Saturday, September 20, 2014

Leaders And Laggers And Bears - OH MY!

Well, it was so nice to see the national Chamber of Commerce reverse its view of public education as failing in its new Leaders and Laggers report. Oh, what? They didn't? 

Godness, maybe I'd better study this more in depth to find out why Oklahoma is failing so badly. In order to do this, however, we have to go to the sources cited by the study. All the information below has been taken from the NAEP State Profiles site.

Let's look at Oklahoma's report:

Wow. Oklahoma's public education is in the dumper, clearly. 

In fact, our now-deposed State Superintendent, Dr. Janet Barresi claimed the following in her statement, provided upon the release of the report,
"We must not defer to mediocrity. This report is more evidence that PASS fails."
But, is that actually the case? Let's look more closely at the report. Please note, there is a drop down menu on every line that has an arrow. Should we zoom in?

Now, please look closely at the stats presented here. 

Does anyone but me notice that since 1992, 4th grade mathematics scores have been IMPROVING STEADILY? Please also make note that these improvements mirror NATIONAL improvements and these data were accumulated PRE-COMMON CORE - using PASS. Not only that but our number of students in the ADVANCED category has increased from 3% to 5% in 2 years. Not only that, but Oklahoma has higher or equal scores to 20 other states. That achievement gets an "F"? RIDICULOUS.

Clearly 8th graders are not seeing the gains made by 4th graders, however, and again, 8th grade mathematics scores have been right in line with national scores or IMPROVING steadily over the years (BEFORE Common Core - under PASS) until last year, when there was a downturn. In addition, it is true that these scores are lower than those of 42 states/jurisdictions. Shouldn't we be using this data as a basis to determine why the significant gap in performance from 4th to 8th grade instead of using them as a club to berate the state into passing legislation to further drown schools in time/money sucking mandates to ostensibly fix a problem, the cause of which no one has even identified yet?

First of all, whatever instruction Oklahoma was touting from 1992 to 1998 should be re-utilized. The scores for 4th graders during that time were absolutely outstanding! The regression in scores from 1998 to 2002 should be looked into and determined via comparison. This is the other problem with these kinds of 'reports'. There is no attempt to link existing education policy/methods with former education policy/methods when there is a deviation in scores from year to year. But then again, that would be helpful, and that is not at all the reason for this kind of issuance. 

It should be noted that though there was a clear downturn in progress from the late 90's, the trend again began to climb to the point there is NO SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NATIONAL SCORES AND OKLAHOMA SCORES. In addition, though 2011 saw a slight decrease - the trend is unmistakably UP for 4th grade English scores and overall, Oklahoma is right in the middle of the pack. Again, That achievement gets an "F"?

Same story as 4th grade Reading nearly exactly, excepting that 8th grade scores are definitely lower in the "advanced" category, however, again, for the most part, our scores are going UP. If we were backsliding or continually stagnant, I could understand a grade of "F". There's no way continual overall improvement rates an "F". The graph below, I think, well demonstrates that notion.

Academic Achievement Low Income:
I love this one. Here, the authors break down every conceiveable ethnic group and compare that group's progress to that same group's national average. Oklahoma gets an "F" here too, but here's the funny part; look at the low income section - Oklahoma is actually ABOVE the national average in academic achievement for low income kids in BOTH reading and math. Wow. Totally see how that gets us an "F".

What about 8th grade reading and math? Well, we're completely on par in reading but well below national average for 8th grade math. Again, this deserves an "F"? More like a low B/high C. Again, this is absolutely reflective of the previously-identified trend of clear divergence in scores from 4th to 8th grade. We must identify the reason for this divergence, otherwise we'll continue to get the same results. This report is NOT helping - but then again, as I've said, helping is not the objective of these reports. The objective is to give policy makers a 'Sky Is Falling' view in order to create a crisis only solved by further legislation, further removing educational liberty from parents who are thought to be too stupid to manage the educations of their children without 'state' help.

Ok, after this part, the statistics get even fuzzier. What the heck are the rest of the categories? What do they even mean? These aren't things that can be simply looked up on the NCES website (National Center for Education Statistics), they were created via a tangled web of overlapping/interlocking research papers from various politically-subjective private foundations/organizations. Since I was unfamiliar with a way to research and digest any further failing grade categories on the list, I clicked around on the Leaders and Laggers website until I found the Technical Appendix. THAT is where all the gold can be found for this report!

This page basically identifies how all the data in the table was collected and sourced. I suggest checking out this page, as their sources are quite enlightening, as are a number of the data qualifiers. For example, under the Academic Achievement sections, the authors tell us that there is no clear bar set for proficiency while claiming that the comparisons among proficiency categories are still valid.

Parental Choice calculations are muddled at best and indecipherable at worst. I read all the information supplied for the category and still can't understand how the results were calculated or what they mean.  Data information comes from the Data Quality Campaign - a Bill Gates construct - that alone should speak volumes.

Technology calculations come from Digital Learning Now - a Jeb Bush, Foundation for Education Excellence creation. Both DQC and FEE are unapologetically Common Core proponents. How can this report claim to be unbiased using sources so clearly foundatonally biased?

Though the report states,
Finally, it is important to note that this report is not designed to push a particular set of reforms or justify particular policy positions. Its purpose is to inform the debate with timely information and the opinions of groups focused on individual education policy areas (such as Digital Learning Now! (funded by Jeb Bush), the Data Quality Campaign (funded by Bill Gates, Kaiser, Buffett), the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (funded by Bill Gates, Carnegie, Broad etc.), and the National Council on Teacher Quality (funded by Bill Gates, Carnegie etc.). As such, there are some inherent biases driven by those rankings we chose to include and those we did not. Any such ranking would be subject to this limitation.
it is important to recognize that the Council for Foreign Relations and the Center for American Progress - organizations used to provide materials for this ranking - would not be information pools from which conservatives would/should swim under any conditions. 

So, what purpose can be surmised for this document? It appears clear it will be used to further direct education policy geared to further strangle local control of the educational process. After all, if our schools are failing, it must be due to the backwoods hick parents that need constant direction by their government overseer. 

In light of this probability, I find it amusing to have read the following statement in a section that argues we must overhaul America's failing education system because her private sector is a world leader renowned for its innovation and productivity NOW;
"...current status is no indication of future superiority."
No, that's true, it's not. But then, that statement cuts two ways, doesn't it? Maybe we'd better learn to identify when we're being manipulated by 'reports' of this kind, call it what it is, and direct our efforts back toward discovering the real reasons for failure and correcting those. Assigning blame to energize political efforts will NEVER produce viable results.