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Audio: Turnaround Czar Talks Transformation, MOUs

At this past weekend's SIG conference in Chicago, Jason Snyder talked about where the SIG program is and where it heads next, mentioned that MOUs between districts and unions seem to be a interesting way to get dramatic improvements done, and generally made the whole program seem like an earnest and generally well-run endeavor.  Then again, I was barely awake since it was 9 am.  Here's some audio for you to pore over, courtesy of the good folks at EWA: 

Snyder Knowles MP3

There's also a PowerPoint presentation that I'll try and get and post here, too. Note that my audio edit is very rough -- that's EWA head Caroline Hendrie speaking at the start, and the second voice is UofC's Tim Knowles (wearing a black turtleneck, bien sur).  Snyder doesn't always talk into the microphone so you'll have to deal with that.  



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I was there, and was awake enough to notice that the numbers that were shared may not be the success story that the Department of Education has been trying to portray. Mr. Snyder shared the "data" that Secretary Duncan cited last week:

"In year one under the new SIG:
▪ Nearly one in four schools saw double digit increases in math proficiency.
▪ Roughly one in five schools had double-digit increases in reading proficiency.
In nearly 60 percent of SIG schools, the percent of students who were proficient in math or reading went up in the first year."

he actual data was not released, so we have to make some inferences here - but can we tell if these are "positive results" as Secretary Duncan suggested?

It appears that regarding math, more than 75% of SIG schools did not increase by more than 10%. In reading, roughly 80% of schools failed to increase by 10% or more. Note that we are not told how many schools decreased - which is certainly possible.

But what does it really mean to say that nearly 60 percent of SIG schools went up in the first year? That sounds pretty good - but does it stand up to scrutiny?

Imagine a sort of Punnett square of possible outcomes for SIG schools. We have four squares. One indicates math and reading are both up. One shows math is up but reading is down, one shows math is down but reading is up, and one shows math and reading are both down.

I assume that the nearly 60% number describes the schools that fall into any of the three boxes other than "math and reading both down."

If the data shows that nearly 60% of the schools have seen increases in reading or math, then we must have more than 40% in the red box, indicating reading and math are both down.

If we take a sort of null hypothesis, that these scores are moving randomly, then we would expect 25% in each box. In that case a full 75% of the schools should show improvement in math, reading, or both. What we seem to be seeing is that SIG schools are improving at a pace less than random chance would provide. The real question is not "how big is the boost these schools are getting?" The question is are they really improving at all? Or is this just a game of spinning numbers to try to make things appear better than they are? The claim has been made that this is a success story -- but I am struggling to see that. It is hard to tell with the very limited data we have been given. If I have made any erroneous assumptions, please help me out here!

If you go to my latest blog post, you will see a larger discussion of this, and of some interesting data from the Chicago turnarounds. The link on my name should take you there.

Well said, Anthony! I had logged on to link to your excellent column. Congratulations on staying through the corporate crony conference, and taking up the job of representing the interests of the American people against their insider dealings.

Let's pause for a minute and consider what kind of being a "Turnaround Czar" might be, and figure out what kind of system an administrative give-away like SIG could possibly be fostering. Paul Krugman gives us the term "crony capitalism" for it, and finally links the onslaught on public education to the nationwide corporate takover, as sponsored by their legislative arm, the American Legislative Exchange Council:

"What this tells us, in turn, is that ALEC's claim to stand for limited government and free markets is deeply misleading. To a large extent the organization seeks not limited government but privatized government, in which corporations get their profits from taxpayer dollars, dollars steered their way by friendly politicians. In short, ALEC isn't so much about promoting free markets as it is about expanding crony capitalism. "

Read the whole thing, everybody.

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