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Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Review of Greeley School Performance and SchoolView.org--the new Colorado State parent data tool

The new Colorado school report site Schoolview.org is a hit for the State overall. It isn't perfect but it is a start in the right direction. That is kind of the same thing the State is saying about teaching--identifying trends over time are important in accessing the real quality of your child's education and how your community schools are performing.

Jane Thumbs Up

1) You don't have to be a genius to go to this site and use it and get some information from it.
2) You can see how the specific school you are looking at is doing in math, reading, and writing. Then you can compare it against another school anywhere in the state. This is boon to people looking to relocate with families. It is also a boon to companies looking for a supporting workforce.
3) It makes the educational process appear to be more transparent to the taxpayers footing the bill.
4) It has the potential to improve even further.

Jane Thumbs Down

1) So far I haven't found a list of key terms used. A search on the site search bar brought up common terms that are not helpful nor readily accessible in the specific tool. But this may just be an oversight. The problem will be highlighted below as I write about some of Greeley District 6's data points. It is difficult to know with 100% certainty what terms, used in a school context, like PCI (Performance Cost Index) actually mean to parents and what type of data it reflects and how it should be applied. Frequently it is politically expedient to use confusing terminology. Being transparent is a good ideal. (Being really transparent can be politically deadly. But then that is the whole ideal of being accountable. Perhaps the good folks behind the tool are more governmental and less political and will fix this oversight soon or maybe I am overlooking it to begin with.) If I can't figure it out beyond an educated guess--there is a lot of other folks who are going to struggle. It is nice to look at the little bubbles on the site and be told a school is performing at 41% above proficiency level but parents still need a context for what that means. Especially if they are coming from a District like Greeley where math is one of the most dim performers. (Oh, and where, is the bilingual version for all the nonEnglish speaking parents and grandparents whose children are frequently on the short end of the performing and funding stick in Colorado yet a significant portion of the population? In the political graveyard no doubt...but I digress.)

What does the term "Developing" entail? What do all the acronyms mean? Data is a start. Meaningful data is good. Understandable Meaningful Data for the Public should be the objective.

2) This tool will create new focus on math, reading, and writing. Yes, good for the politicians, not nearly as great for the future of education on the whole. Education is about a lot more. Science is crucial. The Arts (see my previous post) are crucial. There are other areas that have been gutted from the public schools over the past decade in a time where problem solving skills and application of education have become increasingly meaningful. Have we resolved to just give the public a minimal effort or have we resolved to educate our future workforce to meet future economic expectations? If Colorado intends to create a highly skilled workforce and place an emphasis on Green jobs--math, science, and the Arts (innovation and creativity) are crucial to meet that aggressive agenda. Colorado Governor Bill Ritter will need to do more to push Northern Colorado schools, and voters, in that direction. A good start would be in showing how far behind some Districts tail in this regard.

3) There are mixed feelings on rallying political support for gauging the school district as a measure of what has been accomplished over the course of a year (a small segment of time) rather than the final statistical outcomes as a whole (commonly referred to as "teaching the test"). On a generalized surface this implies that a teacher of fifth grade getting a class in at the beginning of the year, as a whole performing at a third grade level (as compared to appropriate incoming fourth grade proficiency), should be rewarded for a year's worth of student growth. So if that teacher elevates the largest portion of this class to a fourth grade level she/he has technically done the job. If she/he elevates the students beyond, say to the expected exit of fifth grade level of proficiency by the end of that year, she/he, some say, would deserve a bonus for going beyond the minimal expectations of the job.

This concept has mixed results. It is much more fair to teachers who are receiving children performing at lower levels and working their tails off to try to get these kids up to speed so to speak. It does reward the higher quality teachers for performance and is a form of merit pay for increased skills. But at the same time it takes some of the heat off the administrators for producing educational outcomes that are at proficiency. As well it could give a green light to average teachers to make only the average anticipated effort. (The lowest performers would be easier to identify though. Although in my experience the really low end performers in education get weeded out during student teaching and first year teaching. Sadly, often the high end performers leave too--but for other reasons like dismal pay, etc.) Essentially, the measure of performance over time concept as compared to specific outcome, gives the political cover to the education system to say "Well, look how much we did do..." rather than "We have done a stellar job and met all our objectives of education."

If you have ever been the parent of a teenager you should recognize this deep dark black hole of new-age logic for what it is. A double-edge sword to say the least. One I'd say we have already seen used here in Greeley based on the comments of District 6 covering the performance figures released yesterday.

What will the District Superintendent tell this year's, and probably the next three years' worth, Greeley District 6 graduates and their families about their education when they don't have the competitive skills they need--especially in math. "You should be thankful we are working on it. Come back in a few years and we may get it right." Heck there is a computer engineering whiz on the Board--what is he going to say? "I got my math background in another state. Greeley Colorado will get there some day and then, you too, can be just like me."

On the other hand the high-end teachers sensitive to public outrage at the overall performance and ready to burn out from overwork, underpay, and exhaustion may find some relief in being able to show that their individual efforts are floating the entire boat--if individual classroom data is ever allowed to go public.

4. Finally, this tool still does not give solutions to the public citizens with the least resources unless they have the ability and funds to relocate or move their child to a better performing school. It will give them the ability to see, instead, the specific failures of their school district and to watch as parents with resources relocate and move their students to higher performing communities. Without resources hiring private tutors isn't a reality either. Of course these parents will be able to complain to the authorities in charge but without political representation or community power (especially in the case of minority groups and immigrants) the complaints will fall on deaf ears. You don't have to own a crystal ball to figure out that this tool also has the power to erode poor performing inner city and barrio schools even further. Let's hope that isn't how it works out.
On to the specific Greeley District 6 Data.

I took a further look at it this morning. See my earlier post. The hole in funding the Board is going after to fill with the Mill Levy tax is obvious. I am assuming national stimulus funds are not aiming for the same per pupil funding deficit. While the State makes up some of the shortfalls in per pupil monies they do not cover the entire amount. Basically Greeley performs lower economically than the surrounding areas and property values are lower. In Colorado 60% of property taxes go to local schools. Therefore, I am assuming, the shortfall of locally dedicated funds. Of course these figures will not take into account any of the recreational facilities and other cultural learning activities put in place by the Greeley City Council that integrate and support the educational system. A higher tax base means more funding essentially.

What makes me curious though, again before I submit to endorsing the mill levy request, is the ROSI statistic (Return on Spending Index). Greeley's is 18.1 after being adjusted for student needs and geographic costs. Essentially those adjustments tend to level out the comparison between school districts with diverse populations and locational needs. Denver's stat is 14.7. Greeley appears to pump more money into core instructional expenses for less results if I am interpreting the data correctly (see my point about listing terms and acronyms above). That would give room to the idea that a higher score on the ROSI means lower performance for higher costs. Which, again, goes back to the administrative accountability I have posted on earlier.

I didn't appreciate the District Superintendent's push to single out the higher performance stats in her statements covered by the Tribune. Mark Twain would have been proud though. The deficiencies in math in the district are fairly appalling and giving parents a shell game approach to being seriously factual about the problems faced doesn't lend credibility to the Supe's management skills or long term planning strategy but certainly will score brownie political points within the staff and authority figures. I like to see educators leading the education system not politicians.

If anyone can help me out on clarifying these terms I'd appreciate it. I think I'll drop a letter into SchoolReviews "contact us" link and see if I get a reply. Overall this is one of the better, more user-friendly, approaches I have seen from a State in regards to making data accessible to the public. It needs some "fixin's" but it is a beginning.

*On another closing note. If you click on the stimulus funding link on the CDE Home page there are several options where the State does a better job than most of trying to lead citizens through the funding maze. I noted, if correctly, that stimulus funds can be used for technology and for teacher compensation. The Mill Levy has been initially directed toward technology funding with a complete dismal of the idea of teacher pay. At present I believe teachers were requested to forgo their cost of living increases this year. Perhaps the District is just creating plan B for technology funding at their teachers' expense? District 6 Union Representatives take note. District 6 missed their targets on LEAs. Perhaps this should be a focus in the future?

  • Teacher Incentive Fund
    • Awarded to LEAs, state education agencies (SEAs), or partnerships of an LEA and/or SEA and at least one non&8208;profit organization, to develop and implement performance&8208;based teacher and principal compensation systems in high&8208;need schools, defined as schools with more than 30 percent of enrollment from low&8208;income families.

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