Wednesday, October 28, 2015

NAEP: Further Evidence of Reformy Failure

Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute has gone so far as to call the new NAEP scores "heartbreak." The scores on the Nation's Report Card are crappy, ranging from "barely stagnant" to "plunging."

Petrilli and other reformsters have started the business of finding an explanation for this tragic result (more about that in a moment), but while we are thinking about what did make this happen, let's not lose sight of what didn't happen.

Test-driven accountability tied to national standards did not make NAEP scores rise.

Fifteen years of reformsterism has not moved the needle. Well, actually, that's not entirely true-- the NAEP trend has been ever upward since before the Reformster Era, so we could argue that ed reform actually stopped the needle from moving. So, worse than nothing.

But let's not quibble for the moment. The bottom line is still clear: reformsterism is failing. The reform programs, which are in fact our current status quo, are failing. And we all know what reformsters have been telling us, over and over and over again, about the status quo-- when it's not working, it must be changed.

Now, honestly, I'm not all that concerned about the Nation's Report Card. There are many reasons to suspect that the NAEP is not a reliable benchmark of student learning. But it was part of the rules that reformsters wanted to play by, so it's worth noting that by their own rules, reformsters have failed.

The most entertaining part of the failure is the discovery by reformsters that poverty matters!! Who knew? Oh, wait-- everybody except the reformsters, who could not stop themselves from repeatedly criticizing people who wanted to use poverty as an "excuse."

Kevin Welner at the National Education Policy Center has a great piece collecting many of the prominent reformster "NAEPscuses". "Look," they declare. "There are powerful forces outside of schools that have an effect on how students fare on Big Standardized Tests." I try not to use a lot of salty language here at the blog, but is there any better response than, "No, shit, Sherlock."

How much further will reformsters insist on driving us down this same failed road? How deep into the Big Muddy do we need to get before the Big Fool decides to turn around? How many versions of "maybe the critics had a point" do we have to hear before reformsters finally switch to, "we'd like to talk to teachers and professional educators before we finish developing this policy."

It is 2015, and none of the promised benefits of reformster policies have appeared. Colleges are not announcing, "Man, we are swamped with college and career ready freshmen." Charters are not learning brand new educational techniques that can be adopted by public schools. High stakes testing is not bringing social justice to every corner of the nation. Rich, standardy goodness is not ushering in an end to inequity.

And the NAEP scores are not going up.

It will be natural at this point for many classroom teachers to want to engage in a round of "I told you so." But that's really not the important thing. Instead, we need to ask some big questions. How many more education reform failures must we endure, wasting time and money and grinding teachers and schools down? How many more years will we keep pursuing these failed policies? How much longer will we drift helplessly in the wasted waters of a stagnant status quo?

High stakes standardized testing, national standards, and test-based accountability are wasting time, money, effort, and people, while providing not a glimmer of success in return. Let's be done, already.


  1. Right, as usual.

    The (well, one more) problem is that the Ed Deform propaganda machine already has its response to this: deliverology (yes, really a thing, see ). As you've argued elsewhere I think (maybe it was Jersey Jazzman if it wasn't you), the Deformers always respond to criticism by contending that we're all just doing it wrong. The consistent refusal to acknowledge that the ideas suck is incredibly hard to answer productively, and that's very much on purpose.

    1. Forgot--Blogger won't let me post a link in comments. Google US Education Delivery Institute for a lesson on Deliverology.

  2. As you say, " their own rules, reformsters have failed."

    But even though, as Matt Barnum of The Seventy-four now says, factors like "the economy, access to healthcare" have a greater effect than any school factor, none of the reformsters are advocating, as the NEPC suggests, that we need "continued investment in, and research about, community schools and other wrap-around approaches" or "to think about educational improvement within a broader set of policies addressing housing, employment, wealth inequality and the social safety net."

    As far as "How many more years will we keep pursuing these failed policies?" Well, Petrilli says we have to wait at least until 2017 to see if this is a "one-time blip or the beginning of a disturbing trend."

    And as for when reformsters are going to start consulting teachers and educational professionals about educational policy? I'm betting that will be never. These people suffer from the Hubris Syndrome, a personality disorder of the powerful. They just can't admit they're ever wrong, that they're not experts on everything, or that there are professionals in the field that might know more than they do. Not to mention that the profiteers aren't going to want to stop until they've bled their victim dry.

  3. Let's be done, already! I absolutely agree...and we COULD be done if every public school teacher in America stood up and said, "I'm not doing this any more because it's hurting the kids!" What will it take to make THAT happen? And no, I don't think that big money can move fast enough to step into the void and complete the takeover. I would HOPE that it might wake up the American public to what has been foisted on them in the name of "equal opportunity."

  4. Peter,

    I know the abuse inflicted upon special ed kids is a big issue to you.

    That's why this quote from Duncan really floored me.



    "Baltimore and Maryland saw some of the biggest drops in scores, 'but as counterintuitive as it seems, those are actually good news,' Duncan argued.

    “ 'Why? Because some of those drops reflect the state including many more special-needs students.' ”


    So what? They're now fair game for you to use to try and talk your way out of this?


    from the same piece:


    "Education Secretary Arne Duncan suggested there might be an 'implementation dip' as teachers and students adjust to higher standards and more rigorous tests."


    "Did the Obama administration time the release of its testing action plan this weekend to head off the bad news about NAEP?

    "American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Mark Schneider, a vice president at American Institutes for Research who served as NCES commissioner under former President George W. Bush, suspect that’s the case.

    "Duncan said no, the efforts to combat excessive testing have been in the works for a while."


    What? You mean that you are "combatting" yourself? You're the one who did all this in the first place?


  6. Peter, here's an interesting article about how education in Kansas -- Kansas! -- is going in a totally new direction, away from standardized tests, towards IEPs for every student and equal emphasis on non-academic skills. The article doesn't give much detail, and I don't know how they're going to pay for it or if it's really going to be as good as it sounds, but it's interesting.

  7. I continue to be baffled that such supposedly intelligent and highly educated people can miss the obvious when it comes to education. People like Gates and Duncan are so dazzled by their own light that they have lost common sense. Dramatic terms, yes, but how else to explain their die-hard belief in tests and data?

    Yet, I can't help but think that unless they (or some others) in the driver's seat of education policy in this country shift the discourse from tests/data to other intangible elements of the learning process, nothing is going to change. Instead of pointing out that poverty is not being reduced but rather increased, these people need to realize that it is their actual policies which are contributing to it. This is the point: they believe in data, and teachers are in the trenches and so they are responsible for the numbers on the tests. According to this article, they re-think the numbers, but not in a common sense way, but rather in a way that is intended to ram their agenda down our throats, no matter how faulty the model.

    While Peter shouts (sometimes twice daily) from the rooftops what is going on, what needs to be done and why, we see the power brokers of education continuing along, paying no attention to his and the calls of other education experts as to what the problems are and how to address them. Are they listening? Perhaps. But I am starting to believe that the only thing that speaks to these people is DATA. Big numbers on a piece of paper. It gives them that "aaaaaaaahhhhh" feeling. I'm starting to think that it is the only thing that gives them the "aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh" feeling.

    So then I am thinking, OK, who drives the discourse in Washington, in NY and other places, drives the policy? So I looked at AERA, the nation's number one education research association, and lo' and behold, the conference this year is in Washington, D.C. They are at least a player in this process.

    If the reality of what goes on in the classroom and what is needed to address the needs of students is going to be heard by these people, they need to hear about the intangibles through data. Awful as that sounds, it is what is needed. Paper after paper of qualitative and quantitative research needs to be done on issues related to student and teacher self-efficacy and what is needed, and how that relates to student performance, for example. Phenomenological studies on teachers' experiences dealing with underachievement, similar studies on teachers' experiences with students who are in impoverished areas and how they overcome the challenges of a debilitating home environment while being a student.

    While it is too late to come up with such work for this year's conference, it seems to me this is the place to go to speak up, try to drive the conversation and make a call for future research, to get the data out there. If data is what is needed to steer this ship in a different direction, the task is clear, data must be developed.

    Students need hope. The business minded people don't know how to quantify it. Education research will need to find a way, or their pleas will continue to fall on willfully deaf ears.

    I'm pasting the call for papers at AERA this coming April to show how this topic could even fit in their agenda, but it is also important to note that it would be easy to give more of the same topics that have been addressed in the past and get more of the same as a result. In any case, it would be great if an unexpected number of advocates of this human aspect of public education would attend and be heard, if not as presenters, at least as participants. Just an idea.


    2016 AERA Annual Meeting
    "Public Scholarship to Educate Diverse Democracies"
    Friday April 8 – Tuesday, April 12, 2016
    Washington, DC
    " In AERA's Centennial Year, the Annual Meeting will celebrate and reinvigorate the progressive aspirations that gave rise to our professional community in 1916: hope and determination that research can strengthen public education, society’s most democratic institution. To mark this remarkable moment, the 2016 Meeting will illuminate and enhance the role of education researchers as public scholars who contribute to public understanding, political debate, and professional practice in increasingly diverse democracies in the US and around the globe.

    Today’s world presents challenges that bear an uncanny resemblance to those of the US in 1916. Then, a newly industrialized and urbanized economy brought staggering changes to workplaces, homes, and society. Waves of new immigrants sparked fears that revolutionary radicalism would undermine the so-called American way of life. Post-Reconstruction Jim Crow laws in the South legalized racial segregation and disenfranchisement, and did nothing to curb targeted racial violence. Southern Blacks and Southwestern Latinos migrated north in search of jobs and found themselves in neighborhoods of racial isolation and urban poverty. Staggering income and wealth inequality exacerbated racial and ethnic divides. Global conflict—fueled by political, territorial, ethnic, and ideological disputes—beckoned United States’ engagement. All echo today, both in the U.S. and around the world, as unprecedented global migration and demographic shifts confront nations everywhere with the challenge of being both democratic and diverse.

    Early twentieth century leaders gave schools responsibility for addressing the bewildering array of social challenges brought on by these changes. Many reformers at the time looked to the efficiencies and productivity of industrialization for guidance in carrying out this responsibility. Following the progressive impulse of the times, they primarily adopted technical and structural approaches. The first AERA researchers were part of that effort, seeking to produce scientific knowledge that educators could use to improve large school systems—a pursuit we continue today."

    There is much more to this announcement at the link above.