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

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Do Teacher Bashers EVER Know What They're Talking About?

Here's a rule to live by: anytime a conservative pundit cites an education statistic, it's probably wrong. Take, for example, this factoid that "proves" that Chicago's children, whose teachers are currently on strike, all suck (all emphases mine):

IJ Review:
Only 15% of fourth graders are proficient in reading.
 CNBC's Larry Kudlow, yelling at the great Leonie Haimson like a mental patient:
15% of fourth graders are proficient in reading.
Amy Payne at the Heritage Foundation:
Among other demands, the Chicago Teachers Union had asked for a 30 percent pay increase—despite the facts that just 15 percent of fourth graders are proficient in reading and just 56 percent of students graduate in the district. 
That's just a small sampling from the wingnut sector of the blogosphere. Where is this coming from? Well, David Applegate at the Heartland Foundation gives a source:
 Led by the feisty Karen Lewis, the 25,000-member strong Chicago Teachers Union claims it’s all about the students, but of course it’s not – it’s about the teachers and their union.  If it were about the students, more than Chicago’s current fifteen percent of fourth graders would be proficient in reading and more than 56 percent of entering freshman would ultimately graduate from high school. (Thanks to National Review Online’s John Fund for the proficiency and graduation figures.)
Oh, it's from wing-nut welfare queen John Fund
Small wonder. Just 15 percent of fourth graders are proficient in reading and only 56 percent of students who enter their freshman year of high school wind up graduating.
No source - I'm just shocked.

Perhaps Mr. Fund got this bit of datum from the Illinois Department of Education:

Oh, dear: this shows that 62% of Chicago's fourth graders meet or exceed expectations in reading. It also shows a small but steady increase in math, science, and reading, with the percentage of students meeting or exceeding standards at its highest point in years. Huh...

Well, perhaps self-proclaimed education expert Fund went straight to the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), generally considered the gold standard of assessment for research purposes. Here's Chicago's profile:

"Aha!" yells the wingnut. "Look at that! OK, Fund was off a little, but not much - 18% of Chicago's 4th Graders are proficient at reading! That means 82% can't read at grade level, right?"

From Diane Ravitch's Death and Life of the Great American School System (which, Mike, you really should read):

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)
As real experts like Dr. Ravitch and Ed Fuller and Gerald Bracey have written many times, "proficiency" on the NAEP does not mean "achieving at grade level." It is a much higher bar; everyone who knows anything about education statistics learns this early on.

Are Chicago's deserving children doing well enough in reading? Of course not. But they perform better on tests than conservative pundits do on fact-checking.

ADDING: Can I just say it makes me absolutely crazy that not one of these people will bother to correct their claim, let alone go back and give any context to it?

But I'm the crazy, untrustworthy blogger..


Deb said...

Thank you Duke - we need to call them out on every lie every time. Thank you.

Duke said...

As always, I appreciate that, Deb. Keep commenting!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing the facts on this issue!