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, February 3, 2012

The Continuing Mendacity of Chris Cerf

Wednesday, the ACTING NJ Commissioner of Education was in rare form:

After decades of frustratingly slow progress and expensive programs, the achievement gap between black, Hispanic or economically disadvantaged students in New Jersey has narrowed on key benchmark tests.
Statewide results released Wednesday also show improvement in 31 select low-income school districts – such as Camden, Newark and Asbury Park -- that annually receive billions of dollars, and more than half of the state local education aid.
State education officials, however, disputed the notion that the performance between groups had gotten much closer. They contend that across all grades, sizable differences remain.
“We approach these results today with both confidence and humility,” Acting Education Commissioner Christopher J. Cerf said today in a statement. “Overall, New Jersey students continue to perform at extremely high levels overall, and with few exceptions the statewide numbers continue to inch upwards. However, we have a persistent achievement gap … It is a disgraceful legacy in New Jersey.” [emphasis mine]
As I've said before: anyone who talks so much about the "achievement gap" is probably selling snake oil. As Howard Wainer writes:
But focusing on the difference blinds us to what has been a remarkable success in education over the past 20 years. Although the direction and size of student improvements are considered across many subject areas and many age groups, I will describe just one -- 4th grade mathematics. In the figure, the dots represent the average scores for all states that are available for NAEP's 4th grade mathematics test (with New Jersey's dot labeled for emphasis). These are shown broken down by race (black and white students) as well as by year (1992 and 2011). We can see that there have been steep gains for both racial groups over this period (somewhat steeper gains for blacks than for whites). Of course we can also see the all-too-familiar gap between the performance of black and white students, but here comes Achilles. New Jersey's black students performed as well in 2011 as New Jersey's white students did in 1992. Given the consequential differences in wealth between these two groups, which has always been inextricably connected with student performance, reaching this mark is an accomplishment worthy of applause, not criticism.

The last thing that we see is that the performance of New Jersey's students was among the very best of all states in both years and for both ethnic groups. [emphasis mine]
Not good enough for you? Check out this post from Bruce Baker. Or this post by yours truly. It all comes down to the same thing:

New Jersey's school's are some of the best in the nation. Our poor and minority kids do better than average; our not-poor and white kids do WAY better than average. Could our poor kids and minority kids do better still? Of course; but the notion that we should judge our success in terms of closing the gap is ridiculous when we are a state that achievement massive success in spite of chronic urban poverty.

What does Cerf's incessant repetition of this easily disputed argument about the achievement gap say about him? Is he deliberately misleading the public about student achievement in this state? Or is he just clueless?

Because it's got to be one of the two; or maybe both...


rob g said...

The thing that disturbs me more than this article is the fact that test scores went up despite budget cuts. This will lead your average teabeggar to conclude that teachers aren't all that important and we should keep cutting.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Rob G. I am wondering whether the higher scores are due to the increase focus on teaching to the test (which would explain the drop in science scores since this is one of several subjects being neglected in the math/literacy focus in testing). I see it in the urban school I work in. In my friend's suburban school, they cut out the "specials" so they could add an extra period a day for test prep.

Anonymous said...

Well done. Cerf is not out to improve anything. He has a consistent record of failure and has trouble with telling the truth. The GAP can only be closed in two ways and he knows both. First you could suppress "the top" And let the teachers move the bottom up. This will accomplish two objectives. As the Top scoring districts begin to falter due to "reform" driven teaching, the parents in the burbs will start to notice and look for alternatives. Cerf and Christie will then say, "see we were right" the system is "wretched". The second alternative to close the GAP, is to economiclaly
Desegregate the schools with bussing and " choice". This is what COA housing was about. This is Cerf's real objective but he knows the politics on this are not malleable.
Keep up the good work in school and with the blog. Truth is a good thing.

Teacher Mom said...

I'll take "Teaching to the test" for $1,000 Alex. No really, that's what they are paying teachers to do test prep as a form of "after school activity" over a period of three months.

Anonymous said...

Mom, a friend of mine (I know that sounds bad, but..) told me there is a consultant in her district from Colorado who makes a ton of money here in NJ as a consultant. This consultant apparently frequently states " I have no problem teaching to the test, IF IT IS A GOOD TEST". Can you imagine? I really never thought I'd see the day when that attitude could be so openly embraced. These reformers all seem to have the following characteristics: no proof of success, no experience ever teaching in a "testing rules" environment, no ability to connect with kids, and a strong desire to profit from selling snake oil.
Beware if you child is in a good school. You have a serious threat coming your way.

Jazzman, Courage!

Teacher Mom said...

Our district is using consultants from Satndards Solution. I don't even want to know what they were paid for our full day in-service this week, ALL ABOUT TEST PREP. And we are considered one of the better schools in the district. Here's the problem with NJASK, which is a better test than most, it only addresses like 5 of the NJCCCS and numerous things that aren't even in the NJCCCS. So we aren't even testing what we are teaching. WTH!!

Anonymous said...

Mom, Standard Solutions is the future model of education. Breakdown the test, breakdown the scoring rubric, and teach to the test to maximize your "effectiveness". Cerf would love the model.
The truly sad thing is that the scores will go up! Cerf and idiots like him can not comprehend that test scores only measure a small part of learning, and they do that badly.

Duke said...

Thx, everyone. Yes, there is a testing industry and yes, they are making a lot of money from all of this. How much? No one is saying...