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

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Astonishing Education Ignorance From the Star-Ledger

I had promised myself (and Mrs. Jazzman) that I wouldn't blog on Easter. But then I picked up this morning's Star-Ledger, and read the most ignorant paragraph about education reform I have seen to date:
[Newark] Superintendent Cami Anderson has presented a promising plan that draws heavily on the successes of people such as Joel Klein in New York City and Michelle Rhee in Washington. [emphasis mine]
Oh, dear lord.

Let's start with Klein, who left NYC to work as consiglieri to Rupert Murdoch while simultaneously running Murdoch's new education division; all for a hefty salary. As he took his victory lap, the media chose to heap praise on him, lauding his "successes."

The problem is the "successes" are an illusion, caused by standardized tests that had grown easier over the years. This was a huge story, covered by, among others, Michael Winerip in the NY Times:
JUNE 2009 In the previous decade, New York students’ average SAT verbal score has dropped to 484 from 494; the math SAT score has dropped to 499 from 506. The national assessment’s fourth-grade reading scores have been stagnant for four years, and the eighth-grade scores are their lowest in a decade.
But somehow, state test scores again soar to record levels. In New York City, 81 percent of students are deemed proficient in math, and 68.8 percent are proficient in English. “This is a big victory for the city,” the schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, says, “and we should bask in it.” In November the mayor is elected to a third term, again riding the coattails of sweet city scores.
JULY 2010 Finally someone — Dr. Tisch, the chancellor of the Board of Regents — has the sense to stand up at a news conference and say that the state test scores are so ridiculously inflated that only a fool would take them seriously, thereby unmasking the mayor, the chancellor and the former state commissioner. State scores are to bescaled down immediately, so that the 68.8 percent English proficiency rate at the start of the news conference becomes a 42.4 proficiency rate by the end of the news conference. Shael Polakow-Suransky, chief accountability officer for the city, offers the new party line: “We know there has been significant progress, and we know we have a long way to go.” Whether there has been any progress at all during the Bloomberg years is questionable. The city’s fourth-grade English proficiency rate for 2010 is no better than it was in February 2001, nine months before the mayor was first elected.
Mr. Polakow-Suransky says that even if city test scores were inflated, he is not aware of any credible research calling the city’s 64 percent graduation rate into question.
FEBRUARY 2011 The city’s 64 percent graduation rate is called into question. The state announces a new accountability measure: the percentage of high school seniors graduating who are ready for college or a career. By this standard, the graduation rate for New York City in 2009 was 23 percent. [emphasis mine]
Let Marc Epstein, a real teacher, explain what this means for the Klein legacy:
We now know that New York City’s gains on the state tests were illusory. The proportion passing the state reading tests fell from 68.8% to 42.4%, and Klein’s beloved charter schools had pass rates no different from the regular public schools. 

The inflated graduation rates have been exposed too. With the recent news that 75% of the high school graduates require remedial reading and math when they enter community college, the Klein Era diploma has been rendered meaningless. So ill prepared are these students that the percent who graduate from college is in the single digits. 

Despite the collapse of the New York City scores, the pundits and the chattering classes continue to heap praise on Klein. In their complete indifference to facts, the media sound like a claque that talks only to one another. The truth is what they say it is, with hardly a word of dissent tolerated or printed on their Op-Ed pages or in their news reports.

Most of those celebrating the progress made in the schools know about as much about the inner workings of a New York City public school as they the do the interior of a Sea Wolf class nuclear submarine. 
In short, classroom “reforms” represented every combination of a pedagogical game of pick-up sticks one could ever conceive of. Klein left behind a school system in which academic gains have been meager, parents have been shut out, and graduation rates are meaningless. The annual budget has nearly doubled, low-scoring students are shuffled from school to school, discipline problems are hidden, teachers are demoralized, and principals are scared of every twitch in the data, as incompetents rule the administrative roost. What is there to celebrate? [emphasis mine]
Now for Rhee: unless you are completely ignorant about education policy - or simply don't care - you have undoubtedly heard about the huge test erasure scandal that Rhee left in her wake when she fled from Washington, D.C. The investigation into the cheating scandal continues a year after USA Today broke the story. Rhee refuses to talk to the reporters who broke the story, yet continues to maintain a high profile.

But even if we put that aside: Rhee was a failure as DC's chancellor by her own standards. She places huge value on the "achievement gap," yet "DC is the city in the nation with the largest black-white student achievement gap." Rhee, according to the former Director Of Policy and Program Studies for the US DOE, did no better than her predecessors in demonstrating math and reading gains. Leigh Dingerson took an even deeper look at the numbers:
Bergfalk has taught in the district for seven years, and was a finalist for D.C. Teacher of the Year in 2010. As a teacher, he is focused and energetic.He is also deeply skeptical. In March 2009, the district announced that the new NAEP scores showed dramatic student increases and progress in closing D.C.’s persistent achievement gap. Bergfalk decided to check it out for himself. Using NAEP’s own interactive website, Bergfalk deconstructed the data.
“These test scores are not the result of an increase in student achievement. Instead, they are a result of a change in who was tested,” says Bergfalk. He found that for the 4th-grade test, the percentage of African American kids in DCPS (the lowest scoring racial/ethnic group in D.C.) taking the test dropped from 67 percent of test takers to 53 percent of test takers between 2007 and 2009, while the percentage of Hispanic students (with average test scores 12 points higher) rose from 6 percent to 9 percent of test takers, and white students rose from 6 percent to 7 percent of test takers. Where aggregate scores appear to show improvement among DCPS students, the disaggregated data tell a different story. The district continues to have one of the highest achievement gaps among major U.S. cities.
Bergfalk found the same pattern on the 8th-grade NAEP reading test. The percentage of African American kids in DCPS taking the test dropped from 59 percent of test takers to 43 percent of test takers, which is why there was a statistically significant four-point increase overall from 2007 to 2009, but no statistically significant increase for any racial/ethnic subgroup. The overall increase, like that on the 4th-grade test, was again the result of a change in demographics rather than an increase in student achievement.
When DCPS released the results of local assessments in July 2010, the district touted what it called “unparalleled progress” in secondary school results. But at the elementary level, scores took a hit—in some schools dropping by more than 30 percent the past two years. Students in half of all D.C. public schools performed worse in the 2010 assessments than they did in 2009. 
For many parents and teachers, the problem with Rhee’s approach was best summed up by Diane Ravitch, former undersecretary at the Department of Education under President George H.W. Bush. Ravitch, speaking at a reception in D.C. last spring, was asked what she thought of D.C. school reform. Ravitch responded with the timeless adage, “It’s difficult to win a war when you’re firing on your own troops.” [emphasis mine]
I could go on and on about Rhee and Klein; I could post links to article after article after article, because Rhee's at best questionable tenure in DC and the New York testing scandal are two of the biggest stories in education over the past three years. Everyone who cares about this topic knows that the legacy of Klein and Rhee are in dispute.

And yet, in spite of all the reporting around Rhee and Klein, the Star-Ledger actually published this today:
Superintendent Cami Anderson has presented a promising plan that draws heavily on the successes of people such as Joel Klein in New York City and Michelle Rhee in Washington.
Astonishing. That Tom Moran would publish this paragraph speaks volumes as to how little he cares to inform himself about education policy. His display of ignorance about both Klein and Rhee calls into question any writing he has done or will do on schools.

When it comes to education, the editorial board of the largest newspaper in New Jersey simply does care to learn the facts. What an amazing state of affairs.


Anonymous said...

Don't blame the entire Star Ledger editorial board. They are completely subjugated to Tom Moron, who prides himself on his ignorance when it comes to education and unions. Why bother with research when your good buddy Derrell Bradford (of B4K and formerly of E3) will tell you all you need to know?

And don't miss Moron's second dive into stupidity this morning, his wet kiss to christie's bipartisanship. Never mind that what he's praising is not bipartisanship but shady backroom deals with corrupt democratic overlords. Why bother with facts that might get in the way of your ideology?

The only good thing about the demise of the Star Ledger is that so few people now read Moron's ignorant rantings.

Anonymous said...

Two points:

1. If NYC didn't improve under Klein, then why should we bother with spending on schools? NYC schools got billions extra during those years, and there's nothing to show for it?

2. Wait a minute, though, honest commentators would acknowledge growth on NAEP during that same time period, regardless of whatever happened on state tests. As the NYT recently reported, "the city’s fourth- and eighth-grade math scores are still up eight points and six points, respectively, since 2003." That's pretty large for an overall average.

So make up your mind: Either NYC did in fact make some progress in the 2000s, or else giving schools billions more makes no difference.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is WTF!!! Truly ignorant. Sadly, many rely on the Star-Ledger for their news regarding education. When paper prints the kind of nonsense that it has-it loses all credibility. A sad state of affairs in New Jersey.

Duke said...

So make up your mind: Either NYC did in fact make some progress in the 2000s, or else giving schools billions more makes no difference.

OK, so there was progress, and more money went into the NYC schools. You are saying the answer is to increase funding...

I agree!

I think you've really got it! We need to spend MORE to increase student achievement!

Glad to see we agree on this! Well done!

I would suggest we start by taxing hedge fund billionaires to get those extra funds. What do you say?

Reading this blog has really brought you around, hasn't it? I'm glad you've finally seen the light: money matters!

I look forward to your support in the future to stop Gov Christie from changing SFRA so it decreases funding to poor urban districts. Because, as you just said, giving billions to schools makes a difference.

Thanks for your support of sending more funds to the poorest districts!

Leonie Haimson said...

NYC has made the 2nd to least progress on the NAEPs of any city tested since 2003, when subgroups are compared across districts; the gains have been small to none. the only city that made less progress is Cleveland. See our analysis here: http://goo.gl/R0CkV

A Nonny Mouse said...

Anon 12:22 is the same person who will say that NJ cutting the achievement gap IN HALF in the 20 years since the Abbott remedies began was a "poor return on investment."

You can NEVER be right by his metrics, because he'll keep shifting them just in case.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Leonie -- brilliant. Your argument is that spending billions more didn't help.

Duke said...

Leonie: Great analysis. Thx for pointing us to it.

Anon/progressif: You would have a point, IF the other districts didn't also increase their spending, and IF the only "reform" NYC had under Klein/Bloomberg was increasing funding.

But you have not shown that all the other districts did not increase funding. I doubt very much that they did.

And, as Leonie points out in her analysis, funding was the least of what Klein/Bloomberg did. Mayor control, class sizes bulging, charter expansion, high-stakes accountability, school closings... all were hallmarks of their leadership.

The real independent variable here is Klein. That you or the S-L can't see that there is at least SOME cause for concern in using his reign as a model for Newark is, again, astonishing.

Duke said...

A Nonny: Well, that's what they do. They know the policies they want; they just need to twist things to suit the outcomes they desire.

Caitlin said...

So make up your mind: Either NYC did in fact make some progress in the 2000s, or else giving schools billions more makes no difference.

Is this really your argument? To reduce the issue to a choice as simplistic as the one posed above shows a real ignorance of educational policy and the workings of New York City's educational system. Those two options are not mutually exclusive. Isn't it possible that NYC did in fact make some progress and that the progress may or may not be related to the billions of extra dollars given or to the questionable "leadership" of Joel Klein? Research 101: correlation does not mean causation.

It would help if everyone could be a little more solutions-oriented and a little less concerned with being "right" about their own narrow-minded ideas.

Unknown said...

"Superintendent Cami Anderson has presented a promising plan that draws heavily on the successes of people such as Joel Klein"

Since I also just read that they hired consultants to develop more tests based on new standards, I wonder how far removed Wireless Generation is from this project?

Christie has turned this state into one of the most blatant nepotism pits that I've seen in YEARS and the SL is ignoring it. Had a democrat been handing out contracts and hiding the information like they are doing, they'd have been crucified. I guess since Bush was allowed to hand BILLIONS of dollars, 20 billion of which are still unaccounted for, to Haliburton, I guess the Republicans think it's open season on taxpayer money.