Monday, April 27, 2015

The Premise is Wrong!

The "opt-out" movement of the last few weeks has poked the school reform tiger in the eye. That tiger has sharp teeth in the form of deep pockets and a political and media machine that has bought into a bad solution to a problem that has been badly misunderstood. It's not too dramatic to say that public education is fighting for its life.

We need to be able to explain what's wrong about the school "reform" movement in simple terms. No educational jargon. We need to be able to explain this--clearly and simply-- to our angry uncle, friend or neighbor.

We'll begin with the problem as "everyone knows" it. Simply stated, our educational system is failing. Our students today don't know as much as those of 50 years ago, and our students do poorly on international tests when compared with other wealthy nations.

Here's the rub: What "everyone knows" is not the case!

I did several posts a year or so ago using Diane Ravitch's book, Reign of Error, to establish this. Let me refer you to these:

1) For a general introduction to the "everybody knows" arguments, check this post: There's Only One Problem with this Narrative.

2) "Everybody knows" that we have a dropout problem and graduation rates are falling. In addition, "everybody knows" that students today don't know as much as those 50 years ago. Sorry, not true! Check this post for details:  Public Schools in Crisis? Check the Facts.

3) The movie "Waiting for Superman" claimed that 70% of 8th graders cannot read at grade level. "Reformer" Michelle Rhee makes the same claim. Sorry, not true! Check this post for details: "Superman" and Rhee Blew it.

4) As for how the USA performs on international tests, begin by checking out this post: Let's Look Inside the International Test Results. Then come back here for further discussion.

The key to the misunderstanding of our international test results is this: If Bill Gates walks into your local homeless shelter, the average person there becomes a millionaire.

The National Association of Secondary School Principals has done a nice job of making this clear. They looked "inside" the numbers and found something very interesting. Using the overall average score for all U.S. schools, we are "middle of the pack." We fall behind Korea, Finland, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Estonia, and Switzerland. We Tie with Poland and Iceland while beating Sweden, Germany, Ireland, France, Denmark, United Kingdom, Hungary, Portugal, Italy, Slovenia, Greece, Spain, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Israel, Luxembourg, Austria, Turkey, Chile, and Mexico.

But, our poverty rate (21.7%) is much higher than other nations. If one "levels the playing field" and compares U.S. schools with poverty rates of 10% or less with other nations with poverty rates of 10% or less (Finland, Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Switzerland, France, Denmark and the Czech Republic) USA schools are #1!. That's right, we're the best in the world!

Making the same comparison with USA schools with poverty rates between 10% and 24.9% with other nations in this poverty range (Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, Poland, Germany, Ireland, Hungary, United Kingdom, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Austria) the USA is #1.

It should be noted that the USA poverty rate of 21.7% is far above that of any other nation tested. In case you're wondering, USA schools with poverty rates between 25% and 49.9% are #10 when compared with all tested nations.

The conclusion drawn by the NASSP is "It's poverty not stupid!"

It is clear that the USA has lots of world-class schools. That is, those in low poverty areas. We also have schools--those in high poverty areas--with problems.

But, school "reformers" claim that all our schools are failing and in need of massive "reforms." That obviously is not true, yet it has become the public perception.

"Reformers" make the claim that poverty is only an "excuse." If only we could bypass teacher unions and replace the ineffective teachers in high-poverty schools, all would be well. A simple experiment should prove whether this is true. Pick some high-performing, well-resourced schools and swap faculties with nearby high-poverty schools.

If the "reformers" are correct, the high-poverty students will flourish while the low-poverty students will fall on their faces. Somehow, I don't think that would be the result!

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