Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Did Harvard flub the analysis of Montgomery County Public School performance?

The Montgomery County Public School System has devoted an entire webpage to promoting a Harvard publication titled "Leading for Equity: The Pursuit of Excellence in Montgomery County Public Schools." The school system generously provides "case studies," upon which Harvard based the surprisingly thin book. According to MCPS, "… Harvard University faculty and researchers have produced several case studies over the last four years that provide detailed insights about the MCPS reform journey."
The disclaimer, on the "case studies" (see here, here, and here) clearly indicates that they are "… not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data, or illustrations of effective or ineffective management."
The fundamental flaw in the "case studies" the failure to cite a single benchmark established before the changes were made by Dr. Weast, against which progress can be compared. This omission can easily be excused given their intended purpose—"class discussion."
However, this disclaimer didn't prevent the authors of Leading for Equity from basing a book primarily on documents that their own colleagues asserted were "… not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data," etc.
If you expected a well-written piece of academic scholarship, you will be disappointed. Throwing caution to the wind, the authors invite the reader to become an ardent activist for better writing skills, with sentences that begin with "And" (page 9, final paragraph), etc.
If the writing left something to be desired, so does the basic premise of the book, through its reliance on sources that were categorically NOT intended to serve as primary data.
One of the Harvard class discussion papers, dated February 9, 2006, posted on the MCPS website (the first of the "case studies" links), contains this paragraph:

How are "Jerry's Kids," now eighth-graders, doing today? Take a look for yourself.
To borrow a turn of phrase from Harvard, "the gap appears to be narrowing," and "Jerry's Kids posted the highest ever results on the" 2009 "Maryland School Assessment in Reading." How about neighboring Howard County, and their equivalent of "Jerry's Kids?"

The conclusion that "the gap appears to be narrowing," and the equivalent of "Jerry's Kids posted the highest ever results on the" 2009 "Maryland School Assessment in Reading," may be equally apropos for the HCPSS. Statewide, the trend is no different. A rigorous analysis is needed to draw definitive conclusions.
The book does give a glimpse of the future which includes (Page 90, paragraph 2), "The district is in talks with Lockheed Martin's Simulation, Training and Support group to create a prototype of a potentially breakthrough approach to teacher training. ... Brian Edwards, the superintendent's chief-of-staff is managing discussions about the development of a new approach to algebra professional development that builds on STS's sophisticated simulation and gaming technology, used by the military and commercial sectors to prepare people for complex and often high-risk professional tasks.  The project is in the very early stages, but the general idea is that teachers could practice proven instructional techniques for core algebra skills in a virtual classroom environment that would include students with a variety of learning needs."  It continues on and states 'the talks are ongoing.'" Of the 2.2 BILLION dollars projected for 2010, I guess a sizeable chunk will go to Lockheed for a video game for teachers to learn deal with "high-risk professional tasks" such as teaching our children unarmed combat ALGEBRA!!
Did "differentiated treatment in Montgomery Public Schools" make a difference? The only honest conclusion anyone can reach is that the jury is still out.
Did Ms. Childress provide an unbiased, well-researched, well-written book about MCPS? Hardly. "Stacey Childress is a Lecturer in the General Management unit at Harvard Business School, and a co-founder of the Public Education Leadership Project at Harvard University. Childress studies entrepreneurial activity in public education in the United States," states the Wireless Generation website, which lists Ms. Childress as serving on its Board of Directors.

"Additionally, Wireless Generation has partnered with leading educational publishers to integrate their material into several of the company's assessment products. Fifteen of the leading educational publishers have partnered with Wireless Generation to offer electronic text of their leveled readers, mCLASS:Reading 3D, which allow teachers to perform Foundational Skill assessments along with Reading Records on the handheld device," proclaims another web page, listing MCPS as one of its fifteen "leading educational publishers." Page 99, paragraph 2, discloses that mClass was a "joint venture" between Wireless Generation and MCPS.

Does Harvard Business School have a vested interest in touting MCPS as an unsubstantiated success? The first twelve-pages assert what you probably know: Weast and his administrators are a product of the Public Education Leadership Project, founded by Ms. Childress.
Did MCPS reforms work? Harvard needs to produce more than classroom notes to answer the question. Harvard needs to produce the data and the peer reviewed analysis to make any bona fide conclusions. The book is surprisingly devoid of data.
For a dose of reality, take a look here
at how MCPS actually spent more than a billion dollars in 2007. How did it compare with other school systems in the state? Take a look at the table here.
We need to have a reasonable, honest, rational, civilized, data-driven discussion on making sure that our children get a "world-class education" with a rigorous curriculum, which will prepare them for their future. To do so, all the participants must come out into the sterilizing sunshine of the open air. Harvard: the invitation extends to you folks as well.

1 comment:

  1. Please don't forget the MCPS deal with Dr. Childress' Wireless Generation is a secret!

    How much did MC taxpayers invest in this company? What have been the royalties received?



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