Monday, May 5, 2014

Don't Bother BCS Supporters With the Facts (Even If They Help)

" 'Oh, that was easy,' says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing." 
-- Douglas Adams
So here's a weird one: why haven't BCS supporters ever pointed out more flattering demographics numbers about their school when we've debated it?

Let me explain.

A considerable part of our discussion over education policy in Los Altos is about numbers and statistics. These numbers drive conclusions which in turn drive public opinion, and ultimately policy.

One key statistic about BCS versus the wider Los Altos School District are its demographic numbers (note there are two different links here). These numbers are important because they speak to BCS's role as a public school. Study after study (as well as common sense) shows that the output of schools are driven mostly by their input: schools with easier-to-educate populations score better than schools more difficult students.

Further, we know that certain demographic groups score a lot higher on standardized tests than others. (Only as an aggregate of course: every student is an individual, but when you add them all together, this is what you get).

Hence when we see that BCS has a lot more of the "easier" demographic and far less of the "harder" and more expensive-to-educate demographic, we need to consider that when evaluating BCS's net contribution to our public school system.

In terms of test scores, LASD is very near the highest-ranked in the State. Meanwhile, BCS has had slightly higher test scores for the past few years than LASD as a whole, and out-ranks almost all LASD schools individually most of the time, and is typically within 1-2% in any case. In other words, in terms of objectively defined output, BCS is essentially the same as LASD.

So with the "output" of LASD and BCS being virtually identical, the key variable becomes the "input": demographics. In this case, BCS's numbers show a student population that has a far-higher propensity to score higher on standardized tests.

The common BCS retort, however, is that their numbers are "about the same" as LASD, and that the "slight" difference doesn't matter, and so forth.

Using the statistics I gathered at the Ed Data website (the first link above), I noticed a rather glaring and damning statistic about BCS: none of their English Language Learners are Spanish-speaking. When I'm trying to distill things down in our debate, this was a useful tool. Yes, all of these numbers are complicated, and need to be viewed in context that takes some reading to understand, but here's a handy "sound bite" statistic that sums everything up: "zero Spanish-speaking ELLs".

I've used that sound bite many times and many times BCS supporters have engaged me in debate about it. None of them have ever wanted to debate me on the actual numbers, nor have ever disputed my facts with any specific counter-facts. The only retort I've ever received have been opinions ("oh I think that's wrong") or just plain personal attacks of various kinds. I generally provide a URL for people to follow which backs up my facts, which in turn can really only be disputed by providing counter-facts (another URL) or an explanation of why those particular facts are not relevant.

But they never wanted to debate me on the facts, which is incredible, since my numbers were likely to be wrong.

I recently noticed the "other" source of statistics for California schools (why are there two sources for the same data?)--the second link above--and that data does show that there are Spanish-speaking ELLs at Bullis Charter School.  It shows more detail (grade levels, etc.) so I'd even be inclined to believe this data source more than the one I had previously believed.

But here's the weird part: why didn't the oodles of BCS supporters--whom I have debated over the course of several years now--ever point this out? Surely this would have helped their cause.

My own "cause" is ultimately the truth and if I find out my facts are wrong then I am happy to change my conclusions. I think this is true for most outside community members who truly want to understand what is actually going on here.

So here's the corrected summary statement: BCS has about half as many Spanish-speaking ELLs than LASD. Not as punchy as the previous sound bite, but the thesis that it's supporting--that BCS has the same output with an easier input--is still unshaken.


Now, back to the back-story (which for me is much more interesting): why didn't BCS supporters point this out? Certainly I don't know what goes on in their heads, but based on my experience in this debate, I think it's a combination of the following:

  1. Some BCS supporters probably assumed I was right and didn't question my data.
  2. Some BCS supporters knew I was using the wrong data set, but didn't want to point out the correct one because they knew it wouldn't ultimately help their argument (although wouldn't it, a little?).
  3. Certain BCS supporters knew I was using the wrong data set, but didn't want to point this out to me lest I stop using it, but instead would use this as an "example" of everything I write, leading a very willing audience enjoying a billionaire-subsidized school to feel better about themselves dismissing every single thing I say.
  4. That many--or even most--BCS supporters have long since abandoned the truth as a source of helpfulness. They instead see the battle as that of a shouting match, a battle in the courts, a battle over who has more money, a battle over who can lie the most effectively, and so forth. They deem my statistics as mere "factual arguments" which, as we sadly know do not always carry the day.

This last item is the one which is the most troubling. Recent court filings show that Bullis Charter School Chairman Ken Moore has absolutely no allegiance to the truth, not even under oath in Superior Court.

How does one get oneself to a place where the truth and reality are your enemy? I don't know, but I do know this: historically, scarcely few individuals have lasted long in such a state.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Find me on Los Altos Patch, Too

Just a quick note to BCST readers: I've been blogging on Los Altos Patch as well.

My blog there is Bullis Charter School Watch. Enjoy!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Arturo González, BCS Counsel, Intentionally Misquotes Me

On March 21st, 2013, Bullis Charter School held a "meeting" that was open to the public, or apparently so, or confusedly so, or maybe it was "private" (and what would that mean for a school that is nominally "public"?). Suffice it to say that there was some confusion about this. In any case, the primary speaker of the meeting was BCS lead counsel and big shot lawyer Arturo González.

The primary purpose of this meeting seemed to be for BCS to drum up hatred for the LASD community within its own parent ranks.

In this meeting, Arturo used writing of mine to make his case. He quoted an email I sent Doug Smith over a year ago. I had to dig this email up myself, as I didn't even remember it. He did not mention my name, but the quote fragments were unmistakably from my email.

The email in question was, if I do say so myself, a stream-of-conscious one from somebody who had only recently become acquainted with the issue. As it was a personal email between myself and another individual (I knew who Doug was, but I didn't consider my email "official" in any way), I didn't really check the email for... anything. I just wrote what I felt at the time and hit the send button. Months later when I did get around to crafting a complete and positive answer to this crisis my approach was well thought-out and complete.

That notwithstanding, Arturo apparently took "snippets" from this email, pieced them together to make them look like one sentence, and then used that newly formed sentence to lead the audience of unsuspecting BCS parents to two false conclusions:

1. That the contents of his snippets represented my complete opinion, my current opinion, or even my opinion at all.

2. That this fabricated opinion was actually representative of the entire LASD community and not just one person's. (A lie within a lie).

Arturo's (Mis)Quotes of Mine

Now I will use the evidence from the record to show that Mr. González lied to BCS parents and other community members in this "session".

Arturo sets these quotes up by saying, " put into context why we're here and why we're in litigation...". It's important to underscore this, since, as what follows is a lie, it would follow that a primary reason why BCS parents were there and the reason for BCS's litigation is a lie. He sets up this quote as a key rationale for BCS's vicious legal attack on our public schools.

Here's the quote from Arturo: 
"...this person writes, 'I do not recognize BCS's moral right to exist I think the charter laws essentially force a vigilante response to charter schools I think advocating the dissolution of BCS is the only response I do not think there is a valid compromise solution.'".
He goes on to say how "stunned" he is, and how I am supposed to get a therapist, etc. and then proceeds to insinuate that many Los Altos community members have this "mentality".

That is what Arturo gives as a primary driver for why BCS should continue its assault on our local public schools, and significantly escalate the war, now extending to individuals including myself and our individual elected officials. 

In other words, the BCS Board and Arturo are justifying their dirty work, publicly at least, on a straw man--a figment of their imagination that they concocted to deceive their own parent community. They are making up an enemy and then fighting it vigorously.

Analysis of Aturo's Misquote

So let's go over Arturo's newly concocted sentence, shall we?

The actual text he was quoting was not one sentence, but rather four sentence fragments rolled together to sound like one run-on sentence. Each of those sentences had a distinct context, and each contained other parts which would change the meaning of the fragment. It makes me wonder why he didn't also piece together, "I hope the Giants lose today" out of the same email using sentence fragments. It would have been just as dishonest.

I will copy the entire email below, but for now I will just go over the four actual sentences above, one by one, and explain what I meant by them. I'll leave it to the reader to try to untangle Arturo's handiwork by finding the fragment in each actual sentence sorry that's just too hard--I highlighted Arturo's quoted fragments.

First, there's this one:
"3. I particularly don't think that Charter Schools belong here in Los Altos. 
4. I do not recognize BCS's moral right to exist (which is different than saying legal right, in this context)."
I don't think the Charter school laws were meant for high-performing districts like Los Altos, and so do many people, including many charter school advocates. They, like myself, would not think that BCS should exist. However, the part Arturo leaves out, in order to inflame his audience, is that I absolutely did not question BCS's legal right to exist". Arturo committed a lie of omission here.

Next, there's this one:
"7. I think that the Charter laws put Districts like our in an impossible position of both needing to "compete" against Charters "like a business" but then legally forbid them to compete. BCS is run like a killer tech company bent on wiping out its competitors (i.e. public schools)--and the District can do no such thing in response.  
8. In light of this, I think the Charter laws essentially force a "vigilante" response to Charter schools."
This one doesn't need much explanation. Note how Arturo not only used a sentence fragment to misquote me here, he left off what is a crucial bit of punctuation--the quotes around the word, "vigilante". The idea here is to insinuate to BCS parents that I am calling for armed conflict, etc. This insinuation is, of course, libelous. 

Finally, the last two sentence fragments are found in these paragraphs:
16. Tactically, I think advocating the dissolution of BCS is the only response that is consistent with reality. Insofar as you allow them a "right to exist" you allow them a "right to take over any public school they want", in my opinion, which of course is different than yours and the rest of the [LASD] Board's. 
17. I do NOT think that there is a valid "compromise solution" here that will make everybody happy, and that when BCS is not "happy" they will just continue to sue (and they have nothing to lose by doing so). As such, every "compromise" made with them will simply have a ratchet effect.
The first point is as close to a valid fragment as Arturo gets: I did say, and mean, that I advocated the dissolution of BCS. That has to be, however, read in the context of the quote before it, wherein I made it clear I didn't question BCS's legal right to exist. In this context I expressed only that I wished BCS would go away, and wished that people would stop supporting the school by applying and enrolling in the school. This was more than a bit muddled, yes, and I wrote a complete answer on that point two months later, and haven't changed my essential stance since.

The next and final sentence fragment Arturo pieces together, on the other hand, is blatant lying on Aturo's part. Taking the first few words of that sentence and conveying to others that I "said that" is a bald-faced lie.

Alas, Aturo is a very experienced litigator. He didn't use my name (my pseudonym) in this BCS parent anger-enhancement session. Therefore I can't sue him for libel. Clever.

Full Email Here

Here's the full text of my email to Doug Smith. 

Doug, as I am a private citizen--and insofar as you are not--I am not "on your side" per se.

I do not speak for the Board or any other official entity. Please feel free to officially repudiate anything and everything I say in any public forum in order to make that clear. (I have said this many times myself as well).

What your are in effect saying is that anybody who speaks out against BCS is assumed to be speaking for the District, which in turn is in a legal position that precludes it from having a public opinion on BCS, Charter Schools, Charter laws, etc. etc. I understand that it's the Board's duty is to faithfully uphold the law as it's written. However a private citizen's duty is to question those laws and engage in eternal diligence. 

You are, oddly, implying that the Board's "side" is my "side" but we should just not admit that in public--and I do not think that's necessarily true, and I don't think you'd want to imply such a thing.

As for my own personal "side", please understand:

1. I don't speak for the Board and I won't be forced to act as if I do.

2. Like most of the founders of the Charter movement, I do not agree with the entire concept of Charter Schools any more. I do not expect this "fad" to last much longer than few more years.

3. I particularly don't think that Charter Schools belong here in Los Altos.

4. I do not recognize BCS's moral right to exist (which is different than saying legal right, in this context).

5. I think what the Moore family et. al. has done to our community is a travesty (although I'd never publicly mentioned their names as this is, for the moment, nothing personal).

6. I think the BCS continually spreads lies to get their way, and that the District is not legally able to refute these lies effectively.

7. I think that the Charter laws put Districts like our in an impossible position of both needing to "compete" against Charters "like a business" but then legally forbid them to compete. BCS is run like a killer tech company bent on wiping out its competitors (i.e. public schools)--and the District can do no such thing in response. 

8. In light of this, I think the Charter laws essentially force a "vigilante" response to Charter schools.

9. I absolutely do NOT agree with the philosophical stance of appeasement. Failing to engage an enemy because you think that "will just make them mad" always leads to defeat. Always. 

10. Related, I do think our community should "compromise" with BCS in any way, and ANYTHING they do to detract from our amazing public schools here is offensive.

11. Related, I think many people who are against the Charter forget that Charter people are a tiny minority, politically. They forget that Measure E succeeded by a 2/3 majority despite BCS's concerted attempts to kill it. BCS is weak, politically.

12. I think the Moore family has "created a monster" by years of anti-public school indoctrination of parents and BCS leaders. The current "charter movement" aspect mixes in real Republican politics as well, divorcing the issue, in many people's minds, from our children here. What started as an attempt to get a local school going in Hills is now a key battle front against the Democrats. This is light years from where they started. It's now not so much as a school as it is a political statement.

13. I think the current set of "tactics" by private citizens that have been employed against the Charter for the last eight years have not, by any measure, been successful.

14. I think that many people who have "been in the trenches" in this war for many years don't understand the significance of what happened in October when BCS prevailed in their lawsuit against the District. There is a "sleeping giant" effect happening right now in that for many years we parents we able to "sleep" comfortably knowing that the District was prevailing in court. I know I did. Now we are awake.

15. I think that if prospective parents of BCS knew what was going on here, their applications would plummet. I was an applicant of BCS so I have a perspective here. I think private parents fighting BCS "as a business" in marketing against them is a powerful tactic that WILL work.

16. Tactically, I think advocating the dissolution of BCS is the only response that is consistent with reality. Insofar as you allow them a "right to exist" you allow them a "right to take over any public school they want", in my opinion, which of course is different than yours and the rest of the Board's.

17. I do NOT think that there is a valid "compromise solution" here that will make everybody happy, and that when BCS is not "happy" they will just continue to sue (and they have nothing to lose by doing so). As such, every "compromise" made with them will simply have a ratchet effect.

18. In wars between zealots and moderates, zealots always win, all other things being in the ballpark of equal.

19. We've fought this battle the same way for the last eight years and it has gotten us nowhere. It's time to change the tactics.

20. In your role as a District trustee I do NOT expect or even condone your direct support, coordination or cooperation. 

Please continue to do what you legally should be doing, but be aware that some private citizens in our community want to change those laws significantly and wish to fight this battle in ways that you legally cannot but we legally can.

Thank you again.

-- An LASD Parent

Friday, March 8, 2013

New Blog, New Focus

Hello everybody,

Today I've finally completed what I've been meaning to do for a while: organizing my blog universe into two distinct galaxies, this one, for issues surrounding that of Bullis Charter School and our local area, and a new one, covering education reform in the USA.

I think this new approach will make much more sense to my two distinct audiences, and my two distinct subjects. This blog will take over as my primary blog. Obviously the two will overlap somewhat, but hey, that's why they invented hyperlinks.


Joan J. Strong, pseudonym

Friday, March 1, 2013

Reply from Julia Hover-Smoot, SCCBOE, and My Reply

Julie Hover-Smoot replied to my email from yesterday. Below is her email reply, and my reply to the rest of the Board (whom she copied on her reply).

To the Superintendent and Select Members of the Santa Clara County Board of Education,

I am obviously disappointed with Ms. Hover Smoot's response. However, per her request, I have excluded her from this reply. In her short response she made several factual errors I wish to point out, and, oddly, made a mockery of the Brown Act by applying it in such a way as to achieve the opposite of its original spirit. She also chose to ignore the simple and obvious facts I was pointing out (from non-anonymous sources such as court filings), and instead chose to "shoot the messenger" as it were.

Ms. Hover Smoot could not be more wrong about the role of Anonymous Dissent in democracy, and specifically American democracy. The famous blogger Tyler Durden (Zero Hedge) summed it up nicely:

"Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. it thus exemplifies the purpose behind the bill of rights, and of the first amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation– and their ideas from suppression– at the hand of an intolerant society.

Though often maligned (typically by those frustrated by an inability to engage in ad hominem attacks) anonymous speech has a long and storied history in the United States. Used by the likes of Mark Twain (aka Samuel Langhorne Clemens) [and the founding fathers in the Federalist Papers], we think ourselves in good company in using one or another nom de plume. Particularly in light of an emerging trend against vocalizing public dissent in the United States, we believe in the critical importance of anonymity and its role in dissident speech. Like the Economist magazine, we also believe that keeping authorship anonymous moves the focus of discussion to the content of speech and away from the speaker--as it should be".

The United States Supreme Court had this to say about anonymous dissent:

"Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind. Persecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all."

Ms. Hover Smoot also seems to be unaware of recent world news, e.g. the events going on in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East, where anonymous speech on the Internet is a critical part of the democratic process going on there. 

As for the Brown Act in particular, this law (of course) applies to the actions of elected officials such as yourself, not private citizens. Wikipedia's short description of the Brown Act says it was, "passed in 1953, that guaranteed the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies."

In other words, the spirit of the Brown Act is full public participation by all citizens in democracy. The Internet, as we know, allows participation like never before. The Brown Act, therefore, while not applicable to this situation exactly (a point to make all by itself), certainly agrees in principle with anonymous dissent, and the use of the Internet to further this democratic value.

I hope, therefore, that the remaining members of the Board will not resort to misapplying a set of laws to achieve the opposite of their intent--something with which we are all too familiar here in Los Altos. I hope they can see how important it is for all citizens to be able to participate in democracy without fear and intimidation.

Thank you again,

Joan J. Strong, pseudonym

Email Reply From Julie Hover-Smoot

Dear Ms. Strong,

Democracy cannot survive if the institutions that serve its citizens act on anonymous information and reports. That kind of government belongs in Soviet Russia, North Korea and East Germany before the Berlin Wall was torn down.

Every other single person involved in this matter has stated their name and opinion publicly. They have participated as constitutionally protected citizens -- a protection that is available to you as well. 

Do not contact me again in an anonymous form, It is the antithesis of democracy and a mockery of the Brown Act.

Julia Hover-Smoot
Trustee, Santa Clara County Board of Edication

Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Bullis Charter Litigation Crosses the Line, Gets Personal

Today I sent the following letter to the Santa Clara Board of Education. 

To the Superintendent and Members of the Santa Clara County Board of Education,

You will recall that in April of 2012 I sent you a letter containing some of my thoughts about our situation here in Los Altos. As a parent within the Los Altos School District, I was very concerned about Bullis Charter School's impact on our community, and I remain so. I have been very vocal on various Internet forums in my opposition to this school's actions and policies.

I have chosen to remain anonymous and speak through a pseudonym on this issue for the time being. I outlined my reasons in my previous letter. This is an emotionally charged issue here, and there have been incidents within our community involving others who have spoken out against BCS, and I wish to avoid those. I keep only my legal identity (name, address, etc.) a secret: who I am conceptually is no secret to anybody, including the leadership of Bullis Charter School.

Thus far my concern has mostly involved this school's impact on our neighborhood school communities. 

Today that concern has been raised to the next level. I now see that the negative impact Bullis Charter School is having and will continue to have on our community spans far beyond that of mere school facilities. BCS has now firmly established itself as a force of intimidation upon individual community members here in Los Altos.

Please see the following blog posting by Doug Smith, LASD Trustee, here:

To summarize, Bullis Charter School has mentioned my name (my pseudonym) in their lawsuit against our school district, demanding that the LASD Board of Trustees divulge my true identity (which, to be clear, they do not know). As the Board of BCS is well aware of my writing--including my previous letter to you--this aggressive act can only be construed as intimidation of anybody who dares to speak out against them.

My concern, to be clear, is not for myself--for I have absolutely no intention of being silenced by these thugs--my concern is that, upon seeing the tactics they are using against me, other community members will be afraid to speak their minds openly about Bullis Charter School.

I hope you agree with me that this is a very unfortunate development in our difficult facilities situation here in the Los Altos School District. I ask therefore that the Santa Clara County Board of Education issue a clear statement against tactics like this, and the recent actions of the BCS Board of Directors and their legal team. Please make it clear you stand for freedom of speech, and for community members to be able to speak their minds and be involved in their school communities without fear and intimidation.

Thank you,

Joan J. Strong, pseudonym

P.S. Let me state for the record:

1. I do not know, personally, any of the LASD Board of Trustees, past or present.

2. I have never exposed my real identity with anybody except for my spouse (for fear of exactly what is now happening, happening). 

3. I have never discussed anything with any of the LASD Board of Trustees, or any employee of LASD, except as foloows: my sole direct communication with any LASD official consists of a total of three emails in the past 18 months (under this pseudonym), the most recent one being about 10 months ago. Only one was responded to with a short response from one of the LASD Board Members, and the topic of the discussion was generally about form (criticizing my choice of words, tone, etc. in an internet posting), not policy. The other two communications I sent to them were not responded to.

3a. I have never, through any intermediary, communicated anything to the LASD board (except as noted above), nor have they communicated anything to me. 

4. As I stated in my previous email to this body, I have absolutely no official connection to any government office of any kind, including any school, public or otherwise, except as that of a parent in a public school.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Charter Schools: Polishing a Data Turd

A few years ago Bill Gates and a few other members of Billionaires for Annihilating Public Schools funded a very expensive study on Charter Management Organizations (CMOs). (Yes, they call them CMOs--I didn't make up that part).

CMOs are private businesses that manage charter schools. They are the new "middle men" of the charter school industry in the USA. They will grow into one of the largest businesses in the USA if charter schools continued to be allowed to (partially) displace our system of public education. They the where the rubber meets the road in the trillion dollar opportunity that mega-rich investors--sorry, philanthropists--see in charter schools.

Why haven't you heard about this study? Strange, isn't it? Seems like the Charter folks would be shouting about it from the rooftops.

Suffice it to say that the results of the study were mixed, and anybody taking a serious look at this data would have to conclude that charters are not a solution to anything significant and certainly aren't worth the money and massive diversion they are causing in taking energy away from reform and programs that would actually help.

They found the usual array of "mixed" results from charter schools in general: some improve over the local school district, many don't. (I continue to be amazed how many charter schools cannot improve upon their local schools considering they are "shooting fish in a barrel" by engaging in creaming and only taking the relatively best students and throwing out the lower performing ones).

The study also focused on success factors. What makes a successful charter school? Here are the key factors the study found:

  1. Charter schools implement school-wide behavioral policies. Translation? They get to kick out the harder-to-educate kids and send them back to public schools. This is the other half of the equation I talked about in my article on creaming: find the easiest-to-educate kids first, and throw out the expensive ones, repeat.
  2. Charter school teachers receive more "coaching". Translation? Charter schools have more money (the report admits the study's numbers are highly skewed by schools with "philanthropy" e.g. they get a lot more money than just public funding) and thus have more time to spend on management overhead. (I have also discussed the role the parents play in simulating this management overhead, and it's likely that charters benefit from both paid and parental management far more than public schools).
  3. Charter schools have more instructional time. Translation? Unless you believe in magic, this means quite simply that many of today's charters simply have more money to educate their relatively uniform, relatively non-special needs kids.
So in reading this study's rather extensive data, you must conclude:
  • That charter schools aren't a silver bullet and have not solved any real educational problems.
  • That more money means better outcomes in aggregate (although not always). Who would have guessed that?
  • That creaming continues to be charter school's sole advantage over public schools.
So there you have it. Bill Gates and the Walton (Walmart) family just spent a small fortune proving their model has no merit. Clearly this research company won't be getting their contracts renewed.