Rod Paige Page

Both test scores and grades have been fabricated at Houston's school district's program for troubled kids run by CEP. Rod Paige looks the other way and believes that things have gone unbelievably well in these schools run by people with no educational experience (former Republican party chairmen and people who ran private jails). 

Paige ignored both the independent test scores (cited by his statisticians) AND common sense in HISD's CEP program. He's never explained why.

A recent story in the Houston Press quoted a director of the TEA as confirming what the HISD statisticians told Paige:

According to the TEA's Jacobs, it is up to HISD to ensure the scholastic credibility of CEP. The TEA's involvement is to look at academics as they relate to TAAS scores. The TEA is also compiling data on why students in Texas are being removed from class and how long they are out, Jacobs says. Unfortunately, his findings support Jones's worst fears.

"We've discovered so far that the longer students are removed from certain programs, we see academic regression," Jacobs says.

Unlike what Paige claims, publicly available data shows that the Houston high school dropout rate after Paige's 6 years in office is one of the highest in Texas and in the nation (92nd out of the 100 largest districts in the US). Higher dropouts make tests scores look better.

Under Paige, the kids who will suffer the most are the kids who most need the help (such as the CEP students and other disadvantaged students who will depend on federal funding). Their scores will "appear" to go up, but their learning will probably decline.

In addition, Paige will undoubtedly push for privatization. Even though this has been a major failing, he'll make sure that the numbers the public sees will look good, just as he did with the CEP students.

So of all the choices for education secretary, this is the best we can do???!!?

Bush said during his campaign that education is the #1 issue facing America today and intends to make it a priority for his administration.

This story about Rod Paige that appeared in the Dec 30 NY Times about education secretary nominee Rod Paige. Based on stuff on his website, Rod Paige seems to be a great choice. For example, this excerpt:

Paige named national Superintendent of the Year by the National Alliance of Black School Educators
The award is the latest in a series of honors recognizing the leadership of Dr. Paige, who has been superintendent of HISD since 1994. Dr. Paige, now one of the longest-serving superintendents in America, and the board of trustees have led the school district to strong improvement in test scores, a sharply reduced campus crime rate, falling dropout rates, greater parental involvement, and improvements in management that have saved taxpayers money.

In October, Dr. Paige won the McGraw Prize in Education, one of the nation's top awards for leadership in education.

But all is not what it seems.

I talked to someone on that McGraw award committee. The scoop: Paige has a great PR dept (Terry Abbott, a professional PR guy, and the only full time PR person for any superintendent anywhere in the US, has done an excellent job of "packaging" Paige, sending out mailings regularly proclaiming each achievement) and had been seeking the award for a while and that when objections were raised due to all the controversial stuff going on in Houston, most committee members ignored it and gave him the award anyway (causing at least one committee member to quit). This McGraw Hill situation is well documented by several sources. As for Abbott, here is a reader comment published in the Houston Chronicle on a Houston Chronicle story:

I know too many people who work for this district who are extremely unhappy within the system. They are all in diverse jobs within HISD, yet all report an abundance of miscommunication, mismanagement, waste, and too many hard-working people getting paid an under whelming salary. Their jobs range from custodians to principals yet they all are in agreement of one thing....HISD is not a district where your hard work is appreciated. Rod Paige should be happy. (Terry Abbott also.) They are being paid an exorbitant amount of money for doing no more than promoting themselves on the backs of others blood, sweat, and tears. HISD does not deserve the accolades it has gotten according to the people who are on the inside, but their spin doctor (Abbott) is doing an excellent job of deceiving the public of the truth.

Here's another interesting fact...

I know little about Rod Paige, but here is one revealing fact about Houston schools. If one takes the number of HS graduates in 1997-98 and divides by the average number of students enrolled in grades 7 to 9 in 1994-95, Houston (with a "graduation rate" rate of 46.77%) is the worst of large districts in Texas, and among the 10 worst of large districts nationally.

In other words, if he's confirmed, Paige can do for the rest of the country what he's done for Houston: keep the dropout rate high. That way, test scores appear to go up and Paige looks successful. Unfortunately, those dropouts frequently can't find jobs and must resort to crime. It is much cheaper for society and better for the individuals to keep them in school so they graduate.

The big danger if Paige is confirmed that we institute high stakes testing everywhere (especially in poorer districts who are more dependent on federal funds), leading to higher dropouts (since teachers will want to raise average test scores to get more money), leading to higher crime, leading to higher costs to society.

There are several dangers of high-stakes testing:

  • Tests are only approximate measures of a students true ability, yet a bad test score may be sufficient to keep a child from progressing on to the next grade (especially when the school funding depends on test scores). This leads to frustrated students who drop out.
  • Teachers who spend time teaching the test, as all teachers do in high stakes testing states, produce students who are excellent test takers on the question types they practice for, but those skills don't translate into other national tests, i.e., no real learning has taken place.
  • Time spent doing test preparation exercises means time not spent doing real learning and time not spent in other subjects which are not being tested, like science.

The Times story began by talking about Paige enforcing a new state law in Texas.

Again, there  may be a LOT more to this story than meets the eye that the NY Times reporter missed. This article about Paige that appeared in April in a Houston alternative weekly that didn't get much notice since Paige wasn't a hot item in April. It basically said Paige ignored independent test data presented by his own statistician showing students were actually getting worse over time (relative to other students), and instead give total and unquestioned credibility to CEP data that shows that CEP is wildly succeeding beyond belief with the most difficult students in Texas

This other article which points out CEP fabricates other measures of student achievement because of its "money-back guarantee" (money back if unless students advance 2+ grade levels in one year). So it's no surprise it happens because it is wired into the CEP system to ensure the students test scores are properly fabricated (since otherwise they don't get paid).

Why has Paige ignored the TAAS and SAT-9 test data for the CEP students (and the advice of the statistician on his staff) and why he's only trusted the CEP test data? How can students improve by more than 2 grade levels in both reading and math in a year and have their TAAS and SAT-9 scores go down in the same period? It's even more impressive when you consider these are not gifted students, but problem kids and that CEP management has limited educational credentials, but impressive political credentials. Still more impressive is that teachers are not really required to achieve this type of remarkable performance gain as CEP students sit in front of computer screens all day (see "Dumping Ground?" on the link).

The results presented at the Manhattan Institute sound very impressive; the opposite of what the national test data shows. But they can't both be right.

If Paige is right, the CEP story is yet another "Texas miracle" that we should study and replicate elsewhere....but we'd have to also agree that TAAS and SAT-9 scores are useless measures of academic performance which of course disproves those other "Texas Miracles". I don't think Paige is right. Do you?

In fact, if the Houston articles are right, Paige appears to value politically connected people and completely discount independent test data (and common sense)!

What's the real story as to what is going on? The story as Paige presented (2+ grade level improvement in 1 year) seems impossible, even if you don't believe the detractors.

In fact, Paige sounds a lot like Bush in ignoring data and cherry picking the data he wants to believe.

Here is a list of questions I'd love Paige to answer:

  • Can you explain why there is a discrepancy between your claims of halving the dropout rate, yet publicly available data, analyzed several different ways shows no improvement?
  • Were there any inaccuracies in the two Houston Press articles? What were they?
  • What was your the reason for ignoring Tom Kellow's memo on CEP (which confirmed what the statistician you had before Kellow told you too) and trusting the CEP test data instead? Did you have a scientific report from another statistician on staff that conflicted with Kellow's memo? Was there a meeting to resolve the differences? Why didn't you ever meet with Kellow to ask him questions about his memo or his conclusions?
  • If the students are making such remarkable progress at CEP, why isn't it reflected on TAAS or SAT-9? Surely, there must be some residual effect, shouldn't there? How could those scores be going down? Is that what you expected? Why?
  • How long had the forgery of exam scores and grades being going on at CEP? When did it end? How do you know that it has ended? What punishment did you give to CEP or how did you otherwise hold them accountable? How are you monitoring CEP now? What communication did you make to the parents of CEP kids when you found out about the fabrication of scores?
  • Since the forgery of test scores are well documented at CEP, isn't it possible that the scores used to validate the overall progress students have made (as presented to the Manhattan Institute) might be bogus as well. Surely they are suspect. When you found out about the fraudulent grades, what steps did you take to make sure that the CEP test scores that you reported to the Manhattan Institute were accurate?
  • Don't you think it is unrealistic for students to improve 2+ grade levels in 1 year (especially for problem kids who sit in front of a computer all day and report to the press that they are "bored out of their minds")? Where has this been done before? If it hasn't been done before, then why isn't such a remarkable achievement being copied everywhere? Was it your expectation that such improvements wouldn't show up in any independent test? Why? Is there an independent test that can be used to validate the claims made by the CEP? Which test is it? And why has it not been administered?
  • What was the process by which CEP was selected as the vendor for this program? Who made the decision? Did it bother you that the top executives had no experience in education?
  • Are you concerned about students learning by sitting in front of a computer screen every day with minimal teacher interaction?
  • Do you think all the disgruntled employees of CEP were just bad hires, or do you think there is a pattern here since they all say the same thing? Have you ever met with any of the CEP employees who were fired or resigned? Why do you trust CEP management vs. these workers, i.e., how did you determine who to believe?
  • Have there been any students that you didn't have to pay for because they didn't progress as fast as the 2 grade level guarantee that the CEP has? How many students actually stay the required 180 days for the guarantee to be in effect?
  • Is there a reason why the CEP contract is secret among even your own employees?

Here are a lot more questions for Paige.

Other links

Bush's Texas Miracle- Fact or Fiction
Summarizes what I found out about Bush's "Texas Miracle" in education. Basically, everything except TAAS shows nothing special is happening in Texas.

The Finn Editorial- lots of questions
Shows that attacks on the latest RAND report actually raise more questions than they answer. I've exchanged numerous emails with Finn, but he couldn't answer any of the questions I raised!

A closer look at the Bush education record posted on Bush's web
Provides evidence disproving or discrediting each of the educational accomplishments that were posted on Bush's campaign website.