"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ravitch, Rhee and Rankings

Recently, Diane Ravitch was interviewed by Randi Kaye on CNN's Newsroom. The interview took the form of Ms. Kaye making a negative statement about education and then asking Dr. Ravitch a question like, "How do you explain that?" or "How do you respond to that?" It was more a "third degree" than an interview. Fortunately, Dr. Ravitch responded well to the grilling.

One of the aspects of public education which Ms. Kaye focused on was low test scores. While America's performance on international tests wasn't specifically mentioned (or if it was, it was edited out), it's common among the PPPs (politicians, pundits and policy makers) to decry the low ranking of our students when compared to other nations. In another interview, this one with Michelle Rhee, Ms. Kaye asked,
...you point to a new Harvard study that ranks the US 25th internationally in education. What do you think it is that we need to improve?
Ms. Rhee's response...
People don't understand where we stand right now on international rankings on academics. We are behind countries like Hungary and Luxumbourg.
Rhee went on to claim that true school reform means getting rid of bad teachers and offering more choice to families. There was no mention at all of the effects of poverty on American students, no suggestion that students in poverty need more support, and no suggestion that we attempt to improve low performing schools instead of just giving them away to profit seeking corporate interests closing them.

The Harvard study which Rhee referred to doesn't even speak to academic achievement levels. Instead it focuses on the rate of academic growth for states and countries. Some lower performing states, for example, increased their achievement at a greater rate than higher performing states. Part of this may be due to the "catch up" factor. States which made large gains, such as Louisiana, Arkansas, and South Carolina, are still among the lowest performing states in the nation. In contrast, some of the states with the lowest improvement gains, Connecticut, Vermont and Minnesota, for example, are among the highest performing states in the nation (see America's Smartest Kids). Furthermore, it's still true that students who perform better on NAEP tests tend to come from states with lower levels of student poverty.

Rankings, whether domestic or international, are good for identifying trends. However, there are many factors which go into the achievement levels of students in various geographic areas. Factors such as poverty, health care, economic and academic investment in schools and teacher training, and societal attitudes towards education and educators all make an impact on the nation's or state's test results. Using low rankings as a bludgeon to destroy public education is a misuse of test scores and a disservice to students.

The American obsession with rankings and "being number one" has damaged public education. We have never been number one in academic tests yet we've managed to lead the world economically and scientifically (among other things) over the last half century. How is that possible?

Do we blame doctors and hospitals because the United States ranks 37th internationally in health care (behind such places as Luxembourg, Columbia, and Singapore) or 34th in infant mortality rates (which puts us behind Iceland, Slovenia and Cuba)?

Do we blame psychologists and psychiatrists because the US ranks 11th in "happiness" (behind places like Israel, Austria and Canada)?

We don't have a nation-wide problem with failing schools. What we have is a problem with the failure of our leaders to address the issues facing schools with high levels of poverty. It's time to end the privatization of public education and focus on supporting public schools.


Stop the Testing Insanity!


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