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Topic: The State of State Standards: An "F"
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
The State of State Standards: An "F"
Posted: Jan 5, 2000 1:39 PM
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From the listserve, January 5, 2000,
by Gerald W. Bracey <>
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.


By Gerald W. Bracey
(703) 317-1716

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

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 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)


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