that this school is among the bottom performers in educating these subgroups in biology.

    As to US History, only 6% of all the students in the high school are proficient or above. Now, I don’t know whether readers might be thinking actually that proficient and advanced might be too rigorous standards. I hope not, but just in case, I thought I’d mention that 65% of the students in the high school are either below basic OR far below basic in US history.

    My next installment will be on AP and the strangely high number of students who are leaving the school to back to other public schools.

  3. Andy, there’s so much more, but one final major area I’d like to explore is around college readiness.

    The school touts numbers of students who are doing college level work and numbers who are admitted to college.

    Given the pitiful levels of proficiency on high school courses, we can’t square the two.
    It would be great if the school followed their students past graduation and could provide course completion or credential attainment at the post-secondary level.
    But they produce no such data. We fear the vast majority must be in the lost world of remediation and college dropout. But that’s just a supposition.

    So, we searched for whateve data the state files might have to suggest an answer.

    We found one interesting fact that may shed some light on the issue.

    Last year 28 AP exams were taken. 22 showed a grade of 1, the absolute lowest grade given on the AP.

  4. Those numbers on AP scores are not shocking. Schools have to look good in order to get funding. And the result is a Ptomekin village–all spiffed up to greet the tsar and his entourage but merely painted plywood facades. So schools desperate for funding and validation tout how many AP courses are offered, how many kids take AP courses and exams, how many kids are admitted to four-year colleges–all those things that look good and have the potential to elicit funds and public attention. But the reality lies behind those facades–what are kids learning, what kind of work do they produce, are they prepared for entry-level college work, how do they fare in college, how many stay, how many are placed in remedial courses. Agreed standards are crucial but as we know, creating a standard isn’t necessarily meeting it. If teachers and schools don’t know what to do with them and don’t believe they apply to all schools, they are simply sheets of plywood in that Ptomekin village.

  5. I keep searching for an explanation of the incredibly anomalous situation in which the school pushes college for students it has in no way prepared for college..

    Here’s an interesting fact that at least illustrates what’s going on:

    Last year, 28 AP exams were taken, and, astonishingly, 22 of them resulted in a score of 1, the lowest score possible.

  6. Sandy–you should check your own state’s scores by looking at whether gains and gaps are STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT before you start casting stones at other people.

  7. I’ll give a possible example as to why the Stanford school pushed students who weren’t prepared to attend college. I’ll use myself as an example:

    As I mentioned in other posts, I was the child of immigrant parents who did not go past the eighth grade. In high school, subjects like advanced math and physics were totally beyond me. My SAT scores were abysmally low. At the time, I was deeply ashamed of my low scores, but I came to understand that these tests correlate highly with socioeconomic status. However, like most disadvantaged kids, I had some talents. I was able to read and write at grade level and even won an essay contest as a senior. My classmates voted me “Most likely to succeed” so they must have seen something in me. I placed a very high value on education at an early age because I understood how it connected with a successful future. Also, my parents were always talking about how they could have, should have, would have done this or that if only they had had the opportunity to pursue their interests. I vowed that I would pursue my dreams of becoming a teacher.

    I was accepted by a college that accepted everyone and had to work very hard to get through. As time went on, though, leaning became easier and I actually passed courses such as chemistry and analytical geometry. I graduated with a B average.

    I became a teacher at a time when anyone with “a degree and a warm body” could become one; but within months was recognized as someone with natural abilities. After a few years I won a full fellowship to a good (but not elite) university where I earned a master’s degree and became a reading specialist. Surprisingly, when I took the Graduate Record Exam I scored at the 99th percentile, quite a difference from the SAT of ten years before. I spent 42 wonderful years as a teacher and published a book on reading that went through ten printings.

    My own sons, the children of college graduates, received almost perfect scores on their SATs and had a much easier time throughout their school careers. Both went to “first-tier” universities and on to prestigious careers. Sadly, neither one would consider teaching, and even laughed when I suggested it.

    I’ve told my story because Stanford University probably knows the following:

    Test scores correlate very highly with socioeconomic status and not ability;

    Disadvantaged students have good potential, like eveyone else, but many require more time to achieve what advantaged kids achieve much earlier;

    Attending college makes a huge difference in the lives of all students;

    Low-achieving students can, and often do, learn advanced subjects when they are nineteen or twenty, instead of sixteen or seventeen;

    Many, many poor students go on to have great careers if just given the opportunity to acquire as much education as they want;

    An average college student might not have the background to become a physicist or mathematician, but he might become a social worker or technician and the FATHER of a physicist or mathematician.

    So let’s not disparage the poor Stanford high school students who went to college without knowing chemistry. They might have a great future ahead of them because Stanford convinced them of the importance of continuing their education.

  8. But aren’t test scores the most accurate measure of student achievement and ability ever invented by mankind? Doesn’t each score tell us EXACTLY what the student knows and can do? Doesn’t every student with a low test score completely bomb in college? I mean, really, the students with low test scores should just drop out early and take that janitorial job before anyone else can get it.

    PS I make loads and loads and loads of money acting as a lobbyist for testing companies, but trust me when I say that the hundreds of thousands of dollars I have made has not colored my policy suggestions one iota.

    Friday, April 23, 2010

    Here’s a list of companies that pay NCLB architect Sandy Kress to push their interests.

    From the Texas Ethics Commission:
    Citizen Schools Inc.
    $10,000 – $24,999
    Client Start Date: 03/10/2010
    Client Term Date: 12/31/2010

    Edvance Research Inc.
    Less Than $10,000
    Client Start Date: 1/22/2010
    Client Term Date: 12/31/2010

    National Council on Teacher Quality
    Less Than $10,000
    Client Start Date: 1/22/2010
    Client Term Date: 12/31/2010

    Pearson Education
    $10,000 – $24,999
    Client Start Date: 1/22/2010
    Client Term Date: 12/31/2010

    Teach For America
    Less Than $10,000
    Client Start Date: 1/22/2010
    Client Term Date: 12/31/2010

    Texas Charter Schools Association
    Less Than $10,000
    Client Start Date: 1/22/2010
    Client Term Date: 12/31/2010

    Wireless Generation Inc
    $25,000 – $49,999
    Client Start Date: 1/22/2010
    Client Term Date: 12/31/2010

  10. The attempt to smear Sandy going on here is laughably pathetic. This just in: Sandy works for a law firm that does lobbying. That does not make any point that he makes either valid or invalid. If it did, we would have to leave discussions of public policy exclusively to retirees, as the rest of us are drawing a salary.

    If you guys have big boy pants to pull up, please address yourselves to the substance of the arguments and data being discussed.

  11. Why is Sandy smearing Linda Darling Hammond without disclosing his financial conflicts of interest with Teach for America and the corporate insiders?

    The insiders without education credentials portray themselves as education reformers by spreading fear and accountability rhetoric. They scheme behind the curtain to implement policies that privatize public education for corporate profits. At the same time they bash certain schools and try to mislead with skewed results.

    Is accountability only for some schools and all public school teachers? Lobbyists, reformers, corporations, and foundations must disclose NCLB sweet deal making and let the public decide if these groups and individuals should be free from scrutiny and accountability.

  12. Eugene-

    First of all, you are living in a fantasy world if you think Teach for America or any of Sandy’s other clients hired him to come onto Eduwonk and smear LDH.
    Second, LDH voluntarily staked her own reputation on this school, and the results speak for themselves.

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