Op-Ed: Let Santa Clara County’s Academic Olympic Games Begin

Gather round my fellow citizens to hear the amazing tale of your faithful servant in his quest reminiscent of the great Greek King, Odysseus. As you recall, the story begins with my many consultations with students, parents, and community members across this great nation. We sought to answer the question: What do our children want from their schools? The children eloquently communicated that the they wanted their teachers to listen to them, to respect them, and to give them some voice in their learning. They also wanted their teachers to be experts in their content knowledge and teaching skills in order to prepare them for their future college and career aspirations.

Many of you reported to me that you were baffled by the way in which school districts reported student performance on state tests that are designed to measure the degree to which our children are on track to be college and career ready. The data presented to you within the LCAPs—which stands for Local Control and Accountability Plans—were minimal, cherry picked, and aligned with a state accountability gambit of spreading the scale score points around.

You also reported that the LCAPs themselves enveloped you in the fog of education with eclectic and bureaucratic solutions to address poorly defined student needs.

Thus, upon hearing your pleas for relief, I girded my loins and travelled to Mount Sacramento to do battle with the 32-headed Hydra of Santa Clara County school districts’ data. The battle that ensued was ferocious and engaged all of my computational and physical skills to overcome this voracious beast. I even had to consult the oracle of Python in order to develop a computer code that would visualize the data for each school district in ways that were truly open, transparent and interpretable.

The magnificent beauty and radiance of these data displays can be found at a website called The SIP Big Picture.

Some of you have reported to me that you have visited the site and have been enthralled by the elegance of these one-page displays and how they have helped you truly understand and interpret not only the overall performance of your school district by grade and by year but also the performance of a plethora of subgroups over time. I am overjoyed with your responses. Yet some have reported to me that after viewing the displays for a short time, they have become afflicted by the pernicious MERO effect (My Eyes Role Over). You beseech me: What are we to do? Fear not as I have consulted the Muse Madonna who exhorts us all to have Fun!

In the spirit of fun, I have resurrected the idea of the Academic Olympics in conjunction with the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea this month. I reorganized the data so that you can now view Academic Olympic events on my website. The first event that has been recently posted is the 11th grade overall math performance on the state math tests. Each event will have a compulsory component: the overall percentage of students who meet or exceed state math standards in 2017. The second component is the free style event that will be the three-year improvement in performance on the state math test.

Congratulations to the Fremont Union High School District who achieved a 77 percent meets-or-exceeds percentage for the 2017 state math test and won a gold medal for overall math performance. Congratulations also to the Gilroy Unified School District who won a gold medal for demonstrating an 8 percentage-point three-year improvement on the state math test from 24 percent of 11th grade students meeting or exceeding standards in 2015 to 32 percent in 2017.

Please go to the website where you can see if your school district received a medal for this event. You can also view the rankings of all of the school districts in the South Bay in case your jurisdiction did not win a medal. Have some fun! I will continue to add events daily in conjunction with the real Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang so return to the site often!

As you might imagine, the state, the county, and the school districts are averse to the idea of a competition. The sources of power would prefer that you continue to remain within the fog of education feeding upon the minuscule morsels of selected data that they provide to you. We must break out of these artificial bureaucratic chains of restraint and demand a full accounting of student performance. In fact, we should also demand a full accounting of the professional practices of teachers, principals, and district administrators from a system view and not just a special case view.

Being of advanced age, I could use some support in my ongoing quest to visualize data to meet your voracious needs. Please use the comments section on the website to let me know if I should pursue the many headed charter school hydra for Santa Clara County or if I should pursue student performance in English language arts. I am also available to support you in representing the student results through the Academic Olympics or the actual data visualizations to your parent groups or even to your school board.

Also, please let me know if you could spare a few drachmas to help me continue my quest as I occasionally need the sustenance of a gyro from Nick the Greek’s in San Jose to pursue the quest.

In conclusion, let us not become lost in the darkness of poorly conceived accountability, but let us instead light our Olympic torches and together ignite the Olympic flame of openness and transparency to the success of all of our students in achieving their college and career dreams.

Dr. Bill Conrad is an educator who has provided several decades of teaching, administrative, and consulting support to school districts and schools within Santa Clara County and throughout the nation. He specializes in strategic planning and implementation, accountability, assessment, and science education. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.

25 Comments

  1. Yeah, the The SIP Big Picture is great! It’s helpful to see how my child’s school district performs compared to other school districts in the area. Thanks!

  2. Los Gatos Union School District in Santa Clara County garners the gold with 50% of 5th Grade Hispanic Students Meeting or Exceeding Standards in Math. Soo sad that the best we can do in SCC for our Hispanic students is 50% – Check out the action at http://sipbigpicture.com

  3. Were I not already aware of the educational establishment’s gratuitous rejection of its findings, the demographic data on the SIP website might cause me to suspect the students have been following a script based on “The Bell Curve.”

  4. Hello Frustrated FinFan,

    Check out the Brawley Union High School District and you will see some pretty impressive double digit 3-year gains for 11th grade Hispanic Students. This is one district making a difference for the Hispanic subgroup.

    SCC is not doing much in terms of improving performance of children of color, ELs, or Students with Disability but that is still a function of professional practices not the students. There are school districts like Brawley Union High School District that get results for these subgroups so it is not the students but the professionals providing instruction.

    • DR BILL:

      > SCC is not doing much in terms of improving performance of children of color, ELs, or Students with Disability but that is still a function of professional practices not the students.

      What is your take on the court ordered busing mandate that was imposed on San Jose Unified School District a number of years back.

      1. Was the court mandate justified?
      2. What tangible results were achieved by the program?

      It seems that the the busing program was a clear case of education bureaucrats and courts blaming students for educational failures.

      The social theory underlying the school busing program seems to be that surrounding an underachieving “economically disadvantaged” black student with “economically advantaged” Asian students improves the education of the black student.

      How did the court think this was supposed to work?

      But your data suggests that “economically disadvantaged” Asian students are higher achievers than “economically disadvantaged” black students. Hence, race is a determinative variable.

      Isn’t the premise of this theory fundamentally racist?

  5. Those students who experience very high quality curriculum and instructional practice will excel. So as you sow, so shall you reap. More experienced teachers are generally found in more economically advantaged schools and district administrators do not have the courage to go up against Teacher’s Union to ensure a fair distribution of quality teachers across the system. So given this conundrum, students and parents will have to submit to bussing in order to get their students in front of more qualified teachers in economically advantaged schools with higher quality teachers. So busing is a remedy imposed because the adults in the system can’t or won’t do the right thing for children. Many Asian and White parents recognize the poor quality of teaching in their system whether economically advantaged or disadvantaged. These parents ensure that their students are not going to be left behind by paying extra for individual or small group tutors for their children. Asian parents and many white parents who are economically challenged will band together to pay for a tutor to teach small groups. They are not going to let their children fall behind with poorly qualified teachers.

    Additionally because district administrators and principals are unable to get quality teachers into economically deprived schools, they also will resort to hiring Teach for America neophytes with one months training to teach the poorer children as it is better than the quality currently in the classrooms. And of course this is a very mixed bag. It takes Teach for America Teachers at least one year to get up to speed and then a second year teaching better and then off to law school. When I was in Oakland, I found one Teach for America “teacher” in the corner crying while students ran wild. However, parents might get lucky and get a good Teach for America candidate in their child’s classroom but it is a risky proposition for their children – better get a tutor or two!

    • > They are not going to let their children fall behind with poorly qualified teachers.

      Poorly qualified teachers?

      Every teacher that teaches in California public schools has an official “teaching credential” awarded by the state of California.

      You’re not suggesting that an official State of California teaching credential is BS?

      Are you blaming students for failing to learn from a credentialed California teacher?

  6. Hello SJ,

    Thanks for the tongue in cheek!

    California ranks below 31 other public-school systems and earns just a D-plus in ensuring teacher quality, according to a new report aimed at spurring states to improve teacher preparation. The Washington, D.C. based National Council on Teacher Quality’s 2017 State Teacher Policy Yearbook evaluated and graded state policies on teacher preparation, evaluation, compensation and other factors that contribute to successful teaching. Since its last survey in 2015, the nonprofit, non-partisan council found that California and most states stagnated in their progress.

    Low expectations for teachers results in low performance by students. So as you sow, so shall you reap. It is a fundamental law. Our children are awesome. They are not getting the teachers and administrators and Board Members that they need and deserve.

    The education system would run like a finely tuned clock if it weren’t for the kids! It is way beyond time to transform the education system in California and the nation. That is why I think that a helpful dose of competition (testosterone) might be great incentive for an education system that is characterized by massive effeminization and lethargy. Lost in a fog of education babble talk.

  7. DR BILL:

    > That is why I think that a helpful dose of competition (testosterone) might be great incentive for an education system that is characterized by massive effeminization and lethargy.

    Define “massive dose of competition”. You seemed to suggest earlier that school vouchers were, somehow, too much.

    Also, if California ranks 32nd or worse in “teacher quality”, and students are “not getting the teachers . . . that they need and deserve”, it sounds like the teacher credentialing system is BS.

    Can we say “the California teacher credentialing system is BS”?

  8. I define competition as the ability to get results for students. I am running the academic olympics as an opportunity to compete to see who is the best at supporting student achievement and readiness for college and career. I am working up the energy either to begin a competition within the Charters or move on to English Language Arts. What do you think? It would be good if Districts held these competitions with their schools and also the schools should hold them with their teachers as well. Why not? Competition is good. It sharpens everyone’s skills, holds folks accountable, and adds a measure of joie de vivre to our lives! If it makes District administrators upset – so what! Move on if you can’t compete and win or at least get better!

    The Teacher Credentialing system is a joke. Got Pulse? Teaching has not as yet reached the level of profession. It could not even be characterized as a quality trade school. Colleges of Education accept the lowest qualified candidates and then do not prepare them for the real work that they have to do within schools. Nor do they apply much rigor. It is so easy to pass a little basics test to get credentialed. There is no real residency program as we would expect as it is done in medicine. Add to this the tenure system where teachers get tenured based on time in front of the students and you have the recipe for the mess that we have in education. Nobody wants to put too much rigor into teacher preparation as the status and pay within the profession is so low so they have to make it easy to attract enough candidates.

    Of course there are benefits with tons of vacation, tenure, short hours, great health care and retirement benefits. Getting to work with kids is also a huge benefit for most teachers as well.

    • > Add to this the tenure system where teachers get tenured based on time in front of the students and you have the recipe for the mess that we have in education.

      If education is a “mess” as you suggest, then what is the value of competition within the bounds of the failing, dysfunctional “sandbox” that is public education?

      So, “competition” merely proves that one student is the least mal-educated student in a confined population of mal-educated students.

  9. Competition will at least bring openness and transparency to the children, parents, and community members about student performance. We will need to be cognizant that much of the improvement we are seeing could be the effects of tutoring or support at home. Right now school districts get to hide behind the skirts of Mother State as she crafts a misleading color-coded academic indicator dashboard gambit that presents student academic performance in ways that actually milead and mask problems in student performance and provide a false sense of achievement.

    In addition to a competition on the student outcomes level, we need to provide a competition on professional practices level. For example, I could envision a competition in which practitioners compete for medals aligned with a practice such as the use of formative assessment with focused descriptive feedback. As practitioners compete for medals in the measured implementation of high quality practice, the game will definitely change and we will begin to see system-wide change in both professional practice and student outcomes.

    Right now, schools and districts can use special case to represent professional practice which is very misleading because it does not tell the system story. We need system metrics that gauge the implementation and quality of key professional practices at the system level. When we start competing at this level, we will begin to move from the fog of spottily implemented quality practices and strategies to the system-wide implementation of practices that truly make a difference for student learning. We are a long way from that vision though. But we have to start somewhere!

  10. DR. BILL:

    What is your take on the Obama administration’s “Promise” program supposedly intended to disrupt the “school to jail pipeline” for “minority youths”?

    The program was apparently promoted in Chicago by education administrator Robert Runcie, who went on to become Broward County (Florida) Schools Superintendent.

    The tolerance of student criminality and anti-social behavior as fostered by the “Promise” policy and promoted by Runcie was apparently a significant factor on justifying official inactivity in the Florida school shootings.

    http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/article201216104.html

    > Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie wouldn’t discuss Cruz’s school records, citing a federal law that protects student privacy, but said he didn’t think providing Cruz with more school services would have prevented the shooting.

    > “Based on what’s reported in the media, here’s a kid who’s lost both parents, he’s obviously got some mental health challenges,” Runcie said. “Let me just say if we provided every service that we could and did all that in exemplary fashion, if he can still get access to guns what’s the point of all this?”

    > “This is a systemic problem we have that isn’t about blaming one agency or the other,” he added. “What we need to do is move from trying to play the blame game and find real solutions.”

    TRANSLATION: Runcie is HIDING behind “student privacy” laws in furtherance of a cover-up, and is deploring the “blame game” because he richly DESERVES a huge share of the blame.

    Question for Dr. Bill: Do California schools and Santa Clara County Schools implement and promote “Promise”-type policies to keep dangerous sociopathic students out of jail and to keep them “mainstreamed” in the general student population?

  11. Hi SJ,
    I have no idea about the Promise program. Sorry. I am too busy promoting the Academic Olympics! We have just initiated the ELA events and the scripts are working beautifully! We need some competition to keep focused on and celebrate improved professional practices that will result in improved student outcomes. I will be presenting some Academic Olympic Awards at the SJUSD Board Meeting and I will also be recommending that they post more complete, open, and transparent data visualizations of student performance. Wish me luck because many of the administrators at SJUSD do not love me YET! Continue to learn more at http:;//sipbigpicture.com

  12. > I have no idea about the Promise program. Sorry. I am too busy promoting the Academic Olympics!

    Well, I appreciate your honesty. Too often academics and subject matter experts try to fake knowledge of things they have never studied.

    The “Promise program” seems to have been a well kept secret. At least it was kept secret by educrats and the fake news media from the American public and school parents. But the Broward County school shootings seem to have caused the damn to burst and the American public is now getting and explanation for what initially seemed to be inexplicable:

    ————————————-

    https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2017/03/27/obama-education-trump-students-color-discipline-schools-column/99501366/

    “Obama admin made schools more dangerous: Column”

    ————————————-

    http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2018/02/26/broward-county-likely-inspiration-for-obama-school-discipline-policy-to-report-fewer-arrests-suspensions/

    “Broward County Likely ‘Inspiration’ for Obama School Discipline Policy to Report Fewer Arrests, Suspensions”

    ——————————-

    https://www.rushlimbaugh.com/daily/2018/02/26/how-obama-and-holder-changed-broward-county-law-enforcement-for-racial-reasons/

    “How Obama and Holder Changed Broward County Law Enforcement for Racial Reasons”

    ——————————

    The Obama policies were misguided and destructive. There is a straight line from Obama’s “progressive” race obsessed policies to seventeen dead students.

    The AR-15 didn’t jump up and shoot anyone. The NRA wasn’t involved in the Florida school shooting. Cancelling NRA membership discounts on airlines are completely empty gestures. These are clear instances of progressive politics and media misdirection.

    > I will also be recommending that they post more complete, open, and transparent data visualizations of student performance.

    Data visualizations are safe and benign and maybe even modestly helpful. But in the context of the damaged and dysfunctional school system left to us by Obama and his radicals, it’s probably just moving deck chairs on the Titanic.

    The barbarians are inside the gates!

  13. There is not much difference between Republican and Democratic policies vis a vis education! For the past 20 years, the federal government has been trying to leverage the 5% of $ that they provide to schools to get school districts to make sure that they use the federal $ in fair and equitable ways. They used the No Child Left Behind legislation (Both Republican and Democratic supported) as a s stick to get school districts to do the right thing in improving learning opportunities for all students. This theory of action obviously did not work because District administrators are basically clueless and bureaucratic. So the situation became pathological with School Districts attempting to game the system with test prep and all manner of bad behavior and practices. They wailed and raged against the thermometers and retreated into the massive fog of education that envelops them. So sad.

    So as you say, the visualization of student data is pretty benign and easily ignored by District and school administrators. We couldn’t reduce the achievement gap so we will just move on focusing on all manner of distractions: student socio-emotional health, student grit, blended learning, differentiated learning and on and on and on. We could not keep our eye on the ball – student academic achievement with real readiness for college and career! And we could not keep our eye on the curriculum, professional practices, and assessments that would get the kids home! So you are right, until we start monitoring curriculum and professional practices like we do with student outcomes, we are cooked! Stick a fork in education!

    The gun issue is another whole area to discuss but probably not in this forum. We outlawed the Tommy Gun in the 1930’s. We can do the same with the AR-15 and Bumpstocks. We don’t need folks walking around with weapons of war!

    • > Without Good Data, We’re Flying Blind.

      Without safe schools and a safe learning environment, all the data in the world documenting education outcomes will be flawed and useless.

      The Obama “Promise program” is about government education policy. And on the face of it, the Promise program was a policy that WILLFULLY enabled dangerous, psychopathic, sociopaths to be “mainstreamed” into our schools and pose an EXTREME danger to other students, as well as faculty and administrators.

      > The gun issue is another whole area to discuss but probably not in this forum.

      This not a “gun issue”, Dr Bill. This is an education policy and mental health issue. Putting it in the “gun issue” bucket is just a ploy to escape scrutiny and accountability for education policy makers.

      200 million guns in the hands of responsible American citizens DO NOT jump up and randomly shoot people.

      Disturbed, damaged, psychotic, sociopathic people regularly commit violence and mayhem in our society. Too much of the violence and mayhem is rationalized, excused, and even justified by people trying to protect politicians and their political agenda.

      Here is an example of a political cop out:

      ” There is not much difference between Republican and Democratic policies vis a vis education! ”

      There are stark theoretical and policy differences in our society over the means, methods, and outcomes of education and to try to fuzz up and muddle this differences by saying “Republicans and Democratic policies” are “not much different” is intellectually dishonest. Political parties are in the business of fuzzing, muddling, and compromising, and the last thing in the world they want is any kind of policy clarity or coherence. As long the public conversation about education is confined to vague, gassy generalities, all politicians can claim to be “for education” and “for the children”.

      BEE ESS!!

      You are trained as a professional educator. You are, at least in theory, equipped with exceptional expertise in education policy. Your should be able to distinguish between “good” education policy and “bad” education policy.

      Here are some policy questions:

      1. Did the policies resulting from the Obama “Promise program” play any role in the Florida school shootings, and did they put students and staff at risk by failing to protect them from the presence of violent, psychotic, sociopathic people WHO SHOULD HAVE BEEN REMOVED FROM THE SCHOOL POPULATION?

      2. Was the Obama “Promise program” wise public policy or unwise public policy?

      3. Are policies based on or similar to Obama “Promise program” policies embraced by and implemented in California and Santa Clara County Schools?

      Ball’s in your court, Dr. Bill.

  14. It gets even worse. I attended the School Board Meeting last night to make a 2 minute presentation actually giving SJUSD some credit by awarding them Silver Medal for a 3-year improvement in the Math performance of the 11th grade Reclassified-Fluent English Proficient students. I also produced a poster with a comprehensive visualization of SJUSD’s overall Math performance. The posters cost me $150 to produce. SJUSD staff gave me permission to set up the posters in advance of the meeting where the public could see them. A short time later, Steve McMahon the SJUSD goon Deputy Superintendent rushes into the room yelling to staff nearby – What the hell are these? Get these posters out of the room NOW! He comes over to me and rants, ” If you want to do business with our district, you must change your attitude.” You can share your posters outside the room.” The guy went berserk! Before my presentation, I shared the rude and unwelcome behavior from Steve to no effect. After the presentation, clueless Nancy Abarran commented to the Board that she chose not to respond to any of my emails as a citizen because she claimed that I was a vendor who she did not want to do business with. I should have listened more carefully to your admonition about dealing with educrat bureauacrats who will protect their positions at all costs and even in a smash mouth manner because they themselves have no real knowledge or skill and at best can poorly broker the services of consultants for whom they take credit. I will fight on as a citizen though! As Margaret Meade once said, ” Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

    • > As Margaret Meade once said, ” Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

      Margaret Mead may or may not have said this, but her reputation and credibility have been significantly called into question. You may want to remove her from you “list of authorities.”

      Many people look at her as a dishonest sex-obsessed whack job.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Mead

      > “Controversy

      After her death Mead’s Samoan research was criticized by anthropologist Derek Freeman, who published a book that argued against many of Mead’s conclusions.[51] Freeman argued that Mead had misunderstood Samoan culture when she argued that Samoan culture did not place many restrictions on youths’ sexual explorations. Freeman argued instead that Samoan culture prized female chastity and virginity and that Mead had been misled by her female Samoan informants. Freeman’s critique was met with a considerable backlash and harsh criticism from the anthropology community, whereas it was received enthusiastically by communities of scientists who believed that sexual mores were more or less universal across cultures.[52][53] Some anthropologists who studied Samoan culture argued in favor of Freeman’s findings and contradicted those of Mead, whereas others argued that Freeman’s work did not invalidate Mead’s work because Samoan culture had been changed by the integration of Christianity in the decades between Mead’s and Freeman’s fieldwork periods.[54] While Mead was careful to shield the identity of all her subjects for confidentiality Freeman was able to find and interview one of her original participants, and Freeman reported that she admitted to having wilfully misled Mead. She said that she and her friends were having fun with Mead and telling her stories.[55]”

      . . . .

      > “Mead’s reputation and significance as an anthropologist have not been diminished by Freeman’s criticisms.”

      HA!!

  15. BILL! BILL! BILL!

    No one in Florida is paying any attention, at the moment”, to “visualizing school performance”.

    They are worried about school safety and STUPID EDUCATION ESTABLISHMENT POLICY!

    BLOCKBUSTER NEWS!!!!!

    THERE WAS A SIGNED AGREEMENT AMONG SCHOOL AND GOVERNMENT AUTHORITIES TO IGNORE AND CONCEAL THE SHOOTERS HISTORY OF FELONIES, WHICH WOULD HAVE PREVENTED HIM FROM LEGALLY ACQUIRING GUNS !!!!!

    http://www.anncoulter.com/columns/2018-02-28.html#read_more

    “This primitive, stone-age thinking was made official Broward County policy in a Nov. 5, 2013, agreement titled “Collaborative Agreement on School Discipline.”

    The first “whereas” clause of the agreement states that “the use of arrests and referrals to the criminal justice system may decrease a student’s chance of graduation, entering higher education, joining the military and getting a job.”

    . . . .

    “When it comes to spectacular crimes, it’s usually hard to say how it could have been prevented. But in this case, we have a paper trail. In the pursuit of a demented ideology, specific people agreed not to report, arrest or prosecute dangerous students like Nikolas Cruz.

    These were the parties to the Nov. 5, 2013, agreement that ensured Cruz would be out on the street with full access to firearms:

    Robert W. Runcie, Superintendent of Schools

    Peter M. Weinstein, Chief Judge of the 17th Judicial Circuit

    Michael J. Satz, State Attorney

    Howard Finkelstein, Public Defender

    Scott Israel, Broward County Sheriff

    Franklin Adderley, Chief of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department

    Wansley Walters, Secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice

    Marsha Ellison, President of the Fort Lauderdale Branch of the NAACP and Chair of the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board ”

    DR. BILL:

    Because of your professional credentials, you have access to the education establishment that lesser people, like me and the general public, do not have.

    Could you investigate and report back to us whether California schools and Santa Clara County schools have policies that duplicate or have similar effects to the Broward County Schools policy?

    Are school felons in Santa Clara County shielded by local government and school authorities and aided in avoiding gun background checks in order to illegally purchase guns?

    • It is an important topic that I will look into and get back to you. I will be attending the SCCOE Board Meeting tonight and get some insights from the Board and staff to get the latest on school safety as envisioned by our lackluster County leaders.

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