Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Education Reform: A Good Old Fashioned Crisis

National and state policymakers cite U.S. student performance on international exams as the reason for urgent education reform. These results are the indicators that the U.S. will not be able to compete in the global marketplace. And so the reforms begin....again.

In 1983, a report titled "Nation at Risk" described the grave outcomes for the nation if the reported decreased S.A.T. scores at that time, were not taken seriously. In the context of the Cold War, the report found a "rising tide of mediocrity" was sweeping through the public education system.
"If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves."

In 1990, the U.S. Secretary of Energy commissioned the Sandia Laboratories to support the claims in the "Nation at Risk" with real data. The study of declining S.A.T. scores revealed that overall scores had indeed dropped, but the scores of sub-groups had increased, known in statistics as Simpson's Paradox. The fact that more students of all backgrounds were taking the S.A.T. than in previous years is significant in understanding test scores. The government received the report, did not like the analysis, shelved it, and the narrative continued. Others who examined the analysis found the findings relevant, but the media took no interest. What has resulted is a national past time of reform efforts in every single administration since - Democrat and Republican. In 1980, the U.S. spent $16 billion on education to $72 billion in 2007.

In other words, the U.S. has been in a sustained state of an education crisis for 31 years, dominated by an industry of professional education reformers, non-profit educational consultants, publishing corporations, and software developers, standing in line to answer the call of legislators and politicians, who promise to make education their number one priority and fix the broken system.

After 12 years of test-driven schools with questionable outcomes, isn't it long overdue that we hold the Florida legislature accountable? Failing to pass legislation that meets the requirements of Race to the Top funding has funding consequences. The requirement, as I understand it, is that legislation must mandate that teacher evaluations be based to some degree on student achievement data. Current bills are far more complex and attempt to standardize a process statewide. Proponents acknowledge the bills are incomplete and will be fixed over time. There is worry over costs and silence on the math.

We are in a budgetary crisis now, but I do not believe we have been in an education crisis at all. The word has been used effectively to manipulate public opinion for 30 years. After reading commentary and opinions from a variety of viewpoints, I conclude we do have serious problems that require precision akin to a surgical team, whose members are knowledgeable and experienced working with children and adolescents, armed with the relevant data gathered over the years, and unaffiliated to politics, large corporations, and money-pumping non-profits.

Not a dime should be diverted from classrooms and students in order to fund solutions and experiments that fail to identify the problem and fail to identify all the costs.

Missed a blog on education reform efforts in Florida? You can find them all here.

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