Friday, December 13, 2013

PISA Results Used to Justify Continued Attacks on Public Schools

Last week the latest round of PISA test results were released showing that academic achievement of U.S. students compared to other nations continued to rank only about average. Arne Duncan and other reformer leaders however, had carefully pre-briefed commentators and orchestrated news stories by national opinion makers designed to cast our public schools in the worst light possible. So the pundits solemnly proclaimed that the PISA results had confirmed their worst fears that U.S students were totally unprepared for the jobs of the twenty-first century and for competition with the Finns, the Koreans and the Chinese. (Here is an article about "stagnant" U.S. scores) Never mind that Diane Ravitch and leading researchers have demonstrated with actual statistics that American students have steadily improved their basic academic skills over the last 20 years as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Statistics also show that the U.S. students are still doing about the same relative to other countries as they had been doing all the way back to the dawn of international test comparisons. Even so, the opinion makers concluded and announced that our once great education system has declined.

The gloom and doom expressed by Duncan and his fellow reformers were the same conclusions that were expressed in the Nation at Risk Report over 30 years ago. Soon after the Nation at Risk's dire predictions for decline of the U.S. leadership in technology and industry caused by our supposedly weak education system, young U.S. educated entrepreneurs invented the PC, the Internet, the Ipad and the social media revolution that has transformed the economy of the entire world.

But this time Duncan, Gates, Jeb Bush, and others plan to use the alleged disastrous results of PISA to push for a major privatization and corporate takeover of public education. It is now assumed by the reformers that the only way to improve our K-12 education system is to allow large companies to introduce "market based reforms" to education using data driven (standardized testing) systems. It is also assumed (without expermental data of any kind) that the new Common Core standards will make our kids smarter.

Outlandish Proposals for Improving K-12 Schools

Here are just a few samples of the crazy ideas being spouted by talk/news show hosts on some of the major networks. On the Morning Joe news commentary show on MSNBC last week, Joe Scarboro (the conservative member of the show) announced his solution for fixing our supposedly broken public education system. According to Joe, all school systems across the country should adopt the New Orleans Recovery District model of school privatization and parental choice as a way of improving the competitiveness of American education. Scarboro seemed to believe that the New Orleans Recovery District was a great success story in education reform. My question is: “How could a major television network allow such comments to be expressed to the MSNBC viewing audience without a bit of fact checking?”

Here are the facts about achievement of the students in the New Orleans Recovery District: As measured by the latest LEAP and end of course testing, the New Orleans RSD schools rank at the 31st percentile among all public school systems in Louisiana in overall student achievement. This means that average RSD student achievement was beat by 69% of all Louisiana public school districts. The ranking of the rest of the RSD schools in Louisiana is even lower than that of the New Orleans RSD. Unfortunately, the overall ranking of Louisiana students compared to other states is only 48th out of 50 as measured by the NAEP tests. So Scarboro is holding up the achievement of a school system that is in the bottom third of student achievement in a state that in turn is close to dead last in the U.S. This, Scarboro believes, is a system that should be imitated by the rest of the country! The readers of this blog know that the low ranking of our state is due not to poor schools, but to the extreme poverty of so many of our students. But my point here is that it is ridiculous to claim that the New Orleans RSD has somehow solved our national student achievement problem.

Apparently someone convinced Joe Scarboro that privatization of the schools in New Orleans and the use of a parental choice system had resulted in outstanding achievement in the classroom. But parent leaders in New Orleans know that in addition to the false achievement claims, it is not true that the parents have a real choice as to which schools their children can attend. The real choice allowed is for the elite charter schools in the New Orleans area to choose the better performing students they want to enroll, and dump the rest of the students back to low rated schools or even into the streets! But this is the system Joe Scarboro held up as a model for the country to justify dismantling our public school systems.

Also on the same show, Mike Barnicle, one of the more liberal members of the Morning Joe program, suggested that the solution to improving teaching in our public schools would be to require all college graduates each year to serve a term of two years as teachers in our public schools before they could go on to their real careers. (This of course would amount to the TFA program on steroids) Barnicle apparently did not consider that such a plan would require massive layoffs of experienced teachers each year to make room for these untrained amateurs to take over classrooms. Such a plan implies that Barnicle has concluded that our experienced teachers are so ineffective that it is OK to replace them with total amateurs who would turn over every two years. This is a terrible indictment of the teaching profession in this country, without a shred of evidence that such a conclusion makes any sense. Not a single person on the panel on the Morning Joe show contradicted this nut.

But that's not all. Just the week before, the most liberal member of the Morning Joe show, Mika Brzinski, went out of her way to heap lavish praise on Jeb Bush, another non-educator who is responsible for major attacks on our public school systems and teachers. Mika thanked Bush for his great success in improving education. Jeb Bush is the originator of the idea of using letter grades to rate public schools.This is the system now used also in Louisiana that permanently labels almost all public schools serving high poverty neighborhoods as failures. None of the school closures or takeovers that have resulted from this grading system anywhere in the country have succeeded in improving the education of children. Bush also leads an organization dedicated to replacing classroom teachers with on line virtual courses, even though all the latest statistics show that on line virtual schools are among the lowest performers in the country. How can this man be seen as successful in improving education?

One can only wonder, when will some degree of sanity be applied to the so called education reform movement?