Special report: He was the son of a teacher, man!
EPILOGUE—WHAT DOES IT MEAN (permalink): In the past two weeks, we examined some facts about the nation’s public schools, fighting off streams of disinformation from the likes of Ravitch and Gates. In retrospect, we thought a brief Q-and-A might answer some lingering questions:
Why have Texas students performed so well on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP)?
We have no idea. But within all demographic groups, Texas students outperform the national average on these “gold standard” tests. (Often, Texas kids outperform their national peers by substantial margins.) Of course, you’d never imagine such a thing if you read Diane Ravitch’s recent report in the Daily Beast, in which she attacked the Texas schools in baldly disingenuous ways.
Why have Texas students scored so well? You’d think we might actually want to find out! Instead, Ravitch tried to make readers think that Texas students have performed poorly—and she tied this alleged poor performance to the idea that annual testing has been a terrible scourge. If we really want to figure out what kinds of teaching may actually work, we can’t go about the task this way—by baldly misinforming the public about the most basic facts.
By the way, teachers in Texas are working hard too. Why should we trash them this way?
If Texas kids have scored so well, does that mean testing actually works?
Ravitch claimed that Texas’ dismal performance shows that testing doesn’t work. What do the state’s good test scores mean? You’d almost think we’d want to find out! Instead, the public gets fed a constant pile of partisan disinformation.
Nationwide, test scores have risen rather substantially during the period Ravitch cited—the period from 1998 through 2009. For the record, the testing / accountability / standards movement has been in force for roughly two decades; No Child Left Behind merely systematized a pre-existing movement. Does the nationwide rise in NAEP scores suggest that this approach has borne fruit? You’d almost think we’d want to ask! Instead, Ravitch persistently joins the anti-union forces in pretending that the national rise in test scores doesn’t exist.
Why do so few people ever mention the national rise in test scores?
In part, because liberals quit on low-income kids a good many years ago. The billionaire-financed anti-union crowd keeps pushing the idea that test scores are in the dumpster. This creates a good excuse to fire experienced teachers and replace them with non-union kids from the finer schools; such children are willing to work for low wages and for the chance to praise their own greatness. In a rational world, it would fall to liberals, progressives and pro-union people to spread the good news about national test scores. Rather plainly, this hasn’t occurred.
Liberals quit on low-income kids (and on their proletarian teachers) a very long time ago. In part for that reason, it’s almost impossible to hear accurate statements about American test scores. A few weeks ago, we were amazed when Richard Rothstein cited those score gains on the NAEP as a rebuttal to Bill Gates’ typically bogus claims (click here). It is very rare to see anyone offer this path to the “reality-based” world.
Just a guess: Very few teachers have ever heard about the gains which have occurred on their watch! Almost every “factual” claim you hear about test scores is false. The discussion is driven by the billionaire-funded anti-union crowd—and we “progressives” don’t bother responding. Instead, we honor Ravitch for pimping more of this bum information.
Apparently, we would rather criticize Bush than traffic in actual facts.
Could the rise in NAEP scores reflect some kind of cheating or teaching to the test?
Until recently, no one really had an incentive to cheat on the NAEP, which has been in operation for forty years. In the past decade, state superintendents have started to come under fire based upon statewide NAEP results; some politicians have started claiming credit based upon statewide score gains. Could a state superintendent put her thumb on the scale in the course of selecting the NAEP’s sample group for her state? We don’t know. But if it’s possible, you can bet that someone has done it!
Florida is another state which has shown strong gain in NAEP scores. Last fall, Columbia’s Madhabi Chatterji suggested these score gains may reflect the institution of stricter grade-retention policies; if more kids are forced to repeat third grade, this means they’re one year older, and one year smarter, when they take the fourth-grade NAEP. Could that be driving Florida’s gains? You will see such topics discussed when Mars begins to circle the earth. At present, NAEP scores are used in the mainstream press for exactly one reason—to drive highly partisan, fact-challenged claims, as Ravitch did last week.
If Wisconsin underperforms a bit on the NAEP, why does it seem to have good scores on the SAT and the ACT?
On the NAEP, Wisconsin’s white and Hispanic kids tend to score around the national average for their groups. Wisconsin’s black kids tend to score well below the nationwide average for black kids. (There may be reasons for that.)
Why then do Wisconsin students seem to score fairly high on the ACT, an SAT equivalent? We thought Politifact did a rather poor job with this topic (click here). But Politifact noted that Wisconsin students ranked 13th nationally on the ACT in 2009, even though a fairly high percentage of the state’s students took the fiendish test.
If Wisconsin is average at best on the NAEP, why does it seem to score well on the ACT? Presumably, that happens because Wisconsin is relatively middle-class and white, and those ACT average scores aren’t “disaggregated”—aren’t broken down by demographic groups.
Let’s compare Wisconsin’s demographics with those of Texas. In what follows, we’ll compare the two states’ eighth-grade student populations, as tested by the NAEP in math in 2009:
Wisconsin had many fewer low-income kids. In 2009, 31 percent were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, as compared to 53 percent in Texas. (National figure: 43 percent. This is not a measure of “poverty.”)
Wisconsin also had many fewer minority kids. In 2009, only seven percent were Hispanic, compared to 46 percent in Texas. Ten percent were black, compared to 14 percent in Texas. Given the way our American history works, white kids still outscore minority kids on such tests, although the gaps have narrowed in the past forty years. In 2009, Wisconsin was 79 percent white, compared to just 32 percent in Texas.
Texas schools face larger demographic challenges; Wisconsin is relatively white and middle-class. Presumably, that helps explain Wisconsin’s relatively good average score on the ACT. But when we break NAEP scores into demographic groups, Texas outscores Wisconsin across the board, often by large margins.
Isn’t it time we tried to learn why such patterns exist? Isn’t it time we stopped the disinformation campaigns, and instead told people the truth about our (improving) NAEP scores?
On a national basis, NAEP score are substantially up in the past twenty years. Why is that—or doesn’t anyone care? Why isn’t the public being told about those gains on the NAEP? Do we simply prefer to bash Bush?
Final question: Are we willing to let Bill Gates keep spreading bullroar about our children? Frankly, the answer seems to be yes. After all, he’s a billionaire!