Surprise! SBAC and CRESST stonewall public records request for their financial records

Say what you will about Achieve, PARCC, Fordham, CCSSO, and NGA— some of the organizations responsible for promoting the Common Core Initiative on us all. But, their financial records are publicly available.

Not so for some other organizations responsible for the same Common Core promotion. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Center for Research on Educational Standards and Student Testing (CRESST) have absorbed many millions of taxpayer and foundation dollars over the years. But, their financial records have been hidden inside the vast, nebulous cocoon of the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA). UCLA’s financial records, of course, are publicly available, but amounts there are aggregated at a level that subsumes thousands of separate, individual entities.

UCLA is a tax-supported state institution, however, and California has an open records law on the books. After some digging, I located the UCLA office responsible for records requests and wrote to them. Following is a summary of our correspondence to date:

 

July 5, 2017

Greetings:

I hope that you can help me. I have spent a considerable amount of time clicking around in search of financial reports for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST), both “housed” at UCLA (or, until just recently in SBAC’s case). Even after many hours of web searching, I still have no clue as to where these data might be found.

Both organizations are largely publicly funded through federal grants. I would like to obtain revenue and expenditure detail on the order of what a citizen would expect to see in a nonprofit organization’s Form 990. I would be happy to search through a larger data base that contains relevant financial details for all of UCLA, so long as the details for SBAC and CRESST are contained within and separately labeled.

I would like annual records spanning the lifetimes of each organization: SBAC only goes back several years, but CRESST goes back to the 1980s (in its early years, it was called the Center for the Study of Evaluation).

Please tell me what I need to do next.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Best Wishes, Richard Phelps

 

July 6, 2017

RE: Acknowledgement of Public Records Request – PRR # 17-4854

Dear Mr. Phelps:

This letter is to acknowledge your request under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) dated July 5, 2017, herein enclosed. Information Practices (IP) is notifying the appropriate UCLA offices of your request and will identify, review, and release all responsive documents in accordance with relevant law and University policy.

Under the CPRA, Cal. Gov’t Code Section 6253(b), UCLA may charge for reproduction costs and/or programming services. If the cost is anticipated to be greater than $50.00 or the amount you authorized in your original request, we will contact you to confirm your continued interest in receiving the records and your agreement to pay the charges. Payment is due prior to the release of the records.

As required under Cal. Gov’t Code Section 6253, UCLA will respond to your request no later than the close of business on July 14, 2017. Please note, though, that Section 6253 only requires a public agency to make a determination within 10 days as to whether or not a request is seeking records that are publicly disclosable and, if so, to provide the estimated date that the records will be made available. There is no requirement for a public agency to actually supply the records within 10 days of receiving a request, unless the requested records are readily available. Still, UCLA prides itself on always providing all publicly disclosable records in as timely a manner as possible.

Should you have any questions, please contact me at (310) 794-8741 or via email at pahill@finance.ucla.edu and reference the PRR number found above in the subject line.

Sincerely,

Paula Hill

Assistant Manager, Information Practices

 

July 14, 2017

RE: Public Records Request – PRR # 17-4854

Dear Mr. Phelps:

The purpose of this letter is to confirm that UCLA Information Practices (IP) continues to work on your public records request dated July 5, 2017. As allowed pursuant to Cal. Gov’t Code Section 6253(c), we require additional time to respond to your request, due to the following circumstance(s):

The need to search for and collect the requested records from field facilities or other establishments that are separate from the office processing the request.

IP will respond to your request no later than the close of business on July 28, 2017 with an estimated date that responsive documents will be made available.

Should you have any questions, please contact me at (310) 794-8741 or via email at pahill@finance.ucla.edu and reference the PRR number found above in the subject line.

Sincerely,

Paula Hill

Assistant Manager, Information Practices

 

July 28, 2017

Dear Mr. Phelps,

Please know UCLA Information Practices continues to work on your public records request, attached for your reference. I will provide a further response regarding your request no later than August 18, 2017.

Should you have any questions, please contact me at (310) 794-8741 or via email and reference the PRR number found above in the subject line.

Kind regards,

Paula Hill

Assistant Manager

UCLA Information Practices

 

July 29, 2017

Thank you. RP

 

August 18, 2017

Re: Public Records Request – PRR # 17-4854

Dear Mr. Richard Phelps:

UCLA Information Practices (IP) continues to work on your public records request dated July 5, 2017. As required under Cal. Gov’t Code Section 6253, and as noted in our email communication with you on July 28, 2017, we are now able to provide you with the estimated date that responsive documents will be made available to you, which is September 29, 2017.

As the records are still being compiled and/or reviewed, we are not able at this time to provide you with any potential costs, so that information will be furnished in a subsequent communication as soon as it is known.

Should you have any questions, please contact me at (310) 794-8741 or via email at pahill@finance.ucla.edu and reference the PRR number found above in the subject line.

Sincerely,

Paula Hill

Assistant Manager, Information Practices

 

September 29, 2017

Dear Mr. Richard Phelps,

Unfortunately, we must revise the estimated availability date regarding your attached request as the requisite review has not yet been completed. We expect to provide a complete response by November 30, 2017. We apologize for the delay.

Should you have any questions, please contact our office at (310) 794-8741 or via email, and reference the PRR number found above in the subject line.

Best regards,

UCLA Information Practices

 

September 29, 2017

I believe that if you are leaving it up to CRESST and SBAC to voluntarily provide the information, they will not be ready Nov. 30 either. RP

Close all USED-funded research centers: Evaluation of existing regulations: My two bits

My comments below in response to the USED request for comments on existing USED regulations. To submit your own, follow the instructions at:  https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=ED-2017-OS-0074-0001

MEMORANDUM
To:  Hilary Malawer, Assistant General Counsel, Office of the General Counsel, U.S. Department of Education
From:  Richard P. Phelps
Date:  July 8, 2017
Re:  Evaluation of Existing Regulations[1]

Greetings:

I encourage the US Education Department to eliminate from any current and future funding education research centers. Ostensibly, federally funded education research centers fill a “need” for more research to guide public policy on important topics. But, the research centers are almost entirely unregulated, so they can do whatever they please. And, what they please is too often the promotion of their own careers and the suppression or denigration of competing ideas and evidence.

Federal funding of education research centers concentrates far too much power in too few hands. And, that power is nearly unassailable. One USED funded research center, the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST) blatantly and repeatedly misrepresented research I had conducted while at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in favor of their own small studies on the same topic. I was even denied attendance at public meetings where my research was misrepresented. Promises to correct the record were made, but not kept.

When I appealed to the USED project manager, he replied that he had nothing to say about “editorial” matters. In other words, a federally funded education research center can write and say anything that pleases, or benefits, the individuals inside.

Capturing a federally funded research center contract tends to boost the professional provenance of the winners stratospherically. In the case of CRESST, the principals assumed control of the National Research Council’s Board on Testing and Assessment, where they behaved typically—citing themselves and those who agree with them, and ignoring, or demonizing, the majority of the research that contradicted their work and policy recommendations.

Further, CRESST principals now seem to have undue influence on the assessment research of the international agency, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which, as if on cue, has published studies that promote the minority of the research sympathetic to CRESST doctrine while simply ignoring even the existence of the majority of the research that is not. The rot—the deliberate suppression of the majority of the relevant research–has spread worldwide, and the USED funded it.

In summary, the behavior of the several USED funded research centers I have followed over the years meet or exceed the following thresholds identified in the President’s Executive Order 13777:

(ii) Are outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective;

(iii) Impose costs that exceed benefits;

(iv) Create a serious inconsistency or otherwise interfere with regulatory reform initiatives and policies;

(v) Are inconsistent with the requirements of section 515 of the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act, 2001 (44 U.S.C. 3516 note), or the guidance issued pursuant to that provision, in particular those regulations that rely in whole or in part on data, information, or methods that are not publicly available or that are insufficiently transparent to meet the standard for reproducibility.

Below, I cite only relevant documents that I wrote myself, so as not to implicate anyone else. As the research center principals gain power, fewer and fewer of their professional compatriots are willing to disagree with them. The more power they amass, the more difficult it becomes for contrary evidence and points of view, no matter how compelling or true, to even get a hearing.

References:

Phelps, R. P. (2015, July). The Gauntlet: Think tanks and federally funded centers misrepresent and suppress other education research. New Educational Foundations, 4. http://www.newfoundations.com/NEFpubs/NEF4Announce.html

Phelps, R. P. (2014, October). Review of Synergies for Better Learning: An International Perspective on Evaluation and Assessment (OECD, 2013), Assessment in Education: Principles, Policies, & Practices. doi:10.1080/0969594X.2014.921091 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0969594X.2014.921091#.VTKEA2aKJz1

Phelps, R. P. (2013, February 12). What Happened at the OECD? Education News.

Phelps, R. P. (2013, January 28). OECD Encourages World to Adopt Failed US Ed Programs. Education News.

Phelps, R. P. (2013). The rot spreads worldwide: The OECD – Taken in and taking sides. New Educational Foundations, 2(1). Preview: http://www.newfoundations.com/NEFpubs/NEFv2Announce.html

Phelps, R. P. (2012, June). Dismissive reviews: Academe’s Memory Hole. Academic Questions, 25(2), pp. 228–241. doi:10.1007/s12129-012-9289-4 https://www.nas.org/articles/dismissive_reviews_academes_memory_hole

Phelps, R. P. (2012). The effect of testing on student achievement, 1910–2010. International Journal of Testing, 12(1), 21–43. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15305058.2011.602920

Phelps, R. P. (2010, July). The source of Lake Wobegon [updated]. Nonpartisan Education Review / Articles, 1(2). http://nonpartisaneducation.org/Review/Articles/v6n3.htm

Phelps, R. P. (2000, December). High stakes: Testing for tracking, promotion, and graduation, Book review, Educational and Psychological Measurement, 60(6), 992–999. http://richardphelps.net/HighStakesReview.pdf

Phelps, R. P. (1999, April). Education establishment bias? A look at the National Research Council’s critique of test utility studies. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 36(4) 37–49. https://www.siop.org/TIP/backissues/Tipapr99/4Phelps.aspx

[1] In accordance with Executive Order 13777, “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda,” the Department of Education (Department) is seeking input on regulations that may be appropriate for repeal, replacement, or modification.

Significance of PISA math results

A new round of two international comparisons of student mathematics performance came out recently and there was a lot of interest because the reports were almost simultaneous, TIMSS[1] in late November 2016 and PISA[2] just a week later. They are often reported as 2015 instead of 2016 because the data collection for each was in late 2015 that would seem to improve the comparison even more. In fact, no comparison is appropriate; they are completely different instruments and, between them, the TIMSS is the one that should be of more concern to educators. Perhaps surprising and with great room for improvement, the US performance is not as dire as the PISA results would imply. By contrast, Finland continues to demonstrate that its internationally recognized record of PISA-proven success in mathematics education – with its widely applauded, student-friendly approach – is completely misinforming.

In spite of the popular press and mathematics education folklore, Finland’s performance has been known to be overrated since PISA first came out as documented by an open letter[3] written by the president of the Finnish Mathematical Society and cosigned by many mathematicians and experts in other math-based disciplines:

“The PISA survey tells only a partial truth of Finnish children’s mathematical skills” “in fact the mathematical knowledge of new students has declined dramatically”

This letter links to a description[4] of the most fundamental problem that directly involves elementary mathematics education:

“Severe shortcomings in Finnish mathematics skills” “If one does not know how to handle fractions, one is not able to know algebra”

The previous TIMSS had the 4th grade performance of Finland as a bit above that of the US but well behind by 8th. In the new report, it has slipped below the US at 4th and did not even submit itself to be assessed at 8th much less the Advanced level. Similar remarks apply to another country often recognized for its student-friendly mathematics education, the Netherlands, home of the PISA at the Freudenthal Institute. This decline was recognized in the TIMSS summary of student performance[1]with the comparative grade-level rankings as Exhibits 1.1 and 1.2 with the Advanced[5] as Exhibit M1.1:

pastedimageBy contrast, PISA[2] came out a week later and…

Netherlands 11
Finland 13
United States 41

Note: These include China* (just below Japan) of 3 provinces, not the country – if omitted, subtract 1.

Why the difference? The problem is that PISA was never for “school mathematics” but for all 15-year-old students in regard to their “mathematics literacy[6]”, not even mathematics at the algebra level needed for non-remedial admission to college much less the TIMSS Advanced level interpreted as AP or IB Calculus in the US:

“PISA is the U.S. source for internationally comparative information on the mathematical and scientific literacy of students in the upper grades at an age that, for most countries, is near the end of compulsory schooling. The objective of PISA is to measure the “yield” of education systems, or what skills and competencies students have acquired and can apply in these subjects to real-world contexts by age 15. The literacy concept emphasizes the mastery of processes, understanding of concepts, and application of knowledge and functioning in various situations within domains. By focusing on literacy, PISA draws not only from school curricula but also from learning that may occur outside of school.”

Historically relevant is the fact that conception of PISA at the Freudenthal Institute in the Netherlands included heavy guidance from Thomas Romberg of the University of Wisconsin’s WCER and the original creator of the middle school math ed curriculum MiC, Mathematics in Context. Its underlying philosophy is exactly that of PISA, the study of mathematics through everyday applications that do not require the development of the more sophisticated mathematics that opens the doors for deeper study in mathematics; i.e., all mildly sophisticated math-based career opportunities, so-called STEM careers. In point of fact, the arithmetic of the PISA applications is calculator-friendly so even elementary arithmetic through ordinary fractions – so necessary for eventual algebra – need not be developed to score well.

 

[1] http://timss2015.org/timss-2015/mathematics/student-achievement/
[2] http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2017/2017048.pdf (Table 3, page 23)
[3] http://matematiikkalehtisolmu.fi/2005/erik/PisaEng.html
[4] http://matematiikkalehtisolmu.fi/2005/erik/KivTarEng.html
[5] http://timss2015.org/advanced/ [Distribution of Advanced Mathematics Achievement]
[6] https://nces.ed.gov/timss/pdf/naep_timss_pisa_comp.pdf

Wayne Bishop, PhD
Professor of Mathematics, Emeritus
California State University, LA

Yes, President Trump can do something about Common Core

For starters, he can shut down the federal funding of organizations that have supplied the misinformation that begat and continues to propagandize Common Core. While the Gates Foundation gets the most attention, government-funded entities play their part. For example, our nation could be much improved if relieved of the burden of fuzzy research produced at the Center for Research on Educational Standards and Student Testing (CRESST), the Board on Testing and Assessment (BOTA) at the National Research Council, and K-12 programs in the Education and Human Resources (EHR) Division of the National Science Foundation. All have been captured by education’s vested interests, and primarily serve them.

Among the Constructivists

The online journal Aeon posted (6 October, 2016) The Examined Life, by John Taylor, director of Learning, Teaching and Innovation at Cranleigh boarding school in Surrey (U.K.).

https://aeon.co/essays/can-school-today-teach-anything-more-than-how-to-pass-exams

Taylor advocates “independent learning” in describing his “ideal classroom”:

“The atmosphere in the class is relaxed, collaborative, enquiring; learning is driven by curiosity and personal interest. The teacher offers no answers but instead records comments on a flip-chart as the class discusses. Nor does the lesson end with an answer. In fact it doesn’t end when the bell goes: the students are still arguing on the way out.”

As for what he sees as the currently dominant alternative:

“Students are working harder than ever to pass tests but schools allow no time for true learning in the Socratic tradition.”

“Far from being open spaces for free enquiry, the classroom of today resembles a military training ground, where students are drilled to produce perfect answers to potential examination questions.”

…You get the drift.

A bit sarcastically, I write in the Comments section

“So, the ideal class is the one in which the teacher does the least amount of work possible. How nice …for the teacher.”

To my surprise, other readers respond. I find the responses interesting. (Numbers of “Likes” current as of 9 October, 2016.)

Richard Phelps
So, the ideal class is the one in which the teacher does the least amount of work possible. How nice …for the teacher.     Like 0

Dan Fouts
If only it were like that! The ideal classroom described in this article would be led by a teacher who does a very different kind of work– coaching others to think rather than dictating everything–Being patient with confusion rather than rushing to answers– Discarding pre-determined outcomes and instead promoting outcomes that reveal themselves within lessons. This is very difficult, time-consuming teacher work.     Like 2

Richard Phelps
One purpose for tests is as an indicator to parents and taxpayers that their children are learning something. How would you convince parents and taxpayers that students have “learned how to think”? I presume that there is no test for that, and that you might not want to use it even if it existed, as that could induce “teaching to the test”. So, what would you tell them?     Like 1

Dan Fouts
Great point and questions. Therein lies the challenge. Since thinking itself is a mental process, it eludes empirical measurement in a very real way. We are in an education system that places value on things only if students can show they can DO something (this is the behaviorist model) and only if what they do is measurable using the language of mathematics. Standardized tests are wonderful models to use once we have embraced these assumptions. Cultivating independent thinking isn’t really on the radar.

Though I tell them that writing assessments or projects (as referenced in the article) are better vehicles to demonstrate independent thinking.     Like 2

John Taylor
I would agree with you Dan. Project work has the advantage that it is conducted over a period of time, during which a range of skills can be exhibited, and, typically, the teacher can form a better judgement of the student’s capacity for thinking their way through a problem. Exams, being a snapshot, are limited in this regard and the assessment of factual recall tends to be to the fore, as opposed to capacities for reflection, questioning of assumptions, exploration of creative new options, and so on. I think too that we could make more use of the viva; in my experience, asking a student to talk for a few minutes is an excellent way of gauging the depth of their understanding     Like 1

Ian Wardell
Teaching people the ability to think is more important than passing tests. What is important is the ability of people to think for themselves and to attain understanding. Not to simply unthinkingly churn out what others have said.     Like 0

Richard P. Phelps
Again, how do you measure that? How can a parent or taxpayer know that their children are better off for having gone to school? How do you prove or demonstrate that a child is now better able to think than before?     Like 1

Amritt Flora
Richard, therein lies the dilemma – the need for people to measure rather than believe. If we stopped being obsessed with measuring and categorising so deeply everything we do, we would be in a better position. You should only need to talk to a child to know that they have learned to think. Maybe we don’t have time to do that.     Like 0

Brian Fraser
I would ask them to read “An Atom or a Nucleus?” It takes the position that the thing that has virtually all the mass of the atom, and which accounts for all the properties of the atom, is actually the atom itself, not some sort of “nucleus” of something. This goes contrary to what we have been taught for the past 100 years.

This is supposedly “hard science” physics. But it raises deeply disturbing questions about Pavlovian style education.

The link is http://scripturalphysics.org/4v4a/ATMORNUC.html (Take the test at the end of the article)

If we are wrong about the atom “having” a nucleus, we could be wrong about A LOT of things, even in the “objective sciences”.     Like 0

Young Thug
I think most parents want what is best for their children. I don’t think anyone wants their child to be a little robot who can take a test but not navigate through life and all its challenges. And if they do, that’s just sad. It should be noted that the author did not say we should do away with examinations. In fact, they said this kind of class increases performance on examinations, and I have first hand experience with that since I teach a class after school, on a volunteer basis, that also uses a discussion format. Our program has also helped improve test scores among students that took it (and this in a lower income neighborhood) and we have data to prove it. So the results will show, I have confidence in that.

But there is an easy way parents can know what their kids are learning in school. They can just talk to them. And these kids actually want to be in my classroom. One time, I was going to cancel class because my co-facilitator did not show up and she had all the materials. But the kids, and this is, let me remind you, AFTER school, came trailing into an empty classroom with their chairs and started setting up. I told them they had the day off, they could go play. They kept on setting up and said they wanted to have the class anyway and since I was there I might as well do it. This kids wanted to be there. These are regular kids by the way, chosen at random by the after school program. They wanted to be in that class because we have great discussions. These discussions are not random though, the questions are carefully chosen based on a curriculum that has been scientifically validated, and we guide the discussion along to make sure it goes somewhere productive. We don’t take a fully Socratic approach, we have a mixed teaching and discussion style. The classes are about an hour and a half long. And I’ve had parents come up to me many times and thank me personally because they have seen their children change after taking my program. So if kids are interested and engaged in school, they will talk to and tell you about it if you ask. Because they are interested, and kids, like all people, like speaking about things they are interested in.     Like 2

Ian Wardell
Nice for the teacher, nice for the children, nice for society as a whole that we are educating people to think for themselves.     Like 0

Richard P. Phelps
“we are educating people to think for themselves” How do you know you are? How do you measure it?     Like 0

Nicola Williams
This type of teaching takes a great deal of preparation, and I would say it is actually far more challenging for a teacher to guide and direct students towards answers and valuable discussion than to spout out the answers themselves. The teacher who looks like they are doing very little, and manages to guide students to a point where they have learnt something, is an outstanding teacher – they pull the strings, and the students are guided into finding the answers themselves: students feel fantastic because they did it ‘on their own’, and, because they did the legwork instead of writing down an answer they were told, it sticks in their mind for much longer.     Like 1

Digital Diogenes Aus
Teaching to the test is easy.
Sure, its stressful and a lot of work, but it’s a lot of grunt work.
Teaching in the Socratic fashion is hard- you actually have to know what you’re talking about, you have to know your kids, and you have to consistently stay ahead of the curve     Like 1