Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What Ohio's State-Level Data Scrubbing Got Right

What Ohio’s State-Level Data-Scrubbing Got Right

David Hansen (former School Choice and Charter School Advocate for the Ohio Department of Education) did something amazingly bold before his resignation. Really. We should not approve of his actions, nor elevate him to rock star status while lauding his infamous accomplishment, but we should use this as a moment to reflect on the past, present, and future of education in Ohio.

Now, like me, you might not agree or approve of (1) state officials willfully breaking the law (e.g., Ohio Revised Code, including Ethics Violations), (2) manipulating data to elevate the rating of a particular type of school with which you have a special interest, (3) using said [adjusted] data to improve the scores of online charter schools whose owners happen to be major political donors in Ohio in order to receive state perks, (4) the conflict of interest in manipulating this data with your wife being chief of staff for the current Presidential-hopeful Governor, nor a sundry of other happenstances; however, you can agree that the education system is much more dynamic than a single letter (e.g., A-F) or numeric (e.g., 0-100%) can fully capture. Joe Bower has been advocating for changes in classroom grading practices due to this very issue. No matter how dynamic and multi-faceted the Ohio Department of Education’s NEW Report Card (which happens to funnel everything into an A-F grade) is expected to be it will never capture the reality occurring each day in our schools.

Admittedly, this story has blown up in the past few days and more details are likely to surface, with Ohio House and Senate Democrats demanding State Superintendent Dr. Richard Ross’ resignation. The unfortunate element is that this news is not surprising to me. As an educator in Ohio, our state has been told countless times by the media how terrible education is in this country and how bad public school teachers are at closing the achievement gap. Indeed, the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) was rolled out when teachers were Public Enemy #1 with the purpose of exposing and removing all the “bad teachers.” Understandably, many educators throughout the state saw this as punitive - no matter how much the ODE tried to spin it as encouraging professional growth.  

Charter schools have been touted as the solution to the failures of America's education system. We are fed misleading or false information by politicians who potentially have financial gain in the charter (among others) school reform movement. School choice advocates use this as the reason for increased vouchers so that students are not trapped in low-performing schools. The problem arises when the schools being advocated for have WORSE data than this student’s previous school. But, that all goes away when you decide to ignore data that makes something look bad!

One thing that consistently presents challenges to students’ learning (known as the “Achievement Gap”) is socioeconomic status and home-life scenarios. I have friends that teach in inner city schools: their stories represent a completely different home-life than my suburban students. This topic, however, is rarely included in conversations on school reform. After all, it is far easier to blame the teacher and school than the homes and communities that populate said school and district - a far bigger voter-base. In fact, Ohio is trying a new Performance-based reward system that is sure to benefit wealthier districts while (essentially) punishing low-income areas with historically lower scores. Dr. Ross recognizes this, but still "kinda likes" the plan. (...this should work out well...)

Consequently, one element that has been shown to close this achievement gap is a strong music education curriculumSee the work of Dr. Nina Kraus at the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University. But I digress on that topic, for this post. This is something I advocated for at both the November 2014 and December 2014 State Board of Education meetings, during the "Ohio 5 of 8" discussion.

The beauty of David Hansen’s premeditated decision to break state law by willfully excluding CRITICAL data that is REQUIRED in the reporting of all other public schools is the following: “He [Hansen] said he wanted to look at other, stronger schools instead, because online struggles "mask" successes elsewhere” (The Plain Dealer, July 15). Exactly, Mr. Hansen! You are proof positive that the state report card masks so much of the successes occurring throughout Ohio’s other schools and are inaccurate and incomplete representations of our education system.

Your decision to withhold Fs illustrated what the education community has been saying for many years: there is more to school accountability and student learning than test scoresParticularly, when Ohio already has a messy history with testing companies and the possibility of politics tainting the education of students. Tests, though, are an easy metric to monitor - and there is a lot to be made off of them.

I am (strangely) grateful for Mr. Hansen’s illegal decision to stick his neck out and prove to the Ohio legislature and Ohio Department of Education that the present school accountability structure is deeply flawed and does not accurately reflect the successes occurring throughout the state in many schools.  

Diane Ravitch is right in referencing Campbell’s law: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson is also right in tweeting.

Except it could read: "When ODE officials cheat on state report card data it’s because our political system values the grade of these schools (perhaps) more than students’ learning.”

For your consideration,
Kevin Dengel

If you are not fully up to speed on this situation, I would recommend reading the following stories of the past week.

Bill Bush and Charlie Boss, The Columbus Dispatch (July 17, 2015)

Bill Boss, The Columbus Dispatch (July 18, 2015)

Andrew Welsh-Huggins (AP) appearing in the Akron Beacon Journal (July 18, 2015)

Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post (July 19, 2015)

Plunderbund (July 19, 2015)