Racist Rascals by Bill Conrad

Racist Rascals

Bill Conrad

billc@sipbigpicture.com

Excerpted from Book: Fucked: How the K-12 Education System Fails Students and Their Families

and

How the Children Can Save Us

“My teacher told me to my face that this school was a lot better years ago when we had only White kids to teach.”

Comment of a Black High School Student at a student focus group meeting at a school district in a suburb of Seattle.

The self-important Gumbas of the K-12 Crime Network proudly celebrate equity in name within their schools and districts.[1]

Educators argue whether there should be separate sections of their strategic plans that focus on equity or whether equity should be woven into the overall fabric of their strategic plans. Instead of dealing with fundamental root cause issue of racism like the allocation of human and material resources, strategic meetings focus on superficial issues of non-racist language use by teachers in the classroom.  Laura Thomas eloquently described the rationale behind this irrelevant dialogue in her short article called the Fork Debate.

The “Woke to Equity” administrators proclaim their commitment to ensuring that every student gets the educational support and resources that they need even if it means an unequal distribution of resources to children of color, economically disadvantaged students, English Learners and Students with Disabilities. They proudly bring in Black presenters who conduct one-day workshops with teachers and administrators on ways that the teachers can change their classroom lingo to make it more equitable. As if changing classroom language will mitigate the huge impacts of inequitable resource allocation. School Boards and obeisant administrators ensure that their entitled white students receive the most qualified teachers and the best resources. That is the racist reality of K-12 education that no one seems interested in dialoguing about.

This very unfortunate situation means that students most in need get the most novice and inexperienced teachers and the least resources. Many school districts funding is dependent on house values favoring school districts with high-end housing. These never brought to the surface policies are strongly protected by racist school boards and their sycophant administrative teams.

Is it any wonder that school boards hire such milquetoast superintendents?

Superintendents with real cujones might upset this unspoken racist apple cart with the allocation of the most qualified teachers (which is at a premium given the woeful preparation of most teachers) to the schools most in need. Strong superintendents will never survive.

Board members protect White entitlement and ensure that the best goes to their White and entitled constituencies knowing that their minorities can be easily mollified. 

African American males fare the worst within this racist system.  They receive a disproportionate number of suspensions and expulsions compared to their percentage within the school or district.[2] 

The K-12 system uses the malpractice of suspensions in order to maintain control. Black males do not comply well in the mamby pamby K-12 compliance driven system. The gumbas even invented a racist category called Defiance within their Suspension system to try and maintain control of the strong Black males in their midst.[3] 

They double down on the fear of the Black male by making sure there are plenty of police roaming the halls as well. They also make all students pass through metal detectors.  When I consulted in Chester, PA, the Chester high school architecture looked like an actual prison. Schools become dress rehearsals for the prisons many African American males end up in.

The Black Organizing Project (BOP)[4] in Oakland, California is a growing movement among the youth in the United States and globally who are gaining agency over their lives as the grown-ups have mostly failed to protect them, educate them, or prepare them for their futures. 

Students are awakening to the many adult-driven atrocities within their midst and they are beginning to take action. 

The students who are a part of the BOP Team are working to get something done as it relates to the racist police presence within their schools.  The BOP team partnered with Public Counsel and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California to develop a powerful report called From Report Card to Criminal Record – The Impact of Policing Oakland Youth.  Key findings from the report include:

  • Over a seven-year period, Black youth were, on average, 73.5% of all juvenile arrests by the Oakland Police Department each year, even though they make up just 29.3% of the Oakland youth population.
  • Black youth were referred to the Alameda County Probation at more than two-and-a-half times their percentage in the population. This means they are six times more likely than Hispanic youth, and 23 times more likely than White youth, to be arrested and referred to Alameda County Probation.
    • For arrests reported by the Oakland School Police Department during the last two years:
    • While Black youth made up only 30.5% of the district’s student population, they made up 73% of Oakland School Police Department’s 85 arrests;
  • Oakland School Police Department did not report a single White student arrest.
  • Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) reports employing only 20.5 school counselors, or one school counselor for every 1,854 students[5]

The team also reported on the findings from the racist suspension and expulsion policies implemented by OUSD. They report that Black students are 11 times more likely to be suspended than White students. While Black students represent 26% of the student population, they represent 58% of the office referrals.  White students on the other hand represent 11% of the student population but only 4% of student referrals.[6]

BOP does a superb job of communicating the findings of the atrocious policing policies being deployed by incompetent local Board and administrators.  They also effectively tell the real-world stories of students and families who experience these racist policies.  They actively protest when OUSD tries to cut $18.8 Million from the District budget but refuse to cut the $1.5 Million Budget for maintaining Oakland Police in the Schools.[7]

The student Board members voted to cut the Police Budget but were easily ignored because their votes are only advisory and the grown-ups do not want to listen to or act on the truth spoken by the youth.

The BOP team also goes way beyond eloquently communicating the travesty of the police presence within their schools by advocating for specific actions that the adults should implement to address this very real problem. Some of the recommendations advocated by the BOP include:

  1. Implement Positive Behavior Intervention and Support practices in all OUSD schools and rely on Restorative Justice Models as the first line of intervention for mediating student behavior.
  2. Make a far greater investment in counselors and mentors going forward.
  3. Develop and implement a meaningful memorandum of understanding between OPD and OUSD that clearly defines and limits the role of OPD officers in and around campuses, requires OPD to eliminate disproportionate arrest of youth of color, and allows for data review and monitoring by OUSD.
  4. Create a policy internal to OUSD in partnership with parents, students, and the community that outlines when and how to use law enforcement agencies for serious safety threats and criminal behavior and eliminates disproportionate contacts and arrests of Black youth. 

Some in the education community ignore the research and claim that it is not the color of the student skin that matters in terms of academic achievement. They claim that it is the economic disadvantage that creates the achievement gap. It just so happens that many African Americans are economically disadvantaged. However, studies have shown that when you control for economic factors and other socio-economic criteria, there is still a very strong achievement gap for African American males.[8]

So, color does matter in the racist K-12 system.

Despite the obvious racism, K-12 districts like the Seattle School District make every effort to create the veneer of virtuosity and trumpet their commitment to equity. 

Larry Nyland, the soon to be replaced superintendent of Seattle Schools, forgot to follow through on a commitment to improve educational opportunities for his African American males as was written into his contract.[9]

In a rush to fulfill this easily forgotten requirement for his next evaluation with the School Board, he called upon our company, Performance Fact, to do a rush job in completing another document proclaiming an “action plan” to improve educational and of course social-emotional opportunities for the Black African American males in the school district.

We dutifully convened the requisite “cross-functional” team and created a well-conceived and glitzy plan.  The plan of course saved Larry’s ass but it was never implemented – made into Board Policy and then filed away as most of these plans are handled.

Just another artifact of virtue signaling by a superintendent gumba. Of course, the lovesick governance never held Larry accountable for implementation or evaluation.

They were satisfied with the glitzy plan. Whew. The Board will always hold the line on of course on not implementing the plans that benefit minority groups because they do not resource the plans or hold anyone accountable. And so, it goes.

While most of the adults in the K-12 system are blind to the racism within their midst, the children are not. And they suffer.

I was walking through a large comprehensive high school in Kansas City, Missouri preparing to conduct an engaging focus group meeting with students as a prelude to a strategic planning meeting with the community planned for later in the month.

Rushing to get to the third floor where the library was located – site of the focus group meeting, I encountered a security guard admonishing a tall Black Male student who was in the elevator with two other female students.

“Get out of that elevator right now young man.” Yelled the security guard.

“What have I done wrong?” queried the male student.

“I am not going to let you travel with these two women on this elevator. Do you understand?  And now get out or I will have you arrested.”

“Whoa.” exclaimed the young man as he quickly exited the elevator with a look of real chagrin on his face. The girls were equally flummoxed at this very odd order. 

So up went the girls. While we waited for the elevator to return. My first encounter with racism in the school district.

As I entered the library, I encountered two students who demanded that I give them some air time during the session to discuss some important matters that were affecting their schooling. I gave them permission to engage the group.

After introducing myself to the group and initiating the meeting, I handed the meeting over to students Jack and Sandy.

Jack said to his fellow students, “Our teachers and security guards are constantly harassing us and inappropriately disciplining us for minor infractions like Defiance. Are any of you experiencing this unfair treatment?”

Almost all of the students raised their hands and cheered “Yeah Jack, we are.”

Sue, the second student, turned to me and said. “What can you and your strategic planning committee do to fix this problem, Bill? We are really tired of getting harassed.”

Another student in the group piped up, “It seems like only us Black kids are getting targeted for unfair discipline. When will it end? Is this a prison or a school?”

I told the students that I would make sure that the student leaders on the Strategic Planning Committee would make this very real issue a key part of our discussions. I thanked these very bright and beautiful students for their courage, insights, and knowledge.

After conducting the focus group meetings with students in preparation for a larger strategic planning session later in the week in Kansas City, Missouri, I was pulled aside by two students of color who wanted to talk.

The first student Jane looked a little frightened and quietly said, “Bill, can we talk with you for a bit? We are afraid will take revenge on us if they know that we were talking with you.”

Shaniqua, second student interjected, “Yeah Bill. We have had this ongoing problem with our bus driver. “

I said, “Oh Yeah.  What’s the Problem?”

Shaniqua continued saying, “Every day at the bust stop, the racist bus driver slows down, stops at our pick up place, and then just drives on. What’s up with that bull shit Bill?”

“Wow,” I said. “That is a real problem. Have you talked with your school principal about this?”

Jane, visibly upset and crying, exclaimed, “Oh yeah. We spoke with our principal. Nothing changed. We even tried to talk with District leaders. Nothing happened. We are beside ourselves. We know you are from the outside so we thought that you could influence the powers that be to help us get on to the bus.”

Shaniqua added, “We are tired of having to walk to school in all kinds of weather only to get to school late and then to add insult to injury we get detentions and have to stay after school.”

I was literally in shock hearing this unbelievable story of racism. I told the girls that I would address their issue with the district and school administrations.

Jane warned, “Be careful Bill. We don’t want the Man to come down hard on us for having gone outside their racist system.”

I assured the girls that I would be discrete and then walked out of the library having been given multiple lessons on how racism raises its ugly head in our schools. It was not theoretical anymore. It was real.

The children in focus group meetings across the country regularly expressed concerns with racist treatment by teachers, administrators, and school staff. Some examples include:

  • A Black male student at a High School in St. Louis Missouri was refused entry into an elevator by a Security Guard because there were two girls already on the elevator and the Guard blocked his entry. He had to wait for the elevator to return.
  • A Black student in a wealthy school district near Seattle reported out to everyone at a focus group meeting that a teacher had told him that things went a lot better within the school when there were only White students at the school.
  • Students at one focus group in a school district near Seattle asked for some time where they could discuss the problem of bullying that was running rampant at schools especially against minority students. They wanted time to discuss the problem on their own without adult supervision or interruption.
  • Black students complained that bus drivers would routinely drive past them in their attempt to get to school. The girls’ petitions to school administrators had no effect.

While these artifacts of racist treatment of students represent special case examples, they are disturbing and represent the real concerns that student have about the racism in their midst that is not being adequately addressed by the grown-ups in the system. 

The children who are willing to speak out at focus group meetings with superintendents and top administrators hovering over them display true courage as they most assuredly expose themselves to retribution.

The problem of racist policies that pervade the system drive a situation where children of color receive the least. And then the gumbas of K-12 have the audacity to label the students as “Difficult Learners” or “Long-term English Language Learners.” 

It is truly a War on our Students.[10]

This is a magnificent con that adds more fog to K-12 education. The previously mentioned assignment of the least qualified or Teach for America candidates to the schools most in need is a fundamental root cause of poor student academic success.  Racism is real in K-12 education despite the sanctimonious protestations of the gumba administrators.

Yet few bring this clearly racist policy to the forefront in equity discussions.

Better to signal virtuous equity and do nothing substantively about it. The greed of maintaining 6-figured salary trumps (Pun intended.)  The imperative is to do the right thing for children of color. And the blame game is so well embedded within K-12 culture that it is invisible and easy to do nothing about. 

The K-12 system manifests a racist orientation from the recruitment and training of teachers to the blaming language, to the governance, to the allocation of human and material resources, to the glitzy and superficial strategic planning with little or no quality implementation or accountability.

All of these actions point to a very big underlying root cause problem of racism within the K-12 education system.

For years in California, the State Board of Education trumpeted the need to address the Achievement Gap in schools and school districts in California.[11]

Former state superintendent, Jack O’Connell, frequently communicated the Achievement Gap and implored Districts to seek and apply solutions.  The state board of Education though was not willing to significantly address the underlying systemic “Professional Practices” gap that was the driving force behind the student “Achievement Gap.”  Children of color, economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, and English Learners are really the canaries in the mine for successful academic achievement. They are most sensitive to both quality and poor professional practices by teachers and administrators. White students and Asian students have the luxury of engaging in tutoring and after school programs that mitigate and mask the effects of low-quality professional practices within the K-12 schools that they attend.

The families of these groups will never allow their children to fall behind academically due to poor curriculum and/or instruction. They will act to ensure that their children succeed even if the children have to attend school twice.  They also are aware of the retribution they and their children will face by trying to engage the system to change. They will seek alternative solutions rather than address the system directly. They also know that this weak system is already oriented to give them the best teacher and resources.

The state board of education fell back on the well-worn canard that it must be the students who are the root cause of the academic achievement problem. The state advocated for special programs to address the imagined needs of these groups.  It would have taken great courage to recognize that the system itself was the problem.  Transforming the colleges of education, supporting improvement of key and aligned professional practices, curricula, and holding schools and school districts accountable for quality curriculum and instruction was well beyond the will or capability of the gumbas of the state education leadership or administrators.  It was far easier to blame the victims, offer a few impotent palliatives, and call it a day. 

The State Board also sought to find the diamonds in the rough who had achieved some success in reducing the achievement gap. They would hold up school districts like Garden Grove as models for other school districts to follow but they failed to do their job of mandating that all school districts follow the path of improving curricula, aligning high quality professional practices, and instituting monitoring and accountability systems. They would herald new Standards but fail to provide the necessary curricula for teachers to use. They would tout the importance of data-driven instruction but fail to provide powerful data systems that would assist school districts in effectively using data to support improvement.

And to the surprise of no one, the Achievement Gap persists.

The state board of education in California ultimately had to recognize the failure of this failed theory of action. 

Unable to muster the cujones to demand a transformation of the K-12 system, the current board embarked on a new and ineffective gambit. 

Now they have abandoned their responsibility to actually help and support all school districts plan and implement quality and aligned professional practices and hold the districts accountable.  They have succumbed to the failed notion that relinquishing systemic control, they have relegated responsibility for the quality development and implementation of strategic planning to the individual school districts through the Local Control and Accountability (LCAP). [12]

As a consequence, we have school districts completing bureaucratic LCAP forms[13] with little or no real theory of action to improve the aligned professional practices and curriculum within their districts. Just looking at the eclectic 200+ pages for district and school strategic plans with no plans for real implementation or accountability will convince you that the Achievement Gap will remain in place for many years to come.

Unable to lead a real transformation of the system, the state board leaves it up to the school districts to find the path to successful reduction of the Achievement Gap. And to their credit there are some districts like Garden Grove School district who have discovered the holy grail of systematically improving their curriculum and aligned professional practices.[14]

The State Board sings their praises and encourages other school districts to follow a similar path but there are no teeth in any of this – only encouragement. 

The rest of the districts are free to follow their flawed plans as they see fit with very little accountability imposed by the state. The local school boards hold sway over centralized systemic control even though the amateur hour school districts require real centralized systemic support and control. 

One only need look at the student academic results[15] to see this. You reap what you sow.

Again, the children are fine. It is the adults who are fucked up.

The state board of education, under the leadership of Linda Darling Hammond, has embarked on an even crazier gambit to double down on blaming the victims. They now propose that school districts abandon their already weak commitment to academic achievement and focus on the advancement of the social-emotional well-being and learning of the students under their care.[16]

If only we improve the ability of students to relate well to one another and the adults, the students will be prepared for life in the 21st century. There is an assumption that the students are not already well-adjusted socially and emotionally so K-12 education should fill this gap.

Student academic achievement will most surely follow. 

Just more bunkum coming from the totally failed leadership of the State Board of Education.

Improving the hygee or coziness that students experience in school will make them feel happy in the moment but will do little to prepare them for a competitive environment in college and/or work.[17]

The students want their teachers to like and respect them. They want their teachers to know their content well and be able to teach it well. They also want the ability to have some input into their learning.

Is that too much to ask? I think not.

But educators are unable to look into the mirror and address their own need to improve and align their professional practices, assessments, and curricula. We will end up with a generation of students (except the entitled white students) who have relaxed on bean bag chairs and sipped hot chocolate in preparation for their sure to be careers as well-adjusted greeters at Wal-Mart or moving pallets at Amazon Sortation Centers.

You can bet that Amazon values teaching and learning and will ensure that their workers are able to scan packages properly, wrap and close pallets, and move them to the appropriate locations for loading on their Prime trucks.

It is bad enough that the K-12 fails at the education of its children. We now find that there are sexual predators within our midst that are aided and abetted by the compliant don’t rock the boat administrators.

Lydia Jungkind from Santa Clara Unified School District was an international student from Germany who is civic-minded and took a job with her Social Studies teacher, Dominic Caserta, to advance his political opportunities by running for a County Commissioner position in Santa Clara. Lydia bravely alleges that Dominic engaged in inappropriate sexual advances toward her.[18] 

Lydia asked key administrators and school board members to address the issue but was ignored. Nine other girls came forward to allege sexual battery but were also rejected by the School Board. The police department also failed the girls by not agreeing to prosecute.[19] 

The District stupidly shared Dominic’s personnel file with everyone in the district and has now been sued by Dominic for over $30 Million.  Dominic is on administrative leave with fully salary as the District tries to sort out their little problem.[20]

God help the children.

The root cause problem of real racism within the K-12 system will never be solved in our lifetime. It is not even recognized in the system by the gumbas. 

One key element of the system must involve the professionalization of the teaching profession beginning with the transformation of the woeful schools of education.

We always return to this fundamental premise at every turn.  Teaching is still a second tier or second choice profession. It is not respected at all in the United States unlike many Asian and European countries. 

It is imperative that we begin to attract the best and brightest within our country to become teachers. We must train them well, place them on a career ladder, celebrate them, pay them six-figure salaries but hold them accountable for quality professional practices and student results.

The naïve gumbas of K-12 argue that the systematization and professionalization of teaching will lead to teachers who merely teach to the test in order to demonstrate high quality professional practices and student results.[21] 

This is a vacuous argument.

No amount of raging against the thermometers will alter the need to professionalize teaching.  Teachers who teach to the test can be called out by following their cohort of students into the next year. If these students continue to grow academically then one can attribute some of that gain to the previous teacher. If the cohort of students fails to grow academically, one could argue that the first teacher had not prepared the students for academic success in the subsequent school year.

The development and use of a teacher career ladder will be another important element to the professionalization of teaching.[22]

Teachers should be able to progress through well-defined levels of excellence from novice, to apprentice, to journeyman, to master teacher. Master teachers will be responsible for coaching and evaluating novice and apprentice teachers. Master teachers will also be the pool from which principals are chosen. It will also be important to pay teachers not for time on the job but for their ability to move up the career ladder. Teachers at the highest levels should be paid more than administrators. They should receive 6-figure salaries. 

School Districts should develop retention packages to keep high quality teachers working within their system. If a teacher wishes to move on to a higher-paying private school, school districts should have the option of providing them with a retention package with increased pay and benefits to keep them on board.

The professionalization of teaching will go a long way in ending racism within the K-12 system.

It is also time for the students to begin to agitate for change. 

They are truly getting the short end of the stick.

Students need to mobilize as the BOP team in Oakland, California[23] is doing as they support the end of police presence in their schools.

Students should use their social media power to demand for a quality education. 

They should use the various social media and mainstream media to bring about a buzz to change the atrocious education that they are receiving in the K-12 system. It would also be a good idea for them to begin to use the political and judicial system to their advantage. 

In California, students initiated a class action suit against various large school districts called the Vergara vs California case.[24] The lower court ruled in favor of the student plaintiffs but the ruling was rejected by the Appeals Court and the California Supreme Court refused to consider the case.  Students of color must continue to endure “grossly ineffective” teachers.

The reach of the gumbas is far, wide, and high. It is time for the children to take to the streets in support of a quality education.

A system built upon loyalty and racism continues to selectively deny children of color, English Learners, Students with Disabilities, and economically disadvantaged students a quality education.

Our democracy cannot long survive an ignorant population.

The rise of the con-artist Trump is just one small artifact of the abysmal failure of the K-system to educate our young.

But it’s not just a failure to educate. It is literally a War on Youth. That War must end. Only the children can lead it.

But then again, it does serve the purpose of maintaining the K-12 Organized Crime Network.  What could be better?

It is time for the children to take agency over the endemic racism within the system. No justice. No peace. Time to plan, take action, and evaluate success in improving teaching and learning within the K-12 system and ending the racist designs of the K-12 Organized Crime Network.

Si se puede.


[1] Redwood, Yanique. Beware of the Racial Equity Bandwagon. February, 2017. Consumer Health Foundation.

[2] Black Organizing Project. (BOP). BOP’s People’s Plan for Police-free Schools. 2019.

[3] Black Organizing Project. (BOP). BOP’s People’s Plan for Police-free Schools. 2019.

[4] Black Organizing Project. (BOP). BOP’s People’s Plan for Police-free Schools. 2019.

[5] Black Organizing Project. (BOP). BOP’s People’s Plan for Police-free Schools. 2019.

[6] Black Organizing Project. (BOP). BOP’s People’s Plan for Police-free Schools. 2019.

[7] Harrington, Theresa. Oakland school board votes $18.8 million in cuts, up to 100 layoffs; hears pleas to cut police force. Marc, 2020. EdSource.

[8] Anderson, Melissa, D. How the Stress of Racism Affects Learning. October, 2016. The Atlantic.

[9] Seattle Public Schools. Eliminating Opportunity Gaps. 2020.

[10] Giroux, Henry. American’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth. 2013. NYU Press

[11] Closing the Achievement Gap. Achieving Success for All Students. Digital Chalkboard.

[12] Fullan, Michael. California’s Golden Opportunity LCAP’s Theory of Action Problems and Corrections. July,2015. California’s Golden Opportunity. Stuart Foundation.

[13] San Jose Unified School District. San Jose Unified School District Local School Accountability Plan. 2020.

[14] Garden Grove Unified School District. April, 2018. Garden Grove Unified School District Named a 2018 California Exemplary District

[15] CDE. Dataquest. 2020.

[16] Interview with Linda Darling-Hammond. Social Emotional Learning Alliance for California. 2019

[17] Day, Meagan. You Don’t Want Hygge. You Want Social Democracy. December, 2018. Jacobin.

[18] Wadsworth, Jennifer. More Harassment Claims Surface Against Santa Clara County Supe Candidate Dominic Caserta. May, 2018. San Jose Inside.

[19] Do, Kiet. Sexual Misconduct Charges Dropped Against Former City Councilman. August, 2018. KPIX News.

[20]Towne, Erika.  Former City Council Member Dominic Caserta Sues Santa Clara Unified School District. May, 2019. The Silicon Valley Voice.

[21] Popham, James, W. Teaching to the Test? Educational Leadership. March, 2001. Vol. 58. No. 6.

[22] Baeder, Justin. Career Ladders for Educators. December, 2010. Education Week.

[23] Black Organizing Project. (BOP). BOP’s People’s Plan for Police-free Schools. 2019.

[24] Vergara v. California – Tentative Decision (Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles June 10, 2014).

Let the Games Begin

Let the Games Begin
Dr. Bill Conrad
Article Submitted to San Jose Inside
February 5th, 2018

Gather round my fellow citizens to hear the amazing tale of your faithful servant in his quest so reminiscent of the ancient travails of the magnificent and great Greek King, Odysseus.  As you recall, the story begins with my many consultations with students, parents, and community members across this great nation.  We sought to answer the question: What do our children want from their schools?  The children eloquently communicated that the they wanted their teachers to listen to them, to respect them, and to give them some voice in their learning. They also wanted their teachers to be experts in their content knowledge and teaching skills in order to prepare them for their future college and career aspirations.

Many of you reported to me that you were baffled by the way in which school districts reported student performance on state tests that are designed to measure the degree to which our children are on track to be college and career ready.  The data presented to you within the LCAPs were minimal, cherry picked, and aligned with a state accountability gambit of spreading the scale score points around.  You also reported that the LCAPs themselves enveloped you in the fog of education with eclectic and bureaucratic solutions to address poorly defined student needs.

Thus, upon hearing your pleas for relief, I girded my loins and travelled to Mount Sacramento to do battle with the 32-headed Hydra of Santa Clara County School Districts’ data.  The battle that ensued was ferocious and engaged all of my computational and physical skills to overcome this voracious beast.  I even had to consult the oracle of Python in order to develop a computer code that would visualize the data for each school district in ways that were truly open, transparent, and interpretable.  The magnificent beauty and radiance of these data displays can be found at a web site called The SIP Big Picture (http://sipbigpicture.com).

Some of you have reported to me that you have visited the site and have been enthralled by the elegance of these one-page displays and how they have helped you truly understand and interpret not only the overall performance of your school district by grade and by year but also the performance of a plethora of subgroups over time.  I am overjoyed with your responses.  Yet some have reported to me that after viewing the displays for a short time, they have become afflicted by the pernicious MERO effect (My Eyes Role Over).  You beseech me: What are we to do?  Fear not as I have consulted the Muse Madonna who exhorts us all to have Fun!

In the spirit of fun, I have resurrected the idea of the Academic Olympics in conjunction with the upcoming Winter Olympics in Seoul this February.  I reorganized the data in such a way that you can now view Academic Olympic Events on my web site.  The first event that has been recently posted is the 11th grade Overall Math Performance on the State Math Tests.  Each event will have a compulsory component: the overall percentage of students who meet or exceed standards on the State Math Test in 2017. The second component is the free style event that will be the 3-year improvement in performance on the State Math Test.

Congratulations to the Fremont Union High School District who achieved a 77% Meets or Exceeds percentage for the 2017 State Math Test and won a Gold Medal for overall Math Performance. Congratulations also to the Gilroy Unified School District who won a Gold Medal for demonstrating an 8 percentage-point 3-year improvement on the State Math Test from 24% of 11th grade students Meeting or Exceeding Standards in 2015 to 32% Meeting or Exceeding Standards in 2017.

Please go to the web site (http://sipbigpicture.com) where you can see if your school district received a medal for this event.  You can also view the rankings of all of the school districts in Santa Clara County in case your school district did not medal. Have some fun!  I will continue to add events daily in conjunction with the real Winter Olympics in Seoul so return to the sit often!

As you might imagine, the State, the County, and the School Districts are averse to the idea of a competition. The sources of power would prefer that you continue to remain within the fog of education feeding upon the miniscule morsels of selected data that they provide to you.  We must break out of these artificial bureaucratic chains of restraint and demand a full accounting of student performance. In fact, we should also demand a full accounting of the professional practices of teachers, principals, and district administrators from a system view and not just a special case view.

Being of advanced age, I could use some support in my ongoing quest to visualize data to meet your voracious needs.  Please use the comments section on the web site to let me know if I should pursue the many headed Charter school hydra for Santa Clara County or if I should pursue student performance in English Language Arts.  I am also available to support you in representing the student results through the Academic Olympics or the actual Data Visualizations to your parent groups or even to your School Board.  Also, please let me know if you could spare a few drachmas to help me continue my quest as I occasionally need the sustenance from a Gyro at Nick’s Greek Restaurant in San Jose to pursue the Quest.

In conclusion, let us not become lost in the darkness of poorly conceived accountability, but let us instead light our Olympic torches and together ignite the Olympic Flame of openness and transparency to the success of all of our students in achieving their college and career dreams.

 

 

Fake Accountability
Dr. Bill Conrad
January 9th, 2018

It is truly surreal to see the Federal Department of Education under the mendacious Trump administration call out the California State Board of Education for significant and accurate flaws in its State’s Accountability Plan for K-12 schools.   The primary responsibility of our school districts and schools is to ensure that all students are academically prepared for college and career when they graduate from the system.  The new State Accountability Dashboard only contributes to the fog of education.

The state adopted rigorous Common Core State Standards in ELA and Math that identify what students should know and be able to do at grades 3-8 and 11 to be on track for college and career by the end of 12th grade.  The state also participated in the development and implementation of a high-quality assessment called the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA) to gauge whether or not students meet or exceed these standards.  The state crafted an academic indicator for its Accountability Dashboard that is more about protecting the adults in the education system than it about clearly holding school districts and schools accountable for student academic performance.

Rather than link school and district accountability to the percentage of student overall and subgroup performance at these bands, the state devised a system that obfuscates actual student performance. The state academic indicator gambit works like this.  Students achieve scale score points on the ELA and Math state tests. The scale score is assigned a proficiency level based on where it falls within four proficiency bands.  Students are expected to score at the Meets or Exceeds proficiency bands.   The system subtracts individual student scale scores from the low-end scale score in the Meets Standards proficiency band.  These subtracted values are then added and divided by the number of scores to produce an Accountability value.  A color and ranking is then assigned to the derived value.

For ease of explanation, let’s say that the range for Meets Standards on the 5th grade Math test is between 100 and 150 Scale score points.  Imagine that Student A scores 90 points (Below Proficiency); Student B scores 110 points; and Student C scores 115 points.  The state system would then subtract each student score from the low value of 100 scale score points) for the Meets Standards proficiency level resulting in derived values of -10, +10, and +15.  The system then adds these values and divides by 3 resulting in a derived value of +5.  This +5 value would receive a green color or highly proficient on the state accountability system.

This system masks the performance of low performing students by redistributing “excess” scale score points of high performing students.  Unfortunately, Students B and C will probably not be able to accompany Student A to college to provide their excess test scoring capacities.  Additionally, the state does not include the 11th graders in this system presumably because there are not enough scale scores to spread around!  Rather than an innovation as David Plank suggests in the article, the state system is a subterfuge designed to protect the adults in the education system rather than the students, parents, and community.

In their Local School Accountability (LCAP) report, San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD)reports that overall academic progress as Green or High.  I wrote a Python script that comprehensively and clearly visualizes San Jose Unified School District performance on the state Math test by grade and by year as well as by year and by grade.  Please take a look at this report.  As you can easily see from the overall performance, fewer than ½ of all students meet or exceed Math standards and slightly more than 1/3 of eleventh graders meet or exceed Math standards.  The state allows SJUD the ability to claim a High Academic Performance. For Students with Disabilities, SJUSD reports an orange color (Medium) with no values.  But my table shows a continuous drop in the Math performance of Students with Disabilities across grades with only 5% of 11th grade Students with Disabilities Meeting or Exceeding Standards in 2016-17, an increase of 1 percentage point from the previous year.

Obviously, there is a big disconnect between the color-coded state academic indicator and actual student performance on the state Math Test.  The State Academic Dashboard is truly Fake Accountability and as our mendacious president might say: So, Sad!  There are real consequences as well.  The community thinks that student academic performance is satisfactory when it really is not!  The result of course is that almost 40% of California students enrolling into the California State College system require remediation.  The parents and students want and expect that their schools and school districts prepare all students for college and career. Parents and students have filed a lawsuit against the state to seek redress to their very legitimate grievance.  Yet the state continues to contribute to the fog of education by building an accountability system that is contrived to make the adults look good at all costs.

Enough is enough.  If you would like to see comprehensive pictures of how your school district performs in Math on the state test, please visit http://sipbigpicture.com.  Share these data visualizations with your District and School leaders.  Ask your leaders to set up posters of these one-page data visualizations within the District and schools.  Use the data visualizations to advocate for the improvement in curriculum, professional practices, and assessments. Please send me a comment on my web site if you want me to build a visualization tor your school or district.  Let’s get active. Let’s truly hold our educational leaders accountable with real data.

Strength in Numbers

Article submitted to San Jose Inside

The Strength in Numbers motto adopted by the Golden State Warriors Basketball team beautifully represents the organization at multiple levels.  The most obvious manifestation of this motto can be found immediately upon opening their App or visiting their Web site where they proudly post their current Win/Loss record along with an abundance of other team statistics.  Wouldn’t it be great if our school districts, schools, and charters in Santa Clara County proudly pronounced their own Strength in Numbers by posting their own comprehensive “Win/Loss” records as evidenced by the percentage of their students who meet or exceed Standards on the State Math and ELA tests?

Sadly, when we visit our School District, County, or State web sites, we often do not see how the children are performing academically.  I have had the opportunity to work with school districts across the country for over 45 years.  Most recently, I have engaged in conducting surveys and focus group meetings with students to find out what is important to them as we initiate District Strategic Planning processes in school districts in Washington State and the State of New York.  For the most part students want their teachers to treat them well and to respect them.  Most importantly, though, they want their teachers to prepare them for their future college and career goals. As we subsequently engage with parents and community members, we find great concordance with the student aspirations.

It is my belief that students, parents, community members, teachers, and administrators should be able to access and interpret comprehensive and complete data visualizations of student academic performance. The interpretation of these data visualizations should lead to the development of student goals for the district and schools that will ultimately support most students in achieving their dreams of being successful in college and career.  To this end, I have begun to build data visualizations of student academic performance for English Language Arts and Mathematics at the following Web site: http://sipbigpicture.com.  This will be a Herculean task but hopefully not a Sisyphean one! Please visit the site, get some data, and cheer me on!

At this site, you will find a Math Data visualization for San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD) among others.  You will find two heat mapped tables for student performance.  The first table provides a comprehensive view of student performance on the State Math test for 3 years. The table is organized by grade and by year.  The color continuum goes from red (low performance) to green (high performance).  The State Math Test is aligned with the Common Core State Standards in Math which identify what students should know and be able to do in Math in order to be on track for college and career.  Viewing the table, you can begin to answer the following fundamental questions:

  • Is there overall improvement in grade-level student performance over time?
  • Is there subgroup improvement in grade level student performance over time?

The colored heat maps make it easy to see patterns and to develop findings for these key questions.  Overall, student performance is low (yellow) with most grades consistently scoring under 50% meeting or exceeding Math standards.  There has been some modest improvement at each grade level over 3 years. (with the exception of 11th grade) The Asian subgroup demonstrates consistent high (green) performance over time while the English Learner subgroup demonstrates low (red) performance over time.

The table on the second page shows student performance by year by grade level.  Viewing this table, you can begin to answer the following questions.

  • Is there overall grade-level improvement in student performance within a given year?
  • Is there subgroup grade level improvement in student performance within a given year?

Within any year, there is no improvement in Math performance as you go from 3rd grade to 11th grade in any given year. In fact, there is a drop in performance every year between student Math performance in 3rd grade compared with student Math performance in 11th grade. (Yellow to Red). The Asian subgroup demonstrates consistently high performance (green) across grade levels within any of the three years while Students with Disabilities demonstrate consistently low (red) performance across grade levels within a given year.

You can see that using the colored heat maps. it is easy to discover patterns and findings of student performance.  Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to access data visualizations of this kind for your school district and school?  Regrettably, neither the County nor the State offer any real help in producing easy to interpret data visualizations.  In fact, the State has been complicit in obfuscating student performance by developing an Academic Indicator Dashboard that contributes to the fog of education.

The state system works like this. If the low end of the scale score band for Level 3 (Meeting Standards) is say 100 scale score points and student A scores 90 scale score points on the Math State Test for their grade level, and student B scores 110 scale score points, and student C scores 115 scale score points, the system subtracts each student scale score from 100 arriving at derived values of -10, +10, and +15. Tallying these values gives you +15 and then dividing by 3 students gives you +5. This value is slightly positive but would receive a green color or a HIGH performance on the Academic Indicator.

This is a flawed process because it is merely a redistribution of “excess” scale score points and does not give you a true reflection of actual student performance. It masks the fact that Student A is not scoring within the proficient band by redistributing scale score points from students B and C to student A. Unfortunately, students B and C will probably not be able to follow Student A to college to help remediate issues he may be having with college level math!  This would be like the NBA allowing teams to take excess points from their Wins and then distributing them to their losing scores in order to bolster their Win/Loss records!

Interestingly, the state does not include 11th grade students in this process and builds a second indicator for 11th graders called College and Career. Could it be that there is not enough extra scale score points to spread around for 11lth graders?

SJUSD reported the positive picture that they were a green school district for the state academic performance indicator on their state mandated Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP).  From the previous data visualizations and interpretations, you can see that SJUSD is not yet a highly proficient school district as it relates to student Math performance.

So rather than helping school districts visualize a comprehensive, open, and transparent performance on state tests as an academic accountability indicator, the state of California obfuscates performance using a “Spreading the Scale Score Points” gambit. Of course, the school districts and schools love this system because of its simplicity and ability to mask actual poor performance. The state loves it because it artificially supports their LCAP system as “getting” student results. The adults are saved with this system while the students, parents, and community wait for a true comprehensive picture of student performance

If you are interested in viewing a comprehensive and easily interpretable data visualization of your school or district’s student academic performance in Math, please visit my web site at http://sipbigpicture.com. If you do not see your school or district data visualization, please send me a note via the web site and I will hasten the development of your report.

We need to support our school districts in becoming more like sports team such as the amazing Golden State Warriors who have well-defined goals, metrics to gauge success, and a theory of action to achieve those results.  Let’s help our school districts follow a similar path to success! A little competition is a good idea!

I look forward to the opportunity to continue to share my over 45 years of insights about teaching and learning in the future for San Jose Inside.

 

 

State Data Visualization Support?

 

Getting access to quality data visualizations does not seem to be a priority for most state education agencies even though they are very important to support the development of both district and school improvement plans.  In California, the Data Quest system visualizes data in a very bureaucratic and user-unfriendly fashion.  And mere mortals should never try and download and use the state data research files as they are comma-delimited and not easily decipherable.   The state of California has now developed an Accountability Dashboard to supposedly make the use of data easier for districts and schools.  Really?

Unfortunately, at least for the Academic Indicator, the state education agency developed a convoluted and inappropriate process for assigning colors for academic performance in ELA and Math on the state SBA tests by redistributing individual scale scores based on the low end of the Level 3 scale score band – Meets Standards.

The system works like this. If the low end of the scale score band for Level 3 is say 100 scale score points and student A scores 90 scale score points on the Math SBA for their grade level, and student B scores 110 scale score points, and student C scores 115 scale score points, the system subtracts each student scale score from 100 arriving at derived scores of -10, +10, and +15. Tallying these values gives you +15 and then dividing by 3 students gives you +5. This value is slightly positive but would receive a green color or a HIGH performance on the Academic Indicator.

This is a flawed process because it is merely a redistribution of “excess” scale score points and does not give you a true reflection of actual student performance. It masks the fact that Student A is not scoring within the proficient band by redistributing scale score points from students B and C to student A. Unfortunately, students B and C will probably not be able to follow Student A to college to help remediate issues he may be having with college level math!

Interestingly, the state does not include 11th grade students in this process and builds a second indicator for 11th graders called College and Career Readiness. Could it be that there are not enough extra scale score points to spread around for 11lth graders?

So with this system, my school district – San Jose Unified School District reported the rosy picture that they were a green school district for the state academic performance indicator on their state mandated Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). I then built a Python Program to visualize Math Performance on the Math SBA for all grades and for all subgroups for 3 years producing a heat-mapped one page visualization. I found that fewer than 1/2 of San Jose Unified students at most grade levels (3-8) meet standards and only about 1/3 of 11th graders meet standards in Math. By reporting a status of Green on Academic Performance for Math, San Jose Unified masks an actual poor performance on the Math SBA.

So rather than helping school districts visualize a comprehensive, open, and transparent performance on state tests as an academic accountability indicator, the state of California obfuscates performance using a “Spreading the Scale Score Points” gambit. Do no harm first! Of course the school districts and schools love this system because of its simplicity and ability to mask actual poor performance. The state loves it because it artificially supports their LCAP accountability system as “getting” student results. The adults are saved with this system while the students, parents, and community wait for a true comprehensive picture of student performance!

If you would like to see your school and or district data visualized in an easy to understand and interpret fashion, please let me know by visiting the the We’ d Love to Hear From You page on our Web site!  We would be glad to help!

 

A New Conception for SIP Development

Many school improvement plans are built using templates provided by the state or from the school district.  These traditional plans look and feel very bureaucratic and they primarily serve the purpose of fulfilling a state or district requirement.  They often include a plethora of actions that are often disconnected from each other.  They generally do not have a theory of action that brings coherence to the school improvement system. They are often written in educational jargon that is not easy for educators to interpret let alone parents and community members.

I propose that we rethink the idea of School Improvement Plans.  We should approach them from the perspective of truly aligned action plans that link the improvement of student outcomes through the improvement of professional practices.   By identifying and aligning teaching, principal, and District administrator practices, we will be able to act in concert to improve student outcomes.

The process begins with the identification of student goals.  Traditional school improvement plans often conflate means and ends. For example, these plans will often include goals linked to parent engagement.  Yet parent engagement is a just a means to ultimately improve student outcomes. The core business of schools is to improve student outcomes so all School Improvement goals should always address improvement in student performance.

The process of identifying student goals begins with a comprehensive review of student outcome data.  Teams who are building the school improvement plan Big Picture should not have to wade through reams of tables and graphs to identify those trends in student performance that should be celebrated and those that should be addressed.  Most state web sites do a poor job of comprehensively visualizing multiple years of student data for multiple subgroups so that trends can be easily seen.  We are beginning to build a repository of data visualization templates that you may find useful in identifying trends in student performance.  Please see a link to a sample visualization of student data from my home district – San Jose Unified School District.

A second key element of the establishing the big picture for the School Improvement Plan is to identify specific practices that will support the achievement of student goals.  These practices begin with teaching practices. Traditional school improvement plans will often times only offer a general improvement in overall teaching practices or will relegate improvement in student outcomes to such things as after school support.  I suggest that it is better to identify specific teaching practices many of which can be found in the book Visible Learning by John Hattie. The systematic use of research-based teaching practices is the most important element in improving student outcomes.

Often times teaching practices can be found embedded within educational strategies that are currently underway within a school or school district. For example, the teaching practice of formative assessment with descriptive feedback can often times be embedded within a strategies such as those promoted by the Assessment Training Institute or similar organizations.  It is important to call out these strategies within the SIP Big Picture in order to demonstrate an alignment between programs and strategies with specific teaching practices.  We intend to include data bases of research-based professional practices soon.

Professional development and collaboration is another essential element to the Big Picture for School Improvement.  Professional development and coaching need to be clearly identified and aligned with both the strategies as well as the professional practices.  The opportunity for teacher teams to collaborate is also an essential element of the SIP Big Picture.

What gets measured gets done. School teams should identify those metrics that will let them know that student outcomes are being achieved. Often times these metrics already exist but need to be identified within the big picture. If there is a goal to ensure that students are reading by the end of 3rd grade, it might be good to include a metric in the Big Picture that measures student on track fluency in grades 1-3.  Additionally, it is important to measure the actual implementation of professional practices.

Once, the big picture is completed, it will provide a wonderful opportunity for teacher teams to discuss both vertical and horizontal alignment amongst all of the key elements. The Big Picture should be able to tell a coherent story about school improvement aligned to specific student goals.  The Big Picture can also provide a beautiful and comprehensible communication resource for parents and the community as an addition to the web site or as large posters placed within the school.

Of course, the Big Picture of the School Improvement plan will require monitoring and continuous improvement. Identifying specific tasks aligned to the educational strategies, professional development and collaboration, as well as the metrics is essential.  We will provide tools to help develop and monitor these key tasks.

I  have developed  a template and a sample of the Big Picture for School Improvement.  We look forward to working with you on making your school improvement come alive through the Big Picture approach.  I would love your feedback about this post.  Also, feel free to contact me for more information and support.