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

Monday, April 15, 2013

How To Create a Non-Existent Crisis: NJ's School Performance Reports

Andy Smarick, the reformy former #2 at the NJDOE, tells us we should be very, very worried about one of the best performing state-level school systems in the nation:
New Jersey just released new report cards for all schools in the state. The information now available, including indicators of college- and career-readiness and excellent “peer school” comparisons, is invaluable. And it is deeply discomfiting for many of the state’s complacent schools and districts.
While the reports reinforce just how tragically low-performing the state’s urban districts are, they also show that the preening of many leafy suburban communities is unwarranted. Said state commissioner Chris Cerf, this data “will make clear that there are a number of schools out there that perhaps are a little bit too satisfied with how they are doing when compared with how other schools serving similar populations are doing.”
In other words, lots of schools and districts brag about their AP and IB programs, graduation rates, and so forth. But when you look at their AP passage rates and SAT scores, you quickly see that things aren’t so rosy. Far fewer kids than thought are truly prepared for post-secondary work.
"Than thought" by whom, Andy? You? Cerf? Or the 9 out of 10 parents who say they are satisfied with their local public schools? Have they all been conned, Andy? Are they all too stupid to see how awful their kids' schools are - which is why the NJDOE had to rush out these reports shrouded in mystery? To prove to parents that, contrary to their own beliefs, their own children are dolts?
Then when you compare some of these contented schools to other schools serving student bodies with similar demographics, you see that they are actually significantly underperforming their peers.
Dear lord, that is so very, very dumb. Look at this table again from a typical report:

The "performance" of these schools is expressed in rank percentiles, which means they are relative to other schools. Unless you are the #1 school in New Jersey, someone will always be higher than you are.

Think of it this way: suppose you gathered the top 30 high schools in New Jersey. Would you be worried that school #30 is "significantly underperforming" its peers? Or would you be dumb enough to think that every school should be #1?

Even you don't perform as well as your "peers," that doesn't mean you are doing a bad job. Scottie Pippen wasn't Michael Jordon, but last I checked, people who follow basketball think he was still awfully good.

But Andy has a funny idea of what constitutes "good":
This should serve as a wake-up call to lots of New Jersey communities. A number of states with sophisticated school-rating systems, like Florida, have been providing such warnings to middle-class and affluent areas for some time.
Yes, by all means New Jersey: let's set our sights higher and act more like Florida!

The man was #2 at NJDOE. Explains a lot, doesn't it?

Let's cut to the chase: Smarick tries not to give away the game, but he just can't help himself:
In the spring of 2015—assuming that the two testing consortia hold together—states will administer the first round of Common Core–aligned assessments. If those tests end up true to their billing (meaning they are accurate predictors of college- and career-readiness), proficiency scores across the land will plummet (see today’s very good editorial from the NY Daily News and this WSJ piece on a boycott-threat in New York).
When those scores are publicly released in the summer of 2015, lots of parents are going to be looking for solutions. The reform community should have a response. 
Unless there’s a clear playbook for how we should respond, the vacuum will be filled by excuses (The tests are wrong! Everything is fine!) and old, ineffective, but popular and establishment-friendly interventions (More spending! Reduce class sizes!).
If I were a state chief, I’d have a team, off to the side, working on this right now. We would be drafting new policies, working on communications plans, and much, much more. [underline emphasis mine]
Oh, I don't doubt that's what all your old buds at the NJDOE - and, for that matter, all across the country - are up to right now, Andy. They, like you, are licking their chops at the idea of making public schools look like failures. All the lovely little reformy ideas you folks have been waiting to sell to the 'burbs - vouchers, charters, merit pay, gutting tenure - need to be locked, cocked, and ready to rock when the Common Core "proves" that all of America sucks.

But I actually think you guys are going to be in for a rude awakening. Parents aren't nearly as ill-informed as you appear to think they are, Andy. You'll see...


Anonymous said...

Having mostly succeeded in their hostile takeover of urban school systems, so-called education reformers are now gunning for suburban districts, and your fine reporting is showing how they intend to do it.

walt sautter said...

The ultimate goal - privatization of public schools with low wage teachers and huge profits - "There's gold in them there schools" -

ad77 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ad77 said...

Smarick has no direct knowledge of education or its administration. He has no degrees in education and no experience!

At this point, Smarick would point to his stint of ? success ? at the New Jersey Department of Education.

If he was such a superstar, why isn't he still there implementing all these glorious ideas of his?