The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Three Claims. All False.

I grew up in Bridgeport, CT, a mill town that had its heyday in the 1930s and 1940s and has struggled as manufacturing companies left and its middle class shrunk. Today, it is a sad shell of what it once was. Even back in the day, our school system was poor—torn books, 36 baby-boom children in a classroom, split classes with two different grade levels and one teacher, buildings built at the turn of the 20th century, no gym, no school lunch, ... the list of educational failings is long. Our teachers tried their best, and some kids excelled academically while others didn't. Some kids went on to become successful professionals or tradespeople and others went to jail. It's an old, old story.

When I went to school in Bridgeport, educational decisions were made locally. The state did establish broad standards, but control was in the hands of a local Board of Education, elected by parents. As. It. Should. Be.

There were few state grants, fewer federal programs, and expenditures per student, when measured in 2014 dollars, we so low that it's a wonder that we learned anything at all. Or is it?

Those who believe that big, intrusive government (BIG) at the federal level should control education throughout the United States, make three claims:
  1. that we don't have sufficiently high standards (as dictated from Washington), and therefore the federal government must establish a common core of learning objectives,
  2. that we don't use standardized testing enough or collect sufficient testing metrics to improve education, and
  3. that we clearly don't spend enough money on the education of K-12 students.  
These claims are dead wrong and, if you are to believe educators at the local level, attempts at implementing programs based on these claims are ruining education and the educational experience throughout the country.

Let's take each separately.

Standards.  The common core is a typical example of BIG's efforts to insert itself into K-12 education at the local level. Nancy Strauss suggests six reasons why common core should be rejected:
  • Many of the Kindergarten – 3rd Grade CCSS are developmentally inappropriate, and are not based on well-researched child development knowledge about how young children learn.
  • Many of the skills mandated by the CCSS erroneously assume that all children develop and learn skills at the same rate and in the same way.
  • Early childhood educators did not participate in the development of the standards.
  • There is a lack of research to support the current early childhood CCSS. The standards were not pilot tested and there is no provision for ongoing research or review of their impact on children and on early childhood education.
  • The standards do not take into account what young children today need when they get to school. Children need play in school now more than ever. They need teachers who are skilled facilitators of play so the solid foundations can be laid in the early school years for optimal learning in the later years.
  • The adoption of CCSS falsely implies that making children learn these standards will combat the impact of poverty on development and learning, and create equal educational opportunity for all children.
Edward Miller and Nancy Carlsson-Paige reinforce Strauss' comments:
Recent critiques of the Common Core Standards ... have noted that the process for creating the new K-12 standards involved too little research, public dialogue, or input from educators.
Nowhere was this more startlingly true than in the case of the early childhood standards—those imposed on kindergarten through grade 3. We reviewed the makeup of the committees that wrote and reviewed the Common Core Standards. In all, there were 135 people on those panels. Not a single one of them was a K-3 classroom teacher or early childhood professional.
It appears that early childhood teachers and child development experts were excluded from the K-3 standards-writing process.
BIG does this all the time. It passes regulations (that's what common core will become) without input from those most intimately affected and without controlled test cases to determine the efficacy of the regulations before they are rolled out nationally.

Standardized Testing. Both conservatives and progressives have been led into this swamp. Here BIG suggests that if only we test, and test, and test some more (using standardized tests designed, of course, by BIG), we can imporve educational results. The problem is obvious (but not to BIG): when tests are used to measure educational achievement, teachers teach to the tests, regardless of how effectively that teaching is to overall achievement.

FairTest provides a lengthy critique of standardized testing. They write:
High-stakes testing often results in a narrow focus on teaching just the tested material (test preparation). Other content in that subject as well as untested subjects such as social studies, art and music are cut back or eliminated. High-stakes testing also produces score inflation: scores go up, but students have not learned more. Their scores are lower even on a different standardized test. This undermines the meaning of test results as well as education.
Spending. A recent study by the conservative Cato Institute indicates something that most clear thinking people know intuitively. Spending more and more money on education does NOT lead to better educational results. Andrew Coulson comments:
For the past few years I have charted the trends in American education spending and performance (see below). The goal is to see what the national data suggest about the productivity of our education system over time. Clearly, these data suggest that our educational productivity has collapsed: the inflation-adjusted cost of sending a student all the way through the K-12 system has almost tripled while test scores near the end of high-school remain largely unchanged. Put another way, per-pupil spending and achievement are not obviously correlated.
When the data for 1970 to 2012 are graphed, the message is stark:

And yet, proponents of BIG seem hell-bent on demanding that more and more money be spent, even though the results are simply not there.

Three Claims. All False.

Another triumph for proponents of BIG.