Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Schools failing? Yes, if steady improvement equals failure

The education deformers' chief lever in their attempt to privatize and de-unionize public education is the notion that public schools are "failing," somehow holding back the country and causing, in the words of Minneapolis Councilman Don Samuels, an "endless cycle of poverty and failure."  But - and here's something you almost never hear in the traditional media - by the nation's most respected standards educational achievement of students in the U.S. has been steadily improving for decades, and the achievement gap between Blacks and Whites has been declining. In our fact-free education discourse this underlying reality just doesn't fit the school-are-bad teachers-at-fault narrative, so it is ignored.

The following charts are from the US Department of Education; they compare scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for students of various ages and grades, comparing Black and White achievement.

The first chart compares national achievement in mathematics at age nine, from 1978-2004. Over that time period White scores have gone up 10 percent and Black scores went up 17 percent. That means the achievement gap declined over the period by about 25 percent.

Next look at the same data for 13 year olds. The improvement is almost as good - Blacks increased their test scores by 14 percent, wiping out more than a third of the Black/White achievement gap nationwide:

There are similar gains in reading scores, as demonstrated in the next chart. Between 1980 and 2004 Black scores increased six percent, closing the achievement gap by a third, with two-thirds of the gains coming since 1999:

Now look at the data for Minnesota. Here you see startling test gains by both Blacks and Whites, and a 20 percent decrease in the Black/White math achievement gap for fourth graders over the years 1992-2007. Over the period the math scores of Black fourth graders increased 15 percent:

The gains are sustained by grade eight, where Black scores increased by 10 percent, while White scores increased by seven percent:

Test scores for reading also show positive results in Minnesota. The following chart shows reading scores for eight graders between the years 1998 and 2007. Blacks showed a six percent increase, while White scores more or less stagnated, resulting in about a 26 percent drop in the Black/White achievement gap:

These are the baseline realities of educational achievement in the U.S. and in Minnesota. Now I don't agree that tests are the best way to gauge the success or failure of our educational system, but they are the metric that the education deformers point to as their preferred measure. So even by their warped standards schools have been, and are doing a pretty good job. As all the above charts show, there has been steady improvement in almost all demographics and by nearly any measure.

One other point: Notice all the years of reading and math where student scores improved, where the overwhelming percentage of students were taught at regular public schools with unionized teachers. Those schools and teachers were obviously doing something right to get those results. Ask yourself whether the attacks on public schools and their teachers by today's education deform movement is due to something happening at those schools, or something happening in our Plutocratic political system.


Craig Westover said...

What your analysis fails to take into account is that you are using aggregate data. Despite your slur about the "defoem" movement, people serious about school choice acknowledge the existence of great public schools and great unionized teachers. In a school choice system, one would expect parents to choose those schools and seek out those teachers. The problem is at the individual level. If a student is in a failing school with a bad teacher, his or her options are limited in a one-size fits all system with limited choice. Why not, if the goal is educating students and not just preserving a unionized system, is it not permissible for parents to seek other options for educating their children without financial penalty?

Rob Levine said...

You're complaining about me using "aggregate" data? How else can we compare achievement using tests? Parents "choosing" charter schools has led to worse outcomes, not better. Look at Milwaukee. After years of vouchers it turns out parents who choose pick schools either close to their home or that align with their religious values - not the ones that provide the best educational outcomes. "Choice" has led to unaccountable schools and the balkanization of student populations. One man - the extreme Republican Bill Cooper - now controls more than 10% of Minnesota charter schools, and he's looking to control more.

blogspotdog said...

Ah, I see that Craig is back from his seminar training North Korean propagandists. He's a true professional, of course, making sure to use the terms unionized, one size fits all, and individual into a single paragraph.

If you read the Captain closely, though, you'll see that he is willing to destroy public education to support a system that Rob has demonstrated time and again is inferior to the public system we now have. But you have to hand it to the Captain; he knows how to appeal to the poisoned little bags of grievance and resentment who are his fellow travelers.

In Westover's world, we'd all be eating roots and slugs instead of banding together to go after the mastedon, and we'd all shrug when a sabre-toothed tiger carried off somebody else's kid.

Alec Timmerman said...

    Many of us are as tired of the Charter vs. traditional tirade, because there probably is a place for both. However, you are naive at best and dishonest at worst if you don't think charter's are being used as a bludgeon against traditional schools. There is also an all out assault on organized labor and union schools. The Bill Gates funded State Teacher Policy Handbook rates the states that are best the ones with the lowest student outcomes but are the most unfriendly to unions. This is the corporatocracy trying to use students as pawns in their fight against labor. Once labor is gone and the government is small enough to drown in a bath tub, they will have free reign.

Also, we've had charters and school choice for 20 years. It hasn't been the solution so how can it be the solution going forward?

Tom said...

Enough with the pultocrats already!  How in the hell are Minnesota schools doing O.K. after 8 years of draconian cuts?  Once Governor Dayton takes office we'll have real progress as he promised.  Real increases in school funding every year that he is Governor.  Imagine how much better everything will be since, in fact, they aren't that bad right now!

Alec Timmerman said...

    Why would you use longitudinal, aggreagate data when isolted, anecdotal evidence is so much sexier?

Rob Levine said...

Tom - It's hard to tell if you're fed up with the actual Plutocrats, or that I'm pointing out how they've taken over. I'm assuming you're kidding about Mark Dayton. His heart is in the right place but it's the lege that does the appropriating. Looks like more hardship for the schools. As for the current state of the schools, I'm not trying to say they're okay, especially with all the current spending cuts, just that they are not "failing," at least in the terms the deformers use.

Rob Levine said...

It's always something, huh Adam? The education deformers have been railing for years about our failing schools - but they're getting better! Now they're onto this academic achievement gap  between Blacks and Whites - only they're wrong about that too. So you glom onto international comparisons.

Get real. The problems in this country are not caused by failing schools or unionized school teachers. The problems are caused by an increasingly unequal distribution of wealth and spreading poverty and racism. All the education deform proposals are merely misdirection for political effect.

Teachers and unions didn't make this high-stakes testing system, and they weren't responsible for the test scandal in NY - the state itself was.

Adam Smith said...

Actually, relevant to my comments on your posts, I don't care whether schools are failing or succeeding, and I don't care about unions.  That is not the point about my comments to your posts.  My point is that you have no support for your topic sentences. You don't support your positions.  I demonstrated this to you previously, but you only offered defenses like "the footnote was ironic" (I parphrase).  In this instance you, not me, opened the door to international comparisons by saying "<span>holding back the country" in your very first sentence.  In response to my observation that at least one study says that US 15 year olds are evidently held back by something, you say I'm "glomming" onto international issues.</span>

blogspotdog said...

A. Smith only cares about the data. Either a) A. Smith is fibbing, or 2) he leads a sad and lonely life.