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, "...to 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.

Thanks,

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: darcie_green@sccoe.org, josephsds1@aol.com, michael_chang@sccoe.org, anna_song@sccoe.org, grace_mah@sccoe.org, julia_hover-smoot@sccoe.org, leon_beauchman@sccoe.org, Xavier_DeLaTorre@sccoe.org
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.




Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Closing the Parenting Gap

Update 7/20/2012: I was made aware of a great PBS Frontline story about a middle school implementing a program with parallels to the concept I talk about below. (Imagine how much more powerful their counselors would be if they could follow a child all the way through their education from K to 12).


Closing the Parenting Gap: Closing the Achievement Gap With A Focus on Its Single-most Important Factor -- Parents

Summary: Diligent, Active Parents = High Test Scores

Here in Los Altos our school district is the top-ranked in California. When educators, politicians and philanthropists talk about the "achievement gap", most would agree that our District and others like it are the other side of it. We could be considered, in a sense, the goal of education reform: to lift up lower-ranking schools to the level of our top-scoring schools.

So what makes our schools here tick? Why does the Los Altos School District perform so much better than Districts only a few miles away?

I submit that the one factor that is greater than any other is parents.

Many education experts agree and the data proves this out as well. You might even surmise that if one of the schools in a District like ours were magically "flipped" with a low-performing school then the high test scores would follow the kids and the parents of the high-performing school and not the school programs, the teachers, the facilities, and all of the other things overtly purchased by our tax dollars.

My conclusion, then, is that our tax dollars should affect the things which produce better outcomes--but this means we need to figure out how we can foster (and/or simulate) the great parenting found in top-ranking schools and bring those benefits to less advantaged areas.


The Affluent Parent Index

We've all heard of "API scores", and this article on API scores says it all: the richer the area, the higher the schools score in standardized tests. Hence the quip, "the Affluent Parent Index" when describing API scores.

Mere "affluence" is probably not the end of it: we also enjoy a deep commitment to education here in Los Altos and I suspect that is true for other high-scoring areas. Our area is very fortunate, yes, but for the most part our citizens didn't gain their relative affluence by having a great singing voice or looking suave in front of the camera: we're high-tech people and we owe it all to education. So yes, we even outperform other wealthy areas handily.

In broad terms, however, affluence is a pretty good indicator of educational outcomes including standardized test scores. So the bad news, it seems, is that better educational outcomes seem to be a matter money.

This conclusion certainly flies in the face of the "snake oil" remedies offered by the many "education reform" advocates and politicians: just blame everything on "bad teachers" and pay them a lot less money, less benefits, and offer less job security. Doing this, say these reformers, conveniently kills two birds with one stone: we drastically reduce spending on education (lower taxes!) and we increase positive educational outcomes. It sounds too good to be true and it is: the results of Charter schools across the country are mixed at best.

What are the financial results? As for saving money, while it's still too early to tell, firing lots of experienced teachers and replacing them with less experience teachers is inevitably going to save money (in the short run anyhow). The question is, for who?

As privatization is a key part of this "reform", the money we save by hiring less experienced teachers will simply flow directly to corporate profits, not the taxpayers in the form of lower taxes. Private companies are very crafty at lobbying the government for more money--often far more so than public employee unions.

As for educational outcomes, that's a mixed bag as well, and it's tainted by the creaming problem. Today so much of the "education reform" discussion is taken up by the Charter School approach, and charters naturally gravitate toward parents with higher "API" scores--so teasing apart the actual benefits of the Charter model is nearly impossible.

Real education reform that is not snake-oil is going to require investment--an unpopular assessment of the situation because nobody likes government spending when it means taxes either being raised (or not being lowered). Nobody wants to hear this, but most see the downside of our country falling behind in education--so in come the snake-oil salesmen to allow people to think they can have their cake and eat it too.

Since they are newer enterprises, Charter Schools will gather younger teachers who tend to be less expensive, and Charters do not have the overhead any organization that's been around for a long would have e.g. pensions and older employees. So the shift to charters can create a temporary financial windfall for the system. The keyword is temporary. Longer-term Charter schools have no structural advantage over public schools yet spend taxpayer dollars without public oversight. This will only lead to a "crony capitalism" system of corruption and will not lower costs.

Blaming teachers, unions, and school programs is pointless compared to the enormous difference parental affluence makes. Simulating the benefits of affluence--making parents better and/or investing in state-provided surrogates--will operate on the largest factor in the equation and thus will have the most leverage.

The Details: What Are "Affluent" Parents Actually Doing?

The first order of business of improving education, then, is to observe what parents at high-ranking schools actually do. What exactly then is it about richer, more diligent, more involved parents that makes educational outcomes better and those of less advantaged parents? I bet if we get very specific about this, we might learn a thing or two about really closing the achievement gap. 

So our central question is: what do higher API parents do that lower API parents don't do? I've personally observed three major factors, which I'll talk about here, but I'd love to hear more suggestions:
  • Management -- Parents can provide a "layer of management" for teachers that brings them to parity with other professions in terms of oversight.
  • Judgement -- Parents can provide the human judgement necessary to make decisions that tests, rules and guidelines cannot make--or often make very badly.
  • Encouragement -- Parents can provide the encouragement (in various forms) to children to help them succeed.

Management

Here I'm indebted to a commenter to an article written by Bill Gates in the New York Times on high-stakes testing. In this article Mr. Gates was talking about firing teachers based on high-stakes testing. In the article Mr. Gates implied that you don't treat people this way if you want excellence--and you don't.

One commenter for that article said (and I paraphrase from memory since I cannot find the exact link) that Mr. Gates could not compare the level of people management at a company like Microsoft to that of a typical public school teacher who is mostly isolated in a classroom all day with only children (not adults) to judge his or her performance. It is not, the commenter said, like a typical engineer or manager or other professional at Microsoft or any other corporate environment. In just about any sort of profession you are constantly interacting with (and thus being implicitly or explicitly evaluated by) adults in the form of co-workers, customers, partners, and so on.

Yes, teachers are evaluated in many ways, even to some extent by students themselves as they get older. Yes, they are occasionally "visited" by the school principle (who has, on average dozens of teachers under their purview, as opposed to a typical professional team in a corporate environment maxing out at ten or so), but that interaction is sporadic at best.

Many private schools--having vastly more resources--have two teachers per classroom, which certainly goes a long to close the "management gap" between teachers and other professions. Clearly this is not realistic for resource-constrained public schools (or is it?).

How do top-ranked school districts solve the problem? One way is parental involvement in the classroom. At any given time, our schools in our District have dozens of parents on campus and interacting with teachers.

Beyond classroom hours, parents in our area are very apt to take a very active role in a teacher's activities for a given day. Parents ask questions and actively "meddle" in what is going on in the classroom even if they are not there themselves. They put pressure on teachers to be accountable for what they did, and parents are better informed as well, making them better equipped to judge.

Management, as any good manager knows, is about knowing what's going on. Not only does it allow the manager to make the right decisions, it instills an implied accountability on the managed one. A "feeling of being watched" if you will. Teachers in schools with heavy parental participation know that parents are "present" and are ready and able to make informed decisions on their performance. The great thing is that this input only needs to be voluntary to work. Parents don't need actual "hire/fire power" over teachers, they just need to have an informed presence to be effective.

Judgement

Any teacher or experienced parent will tell you that the whenever a "situation" crops up with a child, the assessment and the subsequent required action is "contextual". The proper response depends on the situation.

If a child is not doing his homework, is it because he is lazy? Is the subject material too easy or boring? Does he not have time? Are there other problems at home? Does he not understand the material, and if so which of the several possibilities is causing that?

Take also conflicts between students: whose fault is it? Again, a context--which can only be gleaned from a consistent and detailed interaction of the student--is necessary to make a valid judgement and thus select the proper course of action.

In short, there's simply no substitute for time, and time means labor--labor from not just from one parent, but the aggregate of the time given by a number of parents (which brings up an interesting aside to research: I suspect that just one advantaged parent in a sea of disadvantaged ones will not achieve the sorts of gains you see when high-API parents are put in one place--here again you can see the compound effects of creaming).

Deep parental involvement helps judgement, which drastically increases the quality of education by keeping the inevitable number of small issues, small.


Encouragement

This is the most "obvious" difference between high-scoring and lower-scoring parents, but it's nonetheless critical. I won't spend a lot of time on this subject other than to say that the exact nature of this encouragement could certainly be the subject of a lengthy study unto itself.

There are many forms of encouragement, including and especially about a value system that shows kids that education--being "smart" or "educated"--is more important that being strong, or being able to play sports well, or being beautiful, being "tough", and so on.

The Surrogate School Parent

Many kids in the USA are lucky enough to have great parents who take an active role in their education. Many of these great parents aren't even necessarily wealthy and are often far from it--but it's a lot easier to be "supermom" (or dad) when you have more money, time and education.

With that I'd like to add the following to the conversation about school reform: the Surrogate School Parent. This would be a taxpayer-funded individual who would simulate the effects of the great parents we see in high-ranking school districts. I'd submit that such a program would actually be best served out of the Federal government as it should necessarily be independent from local and state policy--just like a real parent. I suggest we assign an SSP to children identified as low-performing for whatever reason, and assign SSPs to low-performing schools in order to turn them around.

I'd suggest we drop expensive Federal programs like NCLB and RTTT and use that money to fund an army of SSPs.

Now, clearly the exact definition of an SSP should be carefully researched based on a much deeper examination of the factors I've talked about here and others, as well as research to sort out all of the practical details with this sort of role. Clearly this is not something that should be done hastily and without thinking it through, as many of our current "reforms" no doubt have.

A Call For Papers -- and Solutions, and Policy

As you can see, I'm only scratching the surface here. This idea can represent an entire line of research, the end of which would answers questions like:
  1. What exactly are the most predictive factors for positive student outcomes in parenting?
  2. What are the network effects between parents? How do they compound the benefits?
  3. Which if the highly predictive factors can be replicated by "artificial" means (viz. state-provided "surrogate education parents" if you will)?
  4. What metrics can be apply to parents (or their artificial counterparts)?
  5. How can you make the SSP idea work (because there are a lot of details to work out)?
The policy implications here involve a shift away from the focus on teachers and programs and towards that of measuring and improving and augmenting parenting.

In other words, we need to stop blaming teachers and programs for bad outcomes and start focusing on parents and the role they play. We're going to find out that the solution to closing the education achievement gap in the USA is hard work and investment, not cutbacks and snake oil.