Re: Rothstein: Facts "Reformers" Ignore
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- Subject: Re: Rothstein: Facts "Reformers" Ignore
- From: Art Burke <email@example.com>
- Date: Tue, 24 Jan 2012 11:34:55 -0500 (EST)
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Surely the dramatic improvement in the achievement of Black children and other children offers evidence that reformers have in fact advanced constructive changes and not only destructive criticism of the kind that Rothstein caricatures.
A little thought should tell you that if education reform were nothing more than bad-mouthing teachers, the nation's leading newspapers, liberal and progressive politicians like George Miller, Ted Kennedy, and Barack Obama, civil rights organizations, and organizations that advocate for poor children, children with disabilities, and children learning English would be fighting tooth and nail against reform instead of supporting the core of standards and accountability that have defined reform over the past decade. Changing schools is hard and setting up and knocking down straw men as Rothstein does is big time lame.
From: Bob Schaeffer <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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Sent: Tue, Jan 24, 2012 6:22 am
Subject: [arn-l] Rothstein: Facts "Reformers" Ignore
THE FACTS THAT SCHOOL REFORMERS IGNORE
Washington Post "The Answer Sheet" -- January 24, 2012
This was written by Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the
Economic Policy Institute, a non-profit organization created to broaden
the discussion about economic policy to include the interests of low-
and middle-income workers. From 1999 to 2002 he was the national
education columnist of The New York Times, and he is the author of
several books, including "Grading Education: Getting Accountability
Right" and "Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic and Educational
Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap." This appeared on the
By Richard Rothstein
Education "reformers" have a common playbook. First, assert without
evidence that regular public schools are "failing" and that large
numbers of regular (unionized) public school teachers are incompetent.
Provide no documentation for this claim other than that the test score
gap between minority and white children remains large. Then propose
so-called reforms to address the unproven problem --- charter schools to
escape teacher unionization and the mechanistic use of student scores on
low-quality and corrupted tests to identify teachers who should be fired.
The mantra has been endlessly repeated by Secretary of Education Arne
Duncan, and by "reform" leaders like Michelle Rhee, former Washington
D.C. public schools chancellor, and Joel Klein, former New York schools
chancellor. Bill Gates' foundation gives generous grants to school
systems and private education advocates who adopt the analysis. In
Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel makes the argument, and in New York, Mayor
Michael Bloomberg has frequently sung the same tune.
And now, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has joined in. On Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr.'s birthday last week, the governor cast attacks on unionized
teachers as a defense of minority students against the adult
bureaucracy. "It's about the children," Mr. Cuomo said. Because of
failing public schools, "the great equalizer that was supposed to be the
public education system can now be the great discriminator."
But this applause line about school failure is an "urban myth." The
governor, mayor and other policymakers have neglected to check facts
they assume to be true. As a result, they may be obsessed with the wrong
challenges, while exacerbating real, but overlooked problems.
Careful examination discloses that disadvantaged students have made
spectacular progress in the last generation, in regular public schools,
with ordinary teachers. Not only have regular public schools not been
"the great discriminator" --- they continue to make remarkable gains for
minority children at a time when our increasingly unequal social and
economic systems seem determined to abandon them.
We have only one accurate performance measure. The government
administers periodic reading and math tests to samples of fourth, eighth
and 12th graders. Called the National Assessment of Educational Progress
(NAEP, pronounced "nape"), it is less subject to corruption than
standardized tests now legally required of all schoolchildren.
NAEP samples are only large enough to produce reliable national and (for
fourth and eighth graders) state estimates, but not for classrooms or
schools. Thus, principals or teachers suffer no consequences for poor
NAEP scores, giving them no incentive to steal time from instruction to
drill on NAEP-type questions.
Not every selected student gets identical NAEP questions. Scores
aggregate answers from different students' booklets, covering different
topics from the math and reading curriculums. In contrast, state and
city standardized tests change little each year; teachers can predict
which of many topics will likely appear, and focus instruction on those.
Here's what NAEP shows: Average black fourth graders' math performance
in regular public schools has improved so much that it now exceeds
average white performance as recently as 1992. The improvement has been
greatest for the lowest achievers, those in the bottom 10 percent.
Eighth graders show similar, though less dramatic trends. The
black-white gap has narrowed little because whites have also improved.
These irrefutable facts characterize both the nation as a whole, and New
York State specifically. In fact, New York State's black children made
enormous gains in the 1990s, and much slower gains once the federal No
Child Left Behind, and Mayor Bloomberg's and Chancellor Klein's
test-based reforms kicked in. From 1992 to 2003, for example, black
fourth graders' math performance jumped 22 scale points (about
two-thirds of a standard deviation). From 2003 to 2011, the gain was
only 5 scale points.
There is something perverse about using Dr. King's birthday as the
occasion for an accusation that schools have been the "great
discriminators" when those schools have been boosting the achievement of
African Americans at a far more rapid rate than they've been able to
boost the achievement of whites.
Overall, the national and New York State data are hard to reconcile with
a story that schools are filled with teachers having low expectations,
poor training, and complacency arising from excessive job security, and
the way to fix public schools is more accountability for student test
There are certainly ineffective teachers, and schools should do better
at removing them. But data suggest that this problem, while real, is
relatively small compared to others we ignore. Here are two: There has
been substantial reading improvement at the fourth but not eighth grade;
and no comparable improvement, even in math, for 12th graders.
Assuming systemic failure to justify a frenzy of ill-considered reforms,
we've spent almost no time investigating what caused these trends. We
can only speculate.
Plausibly, schools have more influence on math. Reading, especially for
older children, results more from exposure to vocabulary and complex
language at home, and to visiting museums, libraries, and zoos, to gain
context for the written word.
We do know that the verbal gap between middle class and disadvantaged
children is well established by age 3. We can improve reading scores for
fourth graders by drilling basic skills, but not for older children
whose reading depends more on relating text to the world beyond.
Popular reforms, holding schools and teachers accountable for test
scores, are consistent with the facts only if we believe that most
teachers work hard to teach math, but not reading. More plausible is
that elementary schools do at least a passable job, and we should focus
reform instead on establishing early childhood centers that give
disadvantaged children greater verbal exposure and the breadth of
experience that affluent children typically receive.
Rather than spending such energy imagining how schools have failed, so
we can fix them, we might devote attention to investigating what schools
have done well, so we can do more of it.
High schools' apparent lack of improvement for disadvantaged youth
remains puzzling. Here, too, we should consider some factors outside of
schools, where racially isolated communities with concentrated poverty
and few jobs can demoralize adolescents. We might get greater academic
success by creating more after-school and summer programs that provide
enriching experiences, competing with adverse neighborhood influences.
Systems cannot improve if prescriptions rely on flawed diagnoses. The
governor and mayor should now step back, take a deep breath, and try to
follow facts rather than ignore them.
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