Harsanyi on Hope

Denver Post news columnist David Harsanyi tells the truth today about the manufactured “controversy” about Hope Online Learning Academy, which uses technology, adult mentors, and a research-based curriculum to reach struggling students who have fallen through the cracks of the public education system.

Read Harsanyi’s piece, and ask yourself why Senator Sue Windels and the Colorado Education Association want to use a more rigorous standard to judge an innovative, alternative education program than they would care to use to judge traditional neighborhood public schools.

Here’s one hint: Hope doesn’t employ unionized teachers. (Forget whether some poor kids in Denver and Colorado Springs might thrive in the online learning environment rather than dropping out of school altogether.)

Comments

  1. Fred Duke says

    How can you or Harsanyi justify Hope’s CSAP scores? For instance, Hope Online students scored a 25 on the 2006 4th Grade reading CSAP and a 9 on 8th Grade Math CSAP. Denver Public Schools 2006 CSAP averages were far better than Hope’s as were the statewide averages. Hope should be renamed Despair.

    Accountability should be a two-edged sword: it should cut charters as well as public schools. No excuses are acceptable. Hope must get the CSAP scores up or get out of education.

    Hope students deserve better.

  2. says

    “How can you or Harsanyi justify Hope’s CSAP scores?”

    Did you read the column? Let’s start from there:

    “What about Hope’s CSAP scores? No, they aren’t very good when compared with state averages. Unless, of course, you put the scores in their proper perspective. Hope’s CSAP scores are in reality no worse than those of most of the schools these kids are escaping.

    “Moreover, according to O’Mara, ‘around 80 percent of students’ who enroll in Hope’s program had been failing at their former schools. ‘We have a lot of students that struggle,’ she says. ‘And when a ninth-grader comes to us with a third-grade reading level and we bring them up to a sixth-grade level, that’s a success that won’t show up in tests.'”

    I love arguments made by the anti-charter crowd. At first charter schools’ better CSAP scores had to be discounted because they were allegedly taking the “cream of the crop” of students, which hurt the other public schools. Taking a closer look at these scores revealed a lot of things, including:
    – There are good and bad charter schools, BUT
    – On balance, charter schools were doing a better job improving learning for the crop of students they served

    Now that an innovative charter program is reaching out to kids who the traditional system had given up on, who started out behind the curve in math and reading skills, the anti-charter argument is: “Look, this Hope school’s first-year CSAPs are lower than the DPS average.”

    Why compare to the DPS average? Do you think the students attending Hope come from a cross-section of DPS schools? Why not compare their performance to the schools they came from?

    Highly simplistic analyses should be discarded. Of course, Hope needs to improve the CSAP scores of its students. But give it a year or two, maybe? I don’t mind option and choice programs being held to a standard at least as high as the traditional schools, but make the standard a realistic one.

    And consider this: The kids who were tested in Hope’s first year primarily were the educational products of the DPS system – 6, 8, or 10 years in DPS schools and several months at Hope. So all the fault belongs to the new innovative program?

    You have to remember one year’s CSAP scores are just a snapshot in time. They are useful, but taken alone they are limited in what they can tell us. For one who has the time to study it, a valid comparison would weigh the CSAP scores according to the demographics of students and/or chart growth from one year to the next.

    To close, read an opinion piece by State Representative Terrence Carroll (D – Denver) in today’s Rocky Mountain News (http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/speak_out/article/0,2777,DRMN_23970_5181232,00.html), which closes with this quote:

    “If we are to be successful in tackling the education issue in this country, we are going to have to be open to innovation – and patient with it, too.”

  3. Pat says

    Wow! I continue to be impressed with your knowledge and logic Ben. You are a very tactful and skilled writer. The CEA must have nightmares about you.

  4. says

    “Brilliant” analysis, lalo. Are you satisfied that Hope is addressing the concerns – some real, some manufactured – brought forward against the program?:
    http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_4752136

    Or are you like Senator Windels in thinking the program should be shut down altogether because some of the publicly-funded students participate in Hope in “private and religious schools”?

    Are you concerned about many of Colorado’s “last chance kids” who see Hope as their only alternative? Or are you more concerned about the existence of a publicly-funded educational program that exists outside the unionized sector?

    What do we do with scandals and corruption – mostly worse than the contrived “controversy” involving Hope – that are uncovered in traditional public schools? Do you call for those schools to be shut down?

  5. says

    “You have to remember one year’s CSAP scores are just a snapshot in time. They are useful, but taken alone they are limited in what they can tell us. For one who has the time to study it, a valid comparison would weigh the CSAP scores according to the demographics of students and/or chart growth from one year to the next.”

    Do you give the same latitude to public schools? It doesn’t seem so to me.

  6. says

    Stranger,

    You ask:
    “Do you give the same latitude to public schools? It doesn’t seem so to me.” Based on what? I guess as long as you feel it to be true, there would be no use in arguing. But reason and reality trump your “seem so” statement.

    How many traditional public schools have only been around for one year anyways? The remark I made is based on a comparison of inputs. A student spends 6 or 7 years in traditional public schools and less than 1 in a new choice program. The fact that his test scores are low because is he still behind grade level must be understood in the context of where he spent the most time learning.

    If a specific public school showed improvement over time in spite of demographic obstacles, kudos to them. What’s wrong is the excuses model that pervades much of the self-interested, unionized public education system. The kids are poor and underprivileged – therefore, there’s not much we can do. Then you have innovations like KIPP charter schools that get outside the restrictive union model and work on developing a system that shows significant gains can be made with similar crops of students. That’s the preferred, “no excuses” model.

    Is it hard work? Yes. Will we reach and improve every child? No. Can we make a significant difference in the lives of many kids who would otherwise be relegated to the same cycle of poverty? Yes, we can. Can kids of any social class or demographic be better motivated to learn and succeed in life? Yes.

    We know the #1 factor in improving educational outcomes is teacher quality. Thankfully, we are beginning to do more & more to improve teacher quality across the board, but there is a long way to go and a unionized culture of complacency that often stands in the way.

    Beyond mere snark, what do you recommend as real solutions to the real problems in American public education?

    You ask:
    “One other thing, does the Hope program abide by the 65% rule you were promoting earlier this year?”

    The answer is yes, the Hope program spends 65% “in the classroom,” as it were, though the defeated proposal applied to school district budgets as a whole. My guess is that Hope would have helped Vilas meet the 65% mark.

    For a more thoughtful analysis of the proposal, read http://www.i2i.org/main/article.php?article_id=1332

  7. says

    So we’re supposed to take on faith that Hope will work because there’s no way to objectively measure their success until current Hope students have been in the charter school as long as they were in public schools? And we’re supposed to place this faith in them because they don’t have unions? Hope is not a strategy (sorry, couldn’t resist).

    Does the 65% include what is spent ON the classroom, as opposed to IN the classroom? Do the $100k+ giveaways to religious schools for “rent” by Hope count towards the 65%?

  8. Fred Duke says

    from the December 6, 2006 Rocky Moutain News and the Colorado Department of Education

    The Hope Online Learning Academy Co-Op was rated unsatisfactory – the state’s worst rating – for its elementary grades, low for its middle school and unsatisfactory for its high school.
    Hope Online Learning Academy Co-Op
    Phone: N/A
    Fax: N/A
    District
    Vilas
    Overall performance
    Elem.: UNSATISFACTORY
    High: UNSATISFACTORY
    Middle: LOW
    Improvement from 2005
    Elem.: SIG. DECLINE
    High: SIG. DECLINE
    Middle: SIG. DECLINE

    Enough said.

  9. says

    Mr. Duke,

    My above comments still stand, especially since you never took the time to respond to them with any new insights or information. What you provided is after all the program’s first accountability report. When you’re willing to engage the points I raised earlier that relevantly address Hope’s SAR, then the dialogue can continue.

    Do you agree with Representative Mike Merrifield as quoted in today’s Post?

    “Merrifield said he has begun work on a bill to change the report cards so they’ll be ‘more valuable and more usable and less punitive’ to schools. He said Owens had resisted changes in the past but that parents tell him the reports are ‘confusing and hard to understand.’

    Merrifield said he would like the report cards to use more criteria – beyond the CSAP – to measure a school academically.

    Labeling schools as ‘unsatisfactory’ is punitive and doesn’t reflect the unique struggles a school may face ‘or how well a school is doing in other areas,’ he said.”

    I believe CSAP accountability needs to be strengthened, not undercut. I believe, for the sake of the kids the system is supposed to serve, we need to call label schools’ performance as ‘unsatisfactory’ when necessary. And demonstrated consistency in ‘unsatisfactory’ performances should have consequences – whether it be Hope Online or any other school. Are you willing to be consistent yourself, or do you just hate the idea of competition in general?

  10. says

    CS,

    Your questions one at a time:

    “So we’re supposed to take on faith that Hope will work because there’s no way to objectively measure their success until current Hope students have been in the charter school as long as they were in public schools?”

    No, I never said that. I said achievement scores should be understood in context. If a kid is 5 years behind grade level in 8th grade when he enters Hope after 8 years in the DPS system, and 3 years later he is on track again, what should that tell you? No school is successful in improving each child in every case, but the schools that largely do more to improve students’ skills and learning capacity should be recognized. But it does take some time to accomplish this. Is our current accountability system structured well enough to tell us these things? No, we can be thankful for the groundwork that has been laid in the CSAPs, but our goal should be to take them to the next level now.

    “And we’re supposed to place this faith in them because they don’t have unions? Hope is not a strategy (sorry, couldn’t resist).”

    What faith? Your assertion here is based on faulty logic. As you see above, I’m not asking anyone to demonstrate faith, just a few years to see clear signs of progress. How many years are you willing to give any school to show signs of success? Even the strict Colorado law that many complain about can’t convert a school to charter status until four straight years of ‘unsatisfactory’ are achieved. Why do you have a different standard? I am willing to compare unionized and non-unionized schools by the same standards … aren’t you?

    “Does the 65% include what is spent ON the classroom, as opposed to IN the classroom? Do the $100k+ giveaways to religious schools for ‘rent’ by Hope count towards the 65%?”

    First of all, the 65% issue is a moot matter, since it is not the policy of Colorado and won’t be anytime soon. Had you read my column that I linked to, you might begin to understand where I’m coming from on that issue. So let me quote from it:

    “First Class Education is definitely right about one thing: Colorado’s parents and taxpayers deserve a transparent public school system that provides real accountability. But Amendment 39 and Referendum J are far more likely to be symbols, rather than solutions.”

    The measures appear to have been grounded in good intentions, but they really would have done little to promote greater transparency and accountability. Transparency & accountability are working to help Hope correct any legitimate problems (including closing down 3 learning centers), and if applied consistently and thoroughly to all of our publicly-funded schools they could provide an opportunity for great improvement there, too.

    Will you join me in calling for greater financial transparency and academic accountability in all publicly-funded Colorado schools? Or are you too bent on your crusade to fail to see the inconsistency of your logic? Or do you share Emerson’s dictum that consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds?

    May I recommend a more careful, honest, and open-minded reading experience next time – if it is indeed possible for you to do so.

  11. lalo says

    Ben, what’s your reaction to HOPE being the largest Colorado school to receive an “unsatisfactory” CSAP score?

    The Hope Online Learning Academy Co-Op was rated unsatisfactory – the state’s worst rating – for its elementary grades, low for its middle school and unsatisfactory for its high school. [...] Hope is listed as showing “significant decline” with students at all three grade levels – elementary, middle and high.

  12. says

    lalo,

    Please read through all my comments on this thread. I believe I’ve already answered it.

  13. says

    Lets try this another way. What evidence do we have that Hope is a successful program, and should we – as taxpayers – have to fund 6 figure giveaways to religious institutions until the results are in? If Hope wasn’t giving away vast amounts of money for questionable expenses to religious organizations, they could take as long as they wanted and I’d have no objection – but given that that is my money they’re giving away, I’d like to see some evidence that 6 figure rents on 5 figure mortgages will result in something significantly better than what we have today.

    Don’t confuse me with an anti-charter or pro-teacher-union type. I just want to know what my tax dollars are paying for, at charter *and* non-charter schools, and specifically at Hope.

  14. Marya says

    There is evidence of Hope’s success. From Hope’s June 26, 2006 press release: “In DIBELS testing, a set of standardized, individually administered measures of
    early literacy development, given to the Hope Co-Op third graders in December of 2005,
    47% of the children tested as “high risk”, which is comparable to “unsatisfactory” on the
    CSAPs. In March of 2006, when those same children took the CSAPs, only 19% of those
    identical children tested “unsatisfactory”, translating into a 28% increase in satisfactory
    reading levels.”

    In the upper grades Hope is taking a lot of kids who would have dropped out of school. But maybe it would be better for the kids to be hanging out in the Wal-mart parking lot than to be learning something in a church basement.

  15. says

    CS,

    I’m glad we share a concern for public transparency and accountability in education. I’m also glad to see that the leadership of the Hope program has been so responsive to the problems and potential problems raised in the audit, addressing them very quickly. I’m also glad to see that you’re willing to give Hope a little time to show results for its innovative program rather than prematurely toss it aside and say the status quo is just fine.

    But I can’t let stand your exaggerated claim that Hope is “giving away vast amounts of money for questionable expenses to religious organizations.” The cases are few, isolated, and being addressed so they won’t continue.

    Part of what led to the issues raised in the press was the innovative online program’s instant popularity and rapid growth. What’s impressive is that the vast majority of the learning centers have no such problems at all. Contrary to what others more malicious against Hope are willing to believe, there’s not some grand conspiracy to subsidize religious institutions with taxpayer dollars. Rather, in the haste of some to expand the availability of learning centers to some needy students, insufficient care was shown in a few cases.

    And, so that it can’t be overlooked, let me say it again: the concerns you raise are not as widespread as you portray them, and they are being addressed.

    Now will you join me in supporting the same kind of audit Hope has received for different public schools and school districts across the state?

  16. says

    “Now will you join me in supporting the same kind of audit Hope has received for different public schools and school districts across the state?”

    Absolutely. We can pay for the audits with the hundreds of thousands of dollars I’m sure Hope will return to the tax payers due to their poor oversight. How much of my money do you suppose the public schools are giving away in excessive rents and administrative costs to religious organizations?

  17. says

    CS,

    You certainly have a one-track mind. The only concern you have is for excessive rents and administrative costs to religious organizations? I can’t imagine there being any other possible kind of financial neglect or malfeasance.

    Do you pride yourself in making ignorant, selective, and self-serving statements? I can see this conversation is over.

  18. says

    How many students were educated in those $100k-thousand-sq-ft class rooms? There may be an equally perverse graft-per-student-per-sq-ft amount somewhere out there, and I’ll condemn that as well when someone tries to white wash it. It’s not “financial neglect”, it’s nothing more than theft.

  19. says

    Marya,

    Are DIBELS tests administered to Colorado public school students and are those results available for objective comparison outside the realm of a press release?

  20. Marya says

    I believe the DIBELS test is used by other schools for internal tracking. Hope’s test results were credible enough to be picked up by the RMN: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/education/article/0,1299,DRMN_957_4822221,00.html
    DIBELS is aligned with the CSAP and can indicate student growth, which is something the CSAP doesn’t do well now. Though we can’t compare Hope’s DIBELS results to another school’s, we can gain an understanding that progress is being made to raise student achievement for the kids most in need of help.

  21. lalo says

    “But maybe it would be better for the kids to be hanging out in the Wal-mart parking lot than to be learning something in a church basement.”

    That’s a bizarre choice you’ve set up there, Marya. Let’s get into the press release instead. Hope’s Executive Director Heather O’Mara clearly hasn’t forgotten how to spin from her days at Viacom.

    The press release you cite compares DIBEL scores from 12/05 to CSAP scores in 3/2006. Four months wouldn’t be enough to show meaningful change anyway, but what Hope has done here is *so* dishonest.

    Can I compare my fourth-grade quiz on the times tables to my score on the AP Calculus (BC) exam? Is my score on the MMPI personality assessment comparable to what I got when I took that quiz in Cosmopolitan? If the government redefines what it means to be hungry, and then calls it “food security,” can we truly compare their yearly statistics?

    Of course we can’t.

    Hope actually cites a percentage of improvement, which they calculated by subtracting an average score (presumably an average–they don’t say specifically) on the first DIBEL test from an average on the second CSAP. Then they talk about that number as if it means something.

    I hope they don’t teach this kind of math at Hope Co-Op Online Learning Academy.

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