ACSU: Shut up and agree part two

Out in the Golden State theres an NGO (shorthand for non-governmental organization, a typically tax-subsidized group with partial autonomy created to pursue some governmental agenda) by the name of the Collaborative for High Performance Schools. You might be so na_as to think that high-performance schools are those which produce high-performance/high-achievement students but youd be wrong. The CHPS has just published a new set of high-performance criteria for schools in its Basic Practices Manual, and not a one of them has any connection with the primary attribute a simpleton like me might consider exemplary school performance: teaching better. Instead, every one of the criteria is architectural or urban-design. I have nothing against things architectural ( unless they stray into the crushed-tin-can school of admire-me trendy modern design, as pioneered by one Frank Gehry, AIA) but calling them performance indicators is, Id opine, a stretch. Heres a partial list: school gardens, energy efficiency, safe neighborhood walking routes for students, net-zero energy useage, and limits on mercury. Such willful abuse-of-language is neither new to education consider phrases such as whole language or new math or Ebonics which have been adopted as labels for curriculum redesign; these turned out to be neither whole nor new nor particularly productive. Nor were they confined to California, a state which within recent memory elected a governor who was subsequently labeled as Gov. Moonbeam. I first encountered the edusemantic practice almost a quarter-century ago, in one of the dismal basement conference rooms under the Middlebury Inn. That was in 1984 and a small delegation from the Vermont Education Association and the Democrat Party offered a presentation on what they called quality indicators under the label of Performance Standards in the Classroom. As a gullible na_ I dutifully attended thinking to learn something about teaching practices, test scores, and student achievement, only to discover that, in their presumably more enlightened view, educational performance standards should be understood as architectural in nature: lineal feet of chalkboard, lighting levels, ventilation, artful interior finish color choices. Interestingly, the room in which the presentation took place met none of the educators performance criteria, but I learned a lot mostly about the politics of language choice. With consciousness thus suitably and permanently raised, I recently approached the last nine pages of the 2008 Addison Central Supervisory Union Annual Report with scholastic caution (although how the report itself could be found in the western foothills of the southern Appalachians is quite another story, too involved to recite here). Each page is devoted to a single school within the ACSU and is headed Comparative Data for Cost-Effectiveness along with the mandating statute, 16VSA 165, which actually requires schools to gasp! actually publish the actual effectiveness stats. ACSU management (did its executive committee concur? I dont know) chose to punt rather than comply. There are only tables showing various staffing numbers and ratios, the numbers of students and the per-pupil expenditures, and the impact of that spending on property tax rates. Nowhere on any of the nine pages is there a single statistic showing student achievement levels and how they correlate (or not) with staffing levels or per-pupil spending statistics which youd think would be basic indicators of cost-effectiveness. The school-by-school numbers and ratios of administrators and teachers, while interesting, offer no information on what school employees are actually accomplishing as measured by student achievement test scores in the basic skills of math and reading, much less in contrast to a range of school-by-school per-pupil spending levels. Conversely, measuring and reporting on cost-effectiveness, as required by statute and by choice not addressed in the report, isnt at all difficult. It can be done, for example, merely by looking at the arithmetical ratio between average test scores and actual spending on a school-by-school basis and using the miracle of long division to generate an effectiveness index. When you actually run these numbers it turns out that the most cost-effective elementary school in the Addison Central Supervisory Union is the Weybridge School with a calculated E.I. of 100, while the least cost-effective is Shoreham School with an E.I. of 34. More on these numbers next week. Former Vermont resident Martin Harris now spends most of his time in Tennessee.

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