I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Friday, January 20, 2012

What Are We Ranking?

A while ago, I complained that New Jersey's reformiest lobbying outfit, B4K, was so invested in a narrative of "failing schools" that they ignored our high student achievement and instead focused on measures that had nothing to do with the quality of instruction NJ's kids receive.

Much of their assessment came from Education Week's "Quality Counts" report. The 2012 version was just released; naturally, B4K ate it all up once again.

They've made it clear they won't listen to me, so let's give someone else a shot. Susan Ohanian (the godmother of all us edubloggers) explains why no one should think this report is at all objective:

  • QC embraces the position that state academic standards are a positive force in schooling ( Page 45) This is an ideological position. The publication offers no evidence to support it. While most corporate and political leaders and many school leaders embrace this position, many educators and parents believe that standards constrain learning more than they enable it, that standardization of learning is an antiquated artifact of the 20th century that hinders creativity and the personalization of learning.

  • QC accepts the criteria of an unpublished review of state standards conducted by the American Federation of Teachers, dated October-November 2007. This review judges state standards in terms of the following attributes: “clear, specific, and grounded in content.” Here, QC is embracing an advocacy position of the AFT. To employ an unpublished document that cannot be reviewed is also bizarre for a publication that calls itself journalistic. 

  • QC awards positive scores to a state if it "assigns ratings to all schools” and “sanctions low-performing schools" ( Page 47). These are additional advocacy stances. There is no evidence that, for example, Florida's crude A-to-F rating system does anything for children other than intensify test preparation. Nor does Quality Counts offer evidence that sanctioning "low-performing schools" does anyone any good.

  • QC advocates for the ideological position that "all high school students . . . [should] take a college-preparatory curriculum to earn a diploma" ( Page 48). This is yet another values-based position, not reportage. While some politicians and educators support this goal, others note that a more differentiated high school curriculum is likely to better serve the very diverse high school population, particularly since a large percentage of new jobs in the decades to come will not require a college degree.

  • Read the entire thing, and thank Susan for stating her case so well. It really is amazing to think how many things both the reformy types and the commentariat will blindly accept without even the least amount of questioning.


    Anonymous said...

    Reads to me that B4k (excellent site by the way, thanks for the link) was more than fair in listing all the positive rankings NJ received. Were they all subjective and unfounded as well, or just the ones that were critical and cherry-picked here by this apologist?

    Stuart Buck said...

    "There is no evidence that, for example, Florida's crude A-to-F rating system does anything for children other than intensify test preparation."

    The Quality Counts report is indeed questionable on many grounds. But Ohanian doesn't know what she's talking about here. See http://www.caldercenter.org/PDF/1001116_Florida_Heat.pdf

    Anonymous said...

    Anon, the gist of this post was not about B4K so much as it was about the QC report. If we take a look at the 'research' used by educorp reformers like B4K, one can question the choices and reform measures they advocate when they make their decisions using such data and flawed research. Yes, imagine your doctor doing that. Imagine Wall Street doing that... Oh wait a minute.

    Duke said...

    Stuart, I'm glad we're in agreement that QC is questionable. That is the critical point.

    I gave your link a very quick read - I'll try to go more in depth this weekend. It's based entirely on principal surveys and the FCAT? Really? That doesn't set off bells and whistles for you?

    It seems this paper PROVES Susan's point. The principals got an "F" and said: "We'd better do better on the FCAT so we don't get an F again!" That's exactly what Susan is talking about, isn't it?

    Look at p. 46 - the time spent on art, music and social studies DECREASED in "F" schools. Doesn't that PROVE Susan's point?

    Duke said...

    Anon #1: if you read the linked post of mine, you'd already know my response.

    Stuart Buck said...

    Well, I'm sure that putting pressure on schools to actually teach kids to read will result in more effort spent trying to get kids to learn to read. But why should I care, unless there's evidence that the schools had already been spending just the right amount of time on reading?

    In any event, there IS evidence that more happened than just what Ohanian would call test prep. A key passage from the paper:

    "We find that the schools facing the increased pressure adopt block scheduling, reorganize the school scheduling structure through “other” measures, and increase time for collaborative planning and class preparation for teachers; we also see some evidence that they provide a common prep period for teachers, and increase the district’s control over how the budget is spent. . . . In sum, we find that schools receiving an “F” grade are more likely to focus on low performing students, lengthen the amount of time devoted to instruction, adopt different ways to organize the day and learning environment of the students and teachers, increase resources
    available to teachers, and decrease principal control, as was expected given the increased
    oversight built into the A+ Plan."

    Duke said...

    Stuart: again, I'm going to spend some time with this. But you are evading my point and Susan's:

    The measure of "learning to read" is a bubble test. How do you separate test prep from actual learning?

    And do you think it's wise to decrease the amount of time spent in the other domains to raise test scores?

    I'm no expert on block scheduling, but come on - is that really the difference between F and A schools? Seriously? Or common prep time?

    And this is all based on surveys of principals. No redundancy to confirm findings? Really?

    Stuart Buck said...

    Florida tests are pretty good, though. If teachers actually get kids to do better on those tests, the kids have to be learning some real knowledge and skills. No test is perfect, of course, but to suggest that the FCAT doesn't measure real knowledge and skill is absurd.

    And even if you disagree, it still remains the case that giving teachers extra collaborative time and giving the district more control over the school budget is NOT necessarily the same thing as sheer test prep.