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, May 13, 2012

Star-Ledger Op-Ed = Free Advertising For Ed Contractors!

With the exception of Bob Braun, the Star-Ledger op-ed pages have been exceptionally ill-informed about education. But today, they reach a new low: they give column space for a edu-preneur to hawk his wares. Along with the think-tanky Herbert Walberg from Hoover, David Anderson weighs in on the big problem facing New Jersey's schools: not enough standardized testing!
We commend Gov. Chris Christie for his proposal to make greater use of achievement testing in New Jersey’s public education system. The plan to require students to pass tests as a condition for promotion or graduation — at least at the fourth- and 12th-grade levels — represents a good first step toward bringing K-12 students to grade level. Many New Jersey students are behind; more than half need this help. [emphasis mine]
Whoa, whoa, whoa! What the hell does that mean? New Jersey consistently ranks at the top of the nation in student achievement by a wide variety of metrics. "More than half need help"? Says who?

Well, once again, the Star-Ledger figures its readers aren't interested in an exact citation, something New Jersey public schools require of their students when doing research. But Walberg and Anderson give us a clue:
Other states also use extensive testing, but have weak standards — well below grade-level performance. The high school exit exams of Massachusetts, for example, are geared toward ninth-grade performance, far below the advertised 12th-grade skills. Similarly, the Regent examinations of New York are deeming as proficient approximately twice as many students as the more reliable National Assessment of Educational Progress. Our worry: The desire to "look good" may similarly degrade the proposed New Jersey standards. 
Not only have states largely ignored the problem, they also have cheated by writing lax state standards and tests under the required No Child Left Behind federal legislation. 
Typically, their proficiency requirements are far below the NAEP standards[emphasis mine]
Once again, we see the problem with allowing the ignorant to lead our national conversation on education.  Because it's quite clear these two do not understand the first thing about the NAEP and how it correlates to actual student learning. Here's Diane Ravitch from Death and Life of the Great American School System:
The term "proficiency" - which is the goal of the law - is not the same as "minimal literacy." The term "proficiency" has been used since the early 1990s by the federal testing program, the National Assessment of Education Progress, where it connotes a very high level of academic achievement. (p. 102) [emphasis mine]
Only someone completely ignorant of both educational policy and test construction would claim that the NAEP is an appropriate measure of student success. The NAEP is a research tool; it is not a criterion-based assessment of learning where "proficient" is a minimal level of acceptable student achievement. These guys give away their ignorance - willful or otherwise - when they make the comparison.

Take a second and look at the entire article: how many unverified claims and squishy statistics do see see? Scads. Not one citation to show there is rampant cheating in the NJ testing regime. Not one citation to show lax standards in the states (they're all moving to the Common Core anyway, fellas).

Now, why would these two bother to embarrass themselves by penning such a poorly-sourced, ignorant report? As always, follow the money:
Solving this problem requires agencies separate from schools to certify that students meet standards. Consider: It’s insufficient to graduate from schools of law, medicine or accountancy. To practice, graduates must pass rigorous, independently administered exams.
Similarly, independent school-certifying agencies are needed for setting curricular standards, test design, proctoring, analysis and reporting of student achievement.
Leaving instructional responsibilities with the schools, these agencies would remove the conflict of interest that has long handicapped American schooling.[emphasis mine]
Golly, who ever will we trust to do this? Which "agencies" will do this work? And if they are non-profit, which for-profit consultancies will aid these "agencies"?

I know - how about the author of this piece, David Anderson's, own Asora Education Consultants! Why, what do you know; he's actually the CEO! And he charges a mere $75 an hour for his services!
Asora® Consulting provides services in two related areas: 
1.) We provide an
 achievement test analysis service. We convert inflated public school system achievement test proficiencies, from those reported by state educational authorities for localities, to ones that are consistent with the Nation's Report Card.

2.) We provide specialty advice to organizations developing instructional systems, networks, and schools similar to
 Asora's Stellar School concept. We generally recommend an incremental approach in which we convert one subject area at a time. 
Talk about putting kids first!

Let's be clear: this man is impugning the motives of teachers, administrators, and school boards, while brazenly promoting his own self-interest. That the Star-Ledger would allow him to shamelessly promote himself while insulting those who actually do the hard work of teaching kids is yet another affront to educators everywhere.

Looks like the Sunday Ledger's here!

ADDING: As if on cue, Diane Ravitch posts this evening on exactly this topic!

Proficient is akin to a solid A. In reading, the proportion who were proficient in fourth grade reading rose from 29% in 1992 to 34% in 2011. The proportion proficient in eighth grade also rose from 29% to 34% in those years. In math, the proportion in fourth grade who were proficient rose from 18% to 40% in the past twenty years, an absolutely astonishing improvement. In eighth grade, the proportion proficient in math went from 21% in 1992 to an amazing 35% in 2011.
Basic is akin to a B or C level performance. Good but not good enough.
And below basic is where we really need to worry. These are the students who really don’t understand math or read well at all. The proportion who are below basic has dropped steadily in both reading and math in fourth and eighth grades since 1992.
When the scores are broken out by race, you can really see dramatic progress, especially in math. In 1992, 80% of black students in fourth grade were below basic. By 2011, that proportion had dropped to 49%. Among white students in fourth grade math, the proportion below basic fell in that time period from 40% to only 16%.
The changes in reading scores are not as dramatic as in math, but they are nonetheless impressive. In fourth grade, the proportion of black students who were below basic in 1992 was 68%; by 2011, it was down to 51%. In eighth grade, the proportion of black students who were reading below basic was 55%; that had fallen to 41% by 2011.
The point here is that NAEP scores show steady and very impressive improvement over the past twenty years. Our problems are tough, but they are not intractable. The next time someone tells you that U.S. education is “failing,” or “declining,” tell them they are wrong.
And guess what? Diane didn't even charge us $75 an hour!


Deb said...

This would have been a great April Fool's joke that the Star Ledger printed - except it is Mother's Day.

This mom is one of many who is very grateful for all you do Duke!


Duke said...

Thx Deb. Moms, dads, teachers, students - together, we're the key to stopping this idiocy.