There's an education researcher named John Hattie. Like most of today's leading education researcher, he specializes in "meta analysis"--looking at many, many individual research works to discover the meaningful findings they have in common. He's analyzed over 800 of these meta-analyses, covering 180,000 individual research studies, and providing a student sample size of over 50 million students, mostly in the U.S., with some in New Zealand and Australia.
He looks at what's called "effect size"--meaning, how much effect on learning does a given factor have. An effect size of .5 is one that would lead a student to progress one year in learning for each year of teaching. An effect size of 1 would be two year's learning in one year of teaching. Students average about .15 effect size just by getting one year older, even without instruction. Reverse effects are those below 0.0, and happen when schools/teachers focus on teaching strategies that actually cause students to LOSE ground in learning.
Hattie's research shows that schools and teachers who focus on "Physical Attributes" of schools and classrooms (i.e. buildings, class size, etc.) has an effect size of -0.5. That's right, NEGATIVE. (Hattie, 2009).
There's belief, Sancho, and then there's data. You're welcome to your belief, and so is the committee that "looked at schools all over" (pretty sure their research sample didn't include 50 million students and 180,000 separate studies), but here's the deal--you're not welcome to implement your belief as an educational practice when that belief directly contradicts data-driven research that shows such practice to be DETRIMENTAL TO LEARNING.
I don't blame you, Sancho; but I do hold accountable the School Board and more so the Superintendent they employ, for not knowing more about effective teaching and learning, and for convincing the citizenry who did work hard that what they were doing was research, and that their beliefs were actually facts. If the leaders of JCPS understood enough about teaching and learning to guarantee school success, they'd be talking achievement data and where JCPS is falling merely at and also below state average in an average state--not talking new construction and insisting (in contradiction to their own data) that the local public schools are "excellent".
Be sure to vote.
Thank you, Gary for suggesting that. I've started such a letter many times, beginning in October, up to last week. But frankly, these are important issues, and they DO NOT have simple solutions. The forum provided by the newspaper's Opinion page is in my view not sufficiently ample to allow for a meaningful presentation of the germane facts regarding JCPS performance, instructional leadership at the building level, effective board governance, and what the best research really does clearly tell us about how to improve schools, including JCHS.
Compounding the partially informed, reductionist proposals the Board and Superintendent have promoted by publishing a merely skeletal outline of the fundamental questions that should be asked and answered to genuinely improve JCPS/JCHS will not lead to enlightenment when the elemental approach of the schools is so fundamentally off the mark.
I will instead trust the voters to do what is truly best. If the voters demonstrate what I feel is correct belief regarding the current ballot issue, before the next bond proposal is placed on the ballot, I will be in contact with you/your reporter in an effort to help point the way to the meaningful data which IS in fact readily available for those actually seeking it, in the hopes that doing so will lead the Tribune, the Board, and the citizens to ask the questions necessary to guarantee effective and improved learning for all students.
Mr. Castor, I believe your ardor has led you to confuse the story which leads this thread, which is about Joplin schools, and the story which leads another, which is about Mountain Home. In fact, the story in this thread does not discuss ACT scores, nor graduation rates, nor any real data. Regarding the Mountain Home piece, if you still maintain that story adequately uses those datapoints to show the effectiveness of (or even the connection to) the "academy" approach, then I respectfully suggest you have not even read the article nor the comments regarding it, both found in the online edition of your own paper.
To assert that ANY reform model is "moving the needle" of various performance datapoints, and then to proceed merely to cite the current level of those performances, without providing baseline data, without showing the connection of that trendline to the timeline of the reform implementation, and without providing specific examples of what elements of that reform program are specifically responsible for those trendlines, is not reasonable.
Your own passion in supporting this bond proposal is clear. Your evidence, data, and logic are not.
Sorry, Gary, but I wrote "two separate high school facilities", not "two separate high schools", as your response inaccurately implies. In my perception, Joplin, described as you have done, has two separate high school facilities. (I believe you're calling them "campuses"? Perhaps "campuses" and "facilities" are merely semantic differences, like "academy" and "tracking"?) Similarly, JCPS also has two separate high school "campuses" (Simonsen 9th Grade Center, and Jefferson City Senior High). If I am inaccurate in my perception, that would mean that Joplin's High School serves only grades 11 and 12. Surely that's a stretch of the facts that even the supporters of the current bond request would not be willing to make. Of course, having two separate high school facilities/"campuses", split between 9-10 and 11-12, is also possible in Jefferson City, using the two current Middle School facilities/"campuses", but that's an option that wasn't deeply considered by the committee that brought forth its recommendations to the school board--the same committee that joined the "academy" organizational model with the bond issue for a building that would far outlast that administrative, tracking-based approach.
Apparently, two well-equipped, conveniently located, separate schools to efficiently address the needs of public school students only makes sense for students in grades 6-8, while an entirely different solution is inexplicably demanded for older students.
Build the schools that Mountain Home would like, and perhaps we can come even closer to Mountain Home. What was their per-capita income again? Their dropout rate? Their literacy rate? Their normed math performance?
I appreciate Mr. Castor's clarification. It does not change the facts, which include that Joplin's "very successful" mall was sufficiently absent its anchor stores to permit its use by the district; nor does it change the fact that the district used that space to create a progressive, technologically rich school that therefore garnered national attention; nor does it change the fact that the Joplin superintendent correctly identifies, in Mr. Castor's own paper, a major obstacle to "academy" success yet to be talked about by JCPS. Mr. Castor's statements do remind all his readers however that Joplin, an award-winning district in Missouri that is working hard to implement an academy approach, has two separate high school facilities. Thank you, Mr. Castor.
Concerned citizens interested in data-driven decision-making asked JCPS and its superintendent last fall what specific professional development would be provided to JCHS teachers to make them effective in a new, "academy" approach, when the data shows that they are merely average or even below average in the successful instruction of students in a conventional school, but no answer to that question was provided.
Now, C.J. Huff, Joplin superintendent (and Missouri's Superintendent of the year last year or the year before), publicly cites exactly that issue--the lack of teacher preparation for the new model, and the absence of effective curriculum to drive that model--as the primary issue threatening the success of the venture.
According to the article, the difference between "academies" and "career paths" is merely semantic, yet JCPS has steadfastly denied that the "academy" approach is only about putting students in restrictive tracks.
Huff's comments reinforce the idea that no architecture-specific design is required to implement the career-path/tracking/academy approach, despite the claims of the JCPS.
Of course, Joplin established a national attention-getting, progressive and technologically rich high school after their tornado by utilizing...wait for it...a dying/underutilized shopping mall. Ring any bells, JC?
"Moving the needle on accountability measures like dropout rate and ACT scores" implies an improvement in those measures, yet the article only cites the current peformance data for those two measures. What were the previous performance levels for those indicators, how much did they improve, how quickly, and exactly how are those improvements known to be the results of the "academy" approach?
In fact, Mountain Home's own District Website (see "public information", "School and District Report Cards" show that fewer than 30% of the 850 students described in the article even take the ACT, and that of those, two thirds take the test their senior year (hardly a measure of college or post-secondary preparation).
Of course, Arkansas's standardized state assessment (their version of Missouri's "MAP") is profoundly less rigorous than Missouri's (when compared objectively to national benchmarks, MO's test covers approximately 95% of the national content--Arkansas' covers about 74%), yet despite this "soft target", I note their schools cannot or do not cite any precise data showing an increase in student mastery of required content. The same district-published performance data shows that when Mountain Home students are compared to objective, national standards (rather than Arkansas's notoriously simplistic test), the percent of students displaying math skills and reading skills on level with their grade is only in the high 50-to low 60 percent levels.
Half of Mountain Home's schools have failed to meet minimal performance standards established by federal law.
Fewer than 80% of the Mountain Home students even graduate from High School, the place where students are funneled into "communication" tracks because they are "chatty"--THAT'S data-driven decision-making?! THIS is the model that JCPS wants to emulate?
It IS interesting to read how there is nothing in the "academy" concept that actually requires new building design or multi-million-dollar construction bonds to accomplish.
This article shows there is nothing keeping JCPS from implementing "academy" approaches in current facilities, and despite this article, neither JCPS nor the News Tribune have provided any specific, data-based evidence to show that the "academy" approach is responsible for improving student performance to the levels required by the state of Missouri, desired by JC residents, and deserved by JC students.
This is not a bad article, but this field's been plowed before. There's belief, and then there's data. The voters have heard these beliefs expressed by school employees and those in favor of the bond issue for several months now. Where's the data?
Specifically, if the principal believes the new building and "academy" concept will improve achievement, then surely he can answer the following:
1. What data (testing, grades, graduation rates, dropout rates, failure rates, attendance rates, etc.) is the principal/district using to identify the baseline of performance they wish to improve?
2. What IS the current baseline of performance at JCHS? Better than state average? Lower than state average? Better than comparable schools/districts? Lower than comparable schools/districts?
3. What data-driven evidence is there, from any source, that the academy approach will help remedy the current baseline performance challenges, and how, specifically, and at what projected cost, will that occur?
4. By what date will the principal/district be able to provide the data-based evidence, using the same measurements used to establish current performance, to show the voters that the academy approach has been effective in increasing achievement.
We've heard enough of the beliefs. It's time for data. Respectfully, if the principal of one of the largest high schools in Missouri can't or won't produce that data, it's not time for him to have a new building; it's time for him to have a new job.
I take back everything I've posted about how the district isn't focused on guaranteed learning for all. I feel like we all just learned a lot from the district.
This would be the sort of administrative decision based on professional expertise that we should all just defer to--you know, like when JCPS insists that an "Academy"-based H.S. will be better without showing how, or anyplace it's impacted achievement in the state anywhere before, or that it will give teachers more one-on-one time with students, all without ever providing a single stitch of data to show how any of that could be true.
We should accept the apparent administrative belief that students are best taught to think better by keeping them at home. You know--just like they've taught us that H.S. students are better prepared for college and life by teaching them about whatever career interests them most as a teenager, instead of teaching them how to think.
None of us should criticize this Principal's decision, as his work and employment represent the leadership priorities and superior and clear thinking of the Superintendent who hired him and the School Board that pays him, just as we understand the same Superintendent and School Board are demonstrating those leadership priorities and superior and clear thinking by forcing the too-cheap sale of completely functional buildings, the self-justified site selection for the high school we'll have for the next fifty years or so, and the adoption of an operational education plan that has no data-driven evidence of effectiveness.
Whatever reasoning the Principal uses to justify suspending a little boy for brandishing a keychain should just be accepted--if the kid gets suspended not for having a toy gun, but for pointing, we should just accept that--just like we should accept the non-data-driven assertion made by the School Board's multi-thousand dollar-retained private club patsy friends, MSBA, that the plans for the new high school are "sound".
Yup, no problems here. Just move along. Keep quiet. Don't protest. If you think this is just the latest in an ongoing string of pretty dumb mistakes made by unfortunately empowered people, then you just don't understand how brilliant your School Board, Superintendent, and district administrators are.
Or, maybe you really do.
correction: Jason Hoffman's actual title is "Chief Financial Officer" for JCPS.
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