Education Monopolies: Money Down the Drain

Deborah Thornton, a research analyst at the Public Interest Institute in Mt. Pleasant, IA, pointed out in a guest post at Caffeinated Thoughts that even though education spending has increased dramatically over the last 20 years, results have not.  Thornton writes:

For example, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in 2007 reported that 12th grade reading achievement nationwide had declined from 1992 to 2005, by four points (292 to 288).  The percent of students scoring at or above “proficient” was 38 percent, a flat score.  The percent scoring at or above “basic,” was actually lower than in 1992.

The 2009 NAEP report included a pilot program providing in-depth information for 11 states, including Iowa.  Iowa was one of only five states with higher scores in both reading and math than the national average.  Both the reading and math scores for Iowa students were four points higher than the national average.

The NAEP report is the nation’s “report card.”  On a standard A, B, C, D scale of grades, even Iowa schools did no better than a “C” at teaching the basics of reading and math.  This is not a report card our schools and teachers should want.  The results of the NAEP annual report have remained flat since 1992, for almost 20 years.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States spends $10,000 per student on primary, secondary, and tertiary education. As of 2006, we were spending over seven percent of our Gross Domestic Product on education, according to The UK Guardian.  Iowa ranks 26th nationwide in per-pupil spending, at $7,574 per pupil, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

We are spending a significant amount of our national treasury on education and that amount has steadily increased.  However, the results have not changed for the better.

Yet we still hear the clamoring of more money, more money, more money for education!  Education takes up roughly 60% of Iowa’s state budget.  How much more can we really justify spending with these anemic results?

Assessment Consortium Releases Math Content Specifications

Assessment Consortium Releases Math Content Specifications
Catherine Gewertz on August 30, 2011  Education Week

SMARTER Balanced’s math content specifications rest on four statements that describe the end goals of the assessment system. For each of those claims, the consortium specifies the types of evidence that would show that students have met those goals.  Here are the claims:

• #1: Students can explain and apply mathematical concepts and carry out mathematical procedures with precision and fluency.
• #2: Students can frame and solve a range of complex problems in pure and applied mathematics.
• #3: Students can clearly and precisely construct viable arguments to support their own reasoning and to critique the reasoning of others.
• #4: Students can analyze complex, real-world scenarios and can use mathematical models to interpret and solve problems.

For a taste of how the claims and evidence lay out, take a look at page 19 of the content specifications. It shows one of the claims (in this case, claim #1), details the different ways evidence of mastery might be collected (“… This content can be assessed using a combination of selected response and short constructed response items, but may also be evaluated at a deeper level within long constructed response items and performance tasks…”), lists types of evidence of learning (such as this: “factors & multiples: Determine factors and multiples of whole numbers (1-100); Identify prime and composite numbers”), and specifies which standards are addressed by those activities.

Content Specifications with Content Mapping
for the Summative assessment of the
Common Core State Standards for Mathematics

Available for Consortium and Stakeholder Review and Feedback
August 29, 2011
Developed with input from content experts and SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium Staff, Work Group Members, and  Technical Advisory Committee
Project Facilitator:  Linda Darling-Hammond   Stanford University   Palo Alto, CA
Principal Authors
Hugh Burkhardt, Shell Centre, University of Nottingham
Alan Schoenfeld, University of California, Berkeley

Provided Conjunction with
Content Specifications with Content Mapping
for the Summative assessment of the
Common Core State Standards for Mathematics

Next Steps for Federal Education Legislation

Next Steps for Federal Education Legislation

As Congress ponders the next steps in reauthorizing education legislation, Grover “Russ” Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy, discusses the forces and factions involved in educational reform at the federal level, and proposes some simple solutions for improving education policy. He discusses the progress made since the beginning of the decade and suggests that greater parental choice would benefit students and schools, and better target scarce federal resources to successful schools.

Smart Teachers in Stupid Schools

Smart Teachers in Stupid Schools
By Christine D’Amico, MA Elementary Ed   August 25, 2011   Rant Rave

American education in the early 1900’s was designed to teach students academics: phonics, reading, writing, math, American history, world history, world geography, American geography, science, grammar, art, art history, literature, poetry, students were taught directly and systematically and they were assigned memorization and recitation of important documents. Students in the early 1900’s had a course load that was full and diverse. High school graduates during this time had a broad education which was well grounded in academics.

We are now down to basically teaching three subjects in school, reading, writing and math. The methods employed in the classroom are so inefficient that we have to spend lots of time on these disciplines. What could be taught efficiently in Kindergarten and First Grade is drawn out for years. We can’t fit in other disciplines because our students can’t handle the rigor. If you can’t read, write and spell, you simply can’t handle lots of other subjects.

In fact, progressive pedagogy produces the exact opposite of its goal and in the face of science, which backs direct, systematic, rigorous instruction progressive educators remain married to their paradigms.

The progressive model is backwards, it is not helping our students really acquire the knowledge they need to become strong, smart citizens and is forcing the entire system to crumble.

“There’s just too much pressure on classroom teachers to do the wrong thing.”

Too often people, especially within institutions, dig their heals in deep into their own paradigms whether correct or not, in order to protect their territory, their status quo, their own need to be right. In education and our schools this is a most egregious offense because, at stake, are the futures and lives of the children we serve. We can no longer afford to remain stoic in our mindsets, and although cloaked with lofty goals, the progressive educational movement in the United States has created a pedagogical mess, which must be untangled and common sense must prevail.

Academics Find Common Standards Fit for College

Academics Find Common Standards Fit for College
By Catherine Gewertz   August 25, 2011   Education Week

Ze’ev Wurman comments about this report in the comments section:

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I suspect the celebration is premature. The study is problematically designed and, even then, the results are not as reassuring as David Conley would have us believe. There are many issues with this study, and I will mention here only three.

1) While the sample of institutions was randomized, the responder within each institution was not. He or she was hand-picked by the institution’s liaison person. Nobody has any idea what biases this process introduced into the respondent pool — we only know that it was a truly terrible study design. And, of these hand-picked responders, only about 50% actually replied.

2) The study was very careful not to ask the $64,000 questions: (a) Do the standards reflect a sufficient level of preparation for your course, and (b) do the standards reflect a better, or a worse, level of preparation as compared to your current requirements? Instead the study asked about “coherent representation” of the subject, and about a “level of cognitive demand.” One can have a coherent representation of any subject, and even at a reasonable depth in certain areas, yet miss whole chunks of material. The form of the questions in the study seems targeted to maximize positive responses, as some coherence and depth is almost always present.

3) The study does not provide a breakdown by different type of institutions (2-year vs. 4-year) and courses, which makes the conclusions premature and probably misleading. For example, over 90% of responders answered the “coherence” question about the math standards, yet more than one third of them teach language and literature courses that have nothing to do with mathematics. Moreover, if one takes the almost 40%(!) that did not find the math standards “coherent,” and if we assume that the literature instructors are probably not those who mostly found the math standards incoherent, then the fraction of instructors of math-related courses who found the math standards incoherent jumps to somewhere between 55% and 60%! Not a resounding vote of confidence by anyone’s measure. The study avoids breaking down the results by course-type and college-type, which make crisp answers to such questions impossible.

Overall, however, I am not very surprised. This study was designed from the beginning to validate the Common Core standards, rather than to inquire after the appropriate meaning of being “college ready.” After all, the Common Core’s “college readiness” was pre-defined already two years ago (with little empirical evidence, I may add), the Common Core standards have been already written, the federal kitty for them already handed out and the train has already left the station. What other results would one expect under these circumstances?