****************************************************** From the firstname.lastname@example.org listserve, January 5, 2000, by Gerald W. Bracey <email@example.com> ****************************************************** Any recipients please feel free to donate this commentary to media reps. Maybe we can nip this one in the bud. The report referenced below will be released Thursday a.m. January 6. Recipients at national education organizations should feel free to distribute to state affiliates. ---------------------
GRADING "THE STATE OF STATE STANDARDS": AN "F"
By Gerald W. Bracey (703) 317-1716 <mailto://firstname.lastname@example.org>
Chester E. Finn, Jr., and his colleagues at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation have released a report grading the states, A to F, on the quality of their educational standards and the accountability measures that accompany them (or don't).
One first of all congratulates Finn and Foundation for their hubris and chutzpah in rendering such a judgment on every one of the standards in every one of the states with such a small number of marginally qualified people involved. At this writing, the new report was not yet available on the Foundation's web site, but an examination of the previous reports revealed that a small, but no doubt enthusiastic, band of partisans participated. It is not clear how many people actually reviewed the standards. Most subject areas listed "expert panels" that ranged in size from six (geography) to two (mathematics). It is not clear how the experts' expertise was used. We should note, though, that Sandra Stotsky needed no experts. She alone examined the English standards and wrote her report in the first person.
What the report actually proves is that Fordham's evaluations of standards is neither necessary nor informative nor useful. Fordham flunks. The evaluations fail because the rating system has no connection with achievement and, indeed, is contradicted by it.
For instance, the five states that make the report's "Honor Roll" are all among the lowest scoring states on assessments of the National Assessment of Educational Progress and on international comparisons. In the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), only 4 nations of 41 scored lower than Honor Roll Alabama in math, only six in science (Colombia, Iran, Kuwait, South Africa in both subjects; Cyprus and French-speaking Belgium in science only). Even the two states that have been commended in some quarters for improvement, Texas and North Carolina, remain low scorers. And the results from Texas have been impugned (and soon will be denigrated further).
On the other hand, many of the states that the report calls "irresponsible states" score extremely high on both NAEP and international tests. The report castigates these states as "irresponsible" because they have "inferior standards and weak accountability." Yet among them are Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming, Michigan and Alaska.
The first nine of these 11 states were bested in science by only one of the 41 nations participating in TIMSS. Michigan was topped by two, Alaska by three. Only six countries scored higher than most of these states in mathematics, the subject in which American students are such putative dolts. If "inferior standards and weak accountability" had anything to do with academic performance, how come it doesn't show up in these states?
An examination of NAEP results leads to the same conclusion. In grade 8 science, "irresponsible states" occupy 7 of the top 10 ranks. In math, they claim 8 of the top 10. States which the report classifies as "just going through the motions" hold another 2 of the top ten ranks in both subjects. These results, incidentally, are for public schools only. No private school data are included. The results can be found on page 25 of the NAEP Science Report Card and page 30 of the NAEP Mathematics Report Card.
The report wails that "42 states still hold mediocre to miserable expectations for their students." No doubt, this conclusion will shock and surprise the citizens of the 11 top-scoring but "irresponsible" states. In disinterested, objective language, the report declares that "Our criticism of lousy state standards...is no rejection of standards-based recall." One wonders how Tommy Thompson, John Engler and other governors of high-scoring states will welcome being called "lousy."
What can this report be showing us if states with great standards and strong accountability dwell in the cellar of academic achievement, while "irresponsible" states reside in the penthouse? Only that the disconnect between standards and accountability on the one hand and academic performance on the other proves once again that the standards movement has little to do with education. It is a political perturbation, driven by ambitious governors, punitive legislatures, and those who would destroy public education in order to make a profit.
Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618) 453-4244 Phone: (618) 453-4241 (office) (618) 457-8903 (home) E-mail: email@example.com