Saturday, February 12, 2011

Education Reform: If the roof leaks, call 911

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  Sandra in Brevard

For at least the last 12 years, we have heard again and again that schools, students, and teachers are failing. For at least the last 12 years, national and state initiatives have centered on fixing that problem through accountability and testing initiatives. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) poured billions into the effort while schools struggled to meet the implementation requirements. Race to the Top is more of the same. For the same period of time, Florida poured millions into the FCAT, grading schools, and now it is on its way out to be replaced by another generation of tests.
What business would survive if after more than a decade, there was no return on investment? What business would pour money year after year in fixing something with the same tools and year after year see no progress? What business would fail to go back and examine the problem they were trying to solve?

Maybe the conventional wisdom "if ain't broke, don't fix it" should be reconsidered in educational reform.

University of Florida researchers ‘’borrowed ‘lifestyle segmentation' profiling methods used by direct marketers and political strategists to classify every student into one of several lifestyle groups (four in Bay County, three in Alachua), each based on a common set of values, income level, spending patterns, education level, ethnic diversity of neighborhood and other shared traits." The researchers used this data to examine the relationship between each group’s lifestyle profile and their math and reading scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, the state’s standardized exam used to evaluate student and school performance. Researcher. The results indicated that "the most affluent lifestyle group registered the highest FCAT scores, the second richest group ranked second in test scores, and so on. On the math tests, the gap between the highest and lowest scoring lifestyle groups was more than two grade levels." The lead investigator, UF Professor Harry Daniels, said: “The testing patterns in both counties virtually mirrored each other. Every lifestyle group improved in FCAT scores from year to year until the 10th grade exam (which students must pass to graduate high school), when improvement leveled off. But they all improved at the same rate, so the achievement gap persisted year to year.”

Instead of continuing a path of more of the same, perhaps real reform comes in the form of a different set of educational programs. Perhaps it would be a better idea to spend money on vocational programs. Looking back historically, good jobs get poor families out of poverty and often are in trades. Even in this economy, we still need electricians, auto mechanics, and a variety of positions in the health care field that require A.A. or A.A.S. degrees. These jobs require solid math and literacy skills that high school vocational programs can develop. This doesn't restrict any socio-economic group from pursuing a university directed education. However, since the FCAT is on its last legs for high school graduation to be replaced by end-of-course exams, data results might change if students had different choices.

The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation published a report on the “crisis” in US education and convened 30 individuals to make recommendations on how to fix the problem. This “crisis” is based upon the performance of US students on the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA). A cross section of students at public and private schools, between the ages of 15 years 3 months old and 16 years 2 months, are selected from schools that voluntarily participate. A minimum of 4,500 per country are required to participate in the test. Shanghai placed #1 on test results, but Shanghai is not a country. Approximately 35% of Chinese students do not make it to high school. Singapore is in #2 position. With a population of 4,424,133, the central government controls and manages the country’s school system, which based on what I can locate, includes technical and vocational training schools for high school students. The language of instruction in Singapore is English. The United States has a population of 308,400,408 and individual states control educational standards and testing initiatives. The FCAT is an example of a state-centric exam.


Today, I have no idea what the true condition of US education is. I do not believe we are in a “crisis.” There is no data to support that. Performance on an international test is insufficient to make such a claim. We do know that US students drop out at unacceptable levels. We do know that income levels have something to do with student achievement on tests. The solutions to gather data and produce more tests are a continuation of more of the same “solutions”. The Florida legislature has done an incomplete analysis of the problem and that is where the failure is.

More information on the UF study can be found here:

More information on PISA can be found here:,3417,en_32252351_32235731_1_1_1_1_1,00.html

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