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.


  1. What happened to the SCBOE appointment to the Bullis School Board?

  2. Joan, first of all, some people have pointed out the fact that you were wrong on the zero Spanish speaking ELL's at BCS sound bite in the past. You either missed it or chose to ignore it. Secondly, have you ever considered the possibility that many BCS supporters, LASD supporters, and LASD community members have simply tuned you out as you have become such an anti-charter and anti-BCS zealot that you don't have much creditability anymore?

    1. Can you point out the exact location where this was pointed out? Did they use actual facts (the other data set for instance) or did they just say, "well I don't feel that's true". Keep in mind I had always cited California state records making my claim. Random anonymous hearsay certainly is ignorable in that context.

      I'm sure you wish the LASD community would turn on me. Quite the contrary, however: when I began my writing two years ago very few in the community understood the negative effects of charter schools across the USA. Now many LASD community members I talk to are anti-charter school because they've seen what they are doing to our country--i.e. much the same as what one charter school is doing to our own town: tearing it apart.