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What Jerry Bracey would have said about Locke High

Every once in awhile I run across a case of distorted education reporting and mourn the 2009 death of Gerald W. Bracey. For years he was the nation's watchdog of unexamined assumptions and misleading language in education policy and education writing.

Instead of stewing over these mishaps, I am going to post them and say what I think Jerry would have said about them. I am never going to reach his level of clarity or acidity, but there isn't much I can do about that. Most of these items will be small stuff, since that was often what Jerry focused on, knowing that little distortions left unchecked can grow into big ones.

The target of this first Bracey memorial scolding is the otherwise admirable Green Dot Public Schools, whose Aug. 16 press release on test score gains at Locke High School in Los Angeles caught my eye. Green Dot has broken Locke, hitherto one of the lowest-performing high schools in the country, into a collection of small charter schools to give those students a chance at the educations they deserve.

The press release said that comparing the latest Locke student results on the California Standards Tests (CSTs) to results in 2008 when the school was still run by the L.A. Unified School District, "the number of proficient or advanced students increased 74 percent for the English CST exam and 295 percent for the Math CST exams." Those are mind-blowing numbers, until you examine closely the chart that Green Dot has included on the next page of the press release.

The chart emphasizes the fact that the number of students testing proficient or advanced in English went from 196 to 341, a 74 percent increase, and in math from 37 to 146, a 295 percent increase. But in smaller type, which required me to squint, it reveals that in both cases there was a substantial increase in the number of students taking those tests, from 1,546 to 2,282 in English and from 1,408 to 2,193 in math. So much of the increase was possibly not the result of better teaching but just more kids at the school.

Green Dot deserves credit for creating conditions that draw more students, but it should have made clear in the press release summary that this was a factor in the big gains. More important, it should have said in the same paragraph that the level of achievement was still pathetic.

The portion of students scoring proficient or above in English increased from only 12.7 percent in 2008 to 14.9 percent in 2010. The math gains were even less impressive, from 2.6 percent to 6.7 percent. If a reader were trying to judge how much Green Dot has done so far to raise Locke's abysmal achievement rates, those would be very important numbers, but the press release writers seemed to want to rush past that fact to something, anything, that would show a big gain.

I asked Green Dot president and CEO Marco Petruzzi about this. He said, "The reason we have more students taking the tests is that we retained the students (i.e., they didn't drop out as they were previously doing) and not, as you state, because we 'draw more students.'" He said he thought this was a better way to measure Locke's progress because it identified how many more students were testing proficient, rather than just the percentage of proficiency. But he overlooked my point. Any pats on the back of a school where the proficiency rates are still among the lowest in America are premature.

Green Dot has the potential to do great things at Locke. The organization's press release writers should be thanked for including all of the chart material so that a careful reader could figure out what was really going on. But they should not cheapen what gains their schools make by leaving the impression they are greater than they are. Jerry would have said this more sharply, but you get the idea.

Read Jay's blog every day, and follow all of The Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education Web page.

By Jay Mathews  | October 12, 2010; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Gerald W. Bracey, Green Dot Public Schools, Locke High School, big gains in proficency hide one of the lowest proficiency rate in the country, education statistical distortions  
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Comments

"So much of the increase was possibly not the result of better teaching but just more kids at the school."

Time to fire more teachers? To develop an airtight teacher evaluation system to weed out the ineffective ones?

Then when the current bad teachers are gone, replace them with first-time teachers who plan to stay in teaching such a short time that they don't care that they're next in line to get canned.

Posted by: efavorite | October 12, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Wow...

Mr. Mathews is a little late to the 'balanced reporting' party
(realizing that statistics & data can be
manipulated for better or worse --
does the annual Newsweek
"Best High Schools" list,
based on bizarre data manipulation
and zero knowledge of the
actual academic environment,
electives & holistic enrichment
options, & daily operations of those
high schools being supposedly 'evaluated'
& ranked.

But, maybe Mr. Mathews is beginning
to wake up and to emerge from his
corporate-sponsored (& Kaplan testing bottom line)
delusions.....

this article published today) does
illustrate the maxim...

"Honesty is the best Policy".

=================================

Posted by: songbird272 | October 12, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

But look at the bright side: the wraparound services and staff/security changes and building upgrades that are helping to produce these anemic gains? They're only running $15 million over budget.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/25/education/25school.html

Posted by: District10 | October 12, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Wow...

Mr. Mathews is a little late to the 'balanced reporting' party
(ie. realizing that statistics & data can be
manipulated for better or worse) --
does this seemingly sudden revelation
& ascending insight (on his part)
apply
to the annual Newsweek
"Best High Schools" list,
which tends to be based on bizarre data manipulation
and zero knowledge of the
actual achievements, academic rigor
and learning (college & career prep.) environment,
the electives & holistic enrichment
options, & the daily operations of those
high schools being supposedly 'evaluated'
& ranked.
(For just one questioning example,
of many -- what if,
junior & senior H.S. students
were permitted to and smartly chose
to take one or several COLLEGE COURSES early
for credit (instead of
signing up for A.P. courses
& paying fees to take A.P. exams) --
shouldn't that option being counted
as a 'plus' (especially if the H.S. students
complete the optional COLLEGE LEVEL COURSES
with high grades) ??? !!!

But, maybe Mr. Mathews is beginning
to wake up and to emerge from his
corporate-sponsored (& Kaplan testing bottom line)
delusions.....

this article (published today) does
illustrate the maxim...

"Honesty is the best Policy".

=================================

Posted by: songbird272 | October 12, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

District10 - I just read the NYT article - Thanks.

If it is too be believed (I'm never sure these days) then I tend to agree with the last sentence: “We’re wasting billions every year by not fixing these schools,” Mr. Cawley said, “because the students they’re not educating end up filling our prisons.”

These kids may not be making impressive academic gains, but if increased secruity, etc., keeps them in school, making them more socialized and better citizens, that may be a valuable goal in itself, achievement gap be damned.

I bet there's a better and cheaper way to do it, though, that does not involve paying big bucks to miracle-working charter operators and firing a bunch of teachers.

Posted by: efavorite | October 12, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

crucial website for
background info. about
charter schools --
http://charterschoolscandals.blogspot.com/

The purpose of this Web site is to provide the public with a source of independently collected information about U.S. charter schools.

For instance, compare what you learn
from my description of the (now closed, shuttered)
3,500 student "CATO School of Reason"
with the content provided by the
pro-charter Center for Education Reform
in their compilation:
"Closed Charter Schools by State: National Data 2009"

In the CER's document, the reason given for closure is "Management." The explanation is "Inadequate record keeping, suspect relations with private and sectarian schools." Well, the story is much bigger and dirtier than that, as you'll learn when you read the articles compiled in my entry for the same school.

This site is a non-billionaire funded (and un-bought off!!!),
non-union affiliated, one-person operation in the name of
public service. I post the information as quickly as I can, but
have a massive backlog due to the sheer number of stories.
Please check back periodically for new additions.

And be sure to check out these other informative
blogs too::

-THE BROAD REPORT
-THE PERIMETER PRIMATE

----------------------------------------

There are a range of charter schools
(including non-profit and for-profit,
parent & community designed,
also corporate chain schools,
and scam schools (schools for scandal).....

view the website
listed below
for crucial
behind-the-scenes
info.
about the actual performance
& management of charter schools
in the U.S. =>

http://charterschoolscandals.blogspot.com/


==================================

Posted by: songbird272 | October 12, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, I miss him, too. You're right, you don't have Bracey's bite or humor. He was a visionary and a fighter to the end. Nothing seems good enough, but any piece of truth is a fitting tribute to him. Well done.

Posted by: mport84 | October 12, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

good catch, jay -- the press release doesn't pass the smell test and locke needs to get much much better. however i'd note that green dot is generally much more candid about its results and willing to share data than many other charter orgz, and doesn't usually make the kinds of incredible (false) claims that you see coming out of charters like tim king's urban prep in chicago which claims a 100 percent grad and college going rate despite 30 percent attrition over four years. not an excuse, but an important bit of context.

Posted by: alexanderrusso | October 13, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

"green dot is generally much more candid about its results and willing to share data than many other charter orgz"

Now that's the basis for a story and for the Capone/Pinocchio ranking of charter schools, based on the magnitude of their lies and the corruption in their financing and management. That's something Jerry would likely have taken on.

Posted by: DickSchutz | October 14, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

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