Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Stephanie Simon Takes On Some Education Reform Mythology

The Stephanie Simon article at Politico on why public schools may not be failing is up now and it is a good one.

She busts some cherished education reformer myths in it - including how the Chinese are kicking are asses in tests:

A new video about the failures of public schools making the rounds on social media starts by introducing viewers to “the most important number in all of education…32!”

Why 32?

Well, that’s where the U.S. came out in the PISA international math test, given to 15-year-olds around the world in 2009. Only 32 percent of American kids scored proficient, which put us at 32nd in the world, miles behind perennial powerhouses like Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Korea — and also far behind nations less frequently thought of as academic superstars, including Estonia, Iceland and Slovenia.

Sounds grim. And Harvard education professor Paul Peterson argues that it is. “If we’re 32nd in the world, that’s a pretty serious matter,” said Peterson, a co-author of the new book “Endangering Prosperity: A Global View of the American School,” which the video was produced to promote.
Then again, we’re 32nd on just one test. American kids do better relative to the world — though they’re still far from elite — on the PISA science and reading exams.

And they do better as well on a different, equally respected, international math test known as TIMSS.
On the most recent TIMSS test, from 2011, American eighth-graders handily outscored seven nations that had the edge on the U.S. in the 2009 PISA exam, including Great Britain, Australia — and, yes, Slovenia. Fourth-graders rocked the TIMSS test even more: They came out ahead of a dozen countries that had beaten the U.S. on the PISA exam.

As for China, it doesn’t participate as an entire nation; only students from three relatively wealthy regions — Shanghai, Macao and Hong Kong — are tested. That’s important to note because income correlates with success on standardized tests. Finland, often at the top of the global rankings, has a child poverty rate of just 5 percent. In the U.S., it’s 23 percent.

One more point: Any test contains sampling error, so the precision of global rankings is an illusion. On the 2009 PISA reading assessment, for instance, the U.S. officially ranked 15th among the 34 member nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which sponsors the exam. But an OECD official told POLITICO that the U.S. might actually have been as high as 8th — or as low as 20th.

Hey - I have an idea.

Let''s take Scarsdale, Great Neck and Greenwich and stack them up against Shanghai, Macao and Hong Kong and see how the scores come out.

Every time Michelle Rhee or Joel Klein or some other ed deformer spouts the international test score jive, I want to say, "You do know they don't test everybody in China?  More than half the kids in India don't go to school, so they're not included on the tests either?  And Finland has a child poverty rate almost five times smaller than that of the United States?  You do know these things right?  And you know that they mean the international test score stats you are spouting are meaningless?"

The truth is, they know.

But they continue to spout this crap because, as they learned in the Bush administration, if you just keep parroting a lie over and over, the media will report it at face value and everybody will start to believe it.

It is good to see someone at Politico, one of the prime Beltway media outlets, run an article that dispenses with some cherished education reformer myths.

Here's another one Simon knocks down:

We’re spending more, but schools are getting worse
Warnings on this theme are generally accompanied by graphs showing steep growth in per-pupil spending — juxtaposed against a flat line representing academic achievement.

That’s misleading, however, on two fronts.

Spending has certainly jumped. But a huge part of the increase — about half, according to economist Richard Rothstein — has been dedicated to serving students with disabilities who were not guaranteed (and often did not receive) a free public education until the 1970s. Schools are also serving far more immigrant students who come in speaking a dizzying array of languages.
As for the academic flat line: The percentage of kids scoring “below basic” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress — widely considered the most reliable measure — has plummeted in both reading and math in both fourth and eighth grade for every racial group except Native Americans. Average reading and math scores for each subgroup in the fourth and eighth grades have also climbed steadily over the past 20 years.

But demographic changes in U.S. schools mean that a greater percentage of test takers now come from groups that traditionally score lower on the NAEP tests, such as Hispanic students. So when test scores are aggregated nationwide, it doesn’t look like there’s been much progress — even though taken individually, each group of students has dramatically improved.
 The NAEP tests do show one clear trouble spot: high-school students. NAEP reading and math scores for 17-year-olds haven’t budged much since the 1970s. Ravitch suggests that’s because it’s hard to get older teens to take a no-stakes test seriously; she points to other gains, such as improvement in the high-school graduation rate, to show progress.

Read the rest of the article and marvel at the truth-telling Simon manages to do in prime Beltway media real estate.

You never see this kind of thing in the NY Times.

Nor in the Daily News or Post.

Nope - all three outlets are too busy telling lies about schools and teachers in order to sell their education reform agendas.


  1. Stephanie kicks ass.
    She and Bill Turque (who Michelle Rhee froze out because of his excellent reporter and non boot lickin') would make a great investigative team.
    Would be great if some progressive would fund them and a few researchers (who would only need to crib articles you and your side bar find) .
    Kick Ass 3

    1. Turque was great too. It's a shame he's not writing the ed stories for the Post anymore.