Yesterday I noticed what I considered an unusual pair of re-Tweets by Randi Weingarten, president of the UFT.
Weingarten is one of the few people on ‘my side’ of the ed reform debate who I have never met, personally. She was portrayed as the ‘villain’ to Michelle Rhee’s ‘hero’ in ‘Waiting For Superman’ and also a main character in Steven Brill’s book ‘Class Warfare.’
Though Randi Weingarten is so often accused of not putting students first, she often frustrates teachers by compromising too much or by acting like she’s buddies with various reformers. After Brill all but called her a liar in ‘Class Warfare,’ she appeared at a book signing event with him. She also was, if I can remember correctly, on Arne Duncan’s bus tour for a little bit.
When I saw this pair of re-Tweets, I felt I had to respond. She responded back to me a few minutes later.
This sparked a lengthy exchange which included Katie Osgood, nemesis to Chicago reformers and to all false aspects of the corporate reform movement. Weingarten didn’t understand why we were resisting the celebration of a unionized charter school that supposedly had a 100% graduation rate and 100% acceptance to college. Shouldn’t we be celebrating this?
It is tricky to explain, particularly in a Twitter debate so I’ll try as a blog post.
First of all, the originator of the Tweets was Steve Barr, the guy from Blackboard Wars who I felt was very disrespectful to the community members and who also didn’t seem to have any real knowledge of how to improve a school. I don’t want a guy like that as my ally.
The miraculous claim of 100% graduation rate, 100% college acceptance rate troubles me. I’ve seen this one so many times, and I get suspicious anytime I see it. The 100% graduation rate always means that 100% of the students who made it to senior year then graduated and not that 100% of those that started in 9th grade graduated. I checked the statistics and saw that the class had shrunk from 105 to 92 between 9th and 11th grade. I’m not sure how many were in the graduating class, but at least 15% seems to have left the school, which isn’t terrible for a charter school.
As far as the 100% getting accepted to college, this stat doesn’t mean much if the students are not ready for college. One indicator of this is that the students at this Green Dot High School only scored about 390 on each of their SAT sections.
Finally, I did an easy investigation of whether or not this school really had the ‘same kids’ as the nearby failing school. What I learned is that the incoming 9th graders had scores at the end of 8th grade that put them in the top 1/3 of all high schools. So these were higher performing kids. I then made one of my famous scatter plots (it’s been a while, I know) where for each of the 400 or so high school in New York City I put on the horizontal axis the incoming 9th graders’ 8th grade scores scores and on the vertical axis I put the SAT scores. A true miracle school would be floating above the pretty strong trend line showing the strong correlation. Instead we see that the Green Dot High School represented by — what else? — a green dot, is actually on the low end of the trend line.
Weingarten said we should celebrate this success. I can understand why she would say this. Green Dot is a unionized charter school, and having a miracle school like that, even if the miracle is a fake, means that unions can’t be THE problem.
But I don’t want to celebrate a fake miracle. The belief that harder working teachers with higher expectations can perform miracles is a dangerous one. When politicians believe this, they use these miracle schools to justify the mass firing of teachers and mass closings of schools.
This doesn’t mean that Green Dot High is a bad school either. It is average, I think, in terms of standardized test score ‘growth,’ I think is evident from the scatter plot. If they have small class size and a good school culture, as Weingarten says they do, then that is something I support too. But to give ‘reformers’ more ammo in their teacher bashing arsenals just to say that unionized charters can perform false miracles too feels like dangerous territory to me.