In the October 19 issue of the Eagle & Journal, my opponent for the two-year seat on the Board used her “blank check” to put “student engagement” over student academic achievement. She did so using the premise that a 2018 Gallup study reported that “engaged students were more likely to do well in school.” Some people question such a premise by questioning whether it is the other way around, i.e. that students who do well in school tend to also engage more in school. But, that is okay, it is just another organization selling products to schools.
Ms. Cavanaugh goes on to quote statistical data from the 2020-2021 California Health Kids Survey which would help support her premise. I decided to fact check and verify and found that there was no 2020-2021 California Healthy Kids Survey data on the CUSD web site, only the 2018-2019 results are available there. Ms. Cavanaugh was already retired from CUSD so she would not have received these new data based on being a district teacher. I went to the web site of the company (WestEd) that develops, administers and interprets the Healthy Kids Surveys for all of California schools and, sure enough, unbeknownst to many of us, the survey was administered again.
But, like the 2018-2019 surveys, someone made the decision to survey only 5th, 7th, 9th and 11th grade students and only 5th grade teachers, and, once again, no parents. I was able to find the few questions out of hundreds of questions that Ms. Cavanaugh chose to support her proposed program for future education. But, as always, these data were complicated, and much of the self-reporting was contradicted by answers to other related questions. Another drawback in reporting student engagement data in the 2020-2021 survey is that these data included students participating in hybrid learning, which, by definition, includes students engaged via on-line learning. In addition, the teacher data that was available did not match and corroborate the student responses that were picked by Ms. Cavanaugh.
Why am I saying this and pointing it out?
A Board of Education has to be very careful about the data it is receiving when it comes to proposing grand new programs that might interfere with academic instruction and pedagogy. WestEd provided the District with pages and pages of cautions and advice about the use of these data because they are self-report data and self-report data are very unreliable as a general rule. As a reminder, the District implemented the now debunked No Place for Hate program based upon speeches at a rally in the park and then tried to justify it using data from the California Healthy Kids Surveys of 2018-2019. They never cross-checked or corroborated those data either but could have, and again, never administered the parent surveys as WestEd recommends.
If elected, I promise to do the very heavy work required of me to understand data about educating kids, not for my own beliefs about how things should work, but because there is reliable data and there are reliable experts helping interpret it. WestEd, for a cost, has tools and even teams of people that can help districts use these data wisely and appropriately.
Perhaps Ms. Cavanaugh’s blank check could be used to fund contracts with WestEd for services that would insure proper use of survey results, including surveying parents and ALL teachers for corroboration.
VOL. 112, NO. 43 - Oct. 26, 2022