Wednesday, October 30, 2019

DeVosian NAEP Nonsense

I wasn't going to write about NAEP for any number of reasons, but then I happened to look at Betsy DeVos's comments on this year's results and, well, this whole blood pressure thing happened. So to get my numbers back down, I'm going to talk through the nonsense she issued forth, notable for its disconnection from reality, its devotion to public education bashing, and, most of all, its bizarre display of an amnesia-fueled dismissal of responsibility for any hand in the results of the Nation's Report Card.

DeVos declares that we have a "student achievement crisis" and even if you correctly read "student achievement" as "scores on a single standardized reading and math test," getting to "crisis" is a long leap. Thousands of kids taken from their parents and stuck in cages is a crisis. California on fire is a crisis. Scores on a single standardized math and reading test not going up the way you'd hoped is not a crisis. But then we get this baloney:

For more than three decades, I—and many others—have said that America's antiquated approach to education fails too many kids.

No. For three decades you and many others have used aggressive chicken littling as leverage to remake education in your preferred image. You said, "Let us have our way and NAEP scores will shoot up like daisies in springtime." Do not even pretend to suggest that you have somehow been hammering fruitlessly on the doors of education, wailing your warnings and being ignored. The current status quo in education is yours. You built it and you own it and you don't get to pretend that's not true as a way to avoid accountability for the results.

She tosses out some anecdotes which, who knows, might even be true, illustrating the horrid state of public education and the frustrations of parents.

Blame the "experts" who assure us each year that American education is "doing OK." That our schools are "good enough."

Who are those people? Reformsters have been yammering about these mythical beasts, these Deep State educationers who have been insisting that the state of US education is awesome. I don't know who they are. The closest I can get are the people who have ben saying for decades that we are doing a pretty good job given the lack of support and the inadequacy of funding and the screwing over of schools in poor districts.

Our Nation's Report Card shows that two thirds of American students can't read at grade level. Two out of three!

Nope. The results show that two thirds are not at NAEP proficiency level, which is considerably above grade level. She is simply wrong here, a fairly stunning level of wrong for a US Secretary of Education.

DeVos tosses out some more straw people who, she says, will say the results are super-okay so that she can clap back:

In reality, scores have not improved enough. Achievement has not improved enough. And our children continue to fall further and further behind their international peers.

Let me digress for just a moment to question the notion that school test scores m,ust somehow crawl ever upward like stock prices, as if students steadily evolve and improve year after year, as if our genetic stock is somehow improved. Baloney.

But the assertion that we are falling further behind international peers has no particular support (no other nation is taking America's Report Card tests) but even so, so what? What decline in our natinal fortunes can be traced to low standardized test scores. Do we have high-priced inadequate health care because of test scores? Did we have a corporate-created recesion because of test scores? What the hell difference does it actually make?

She then rattles off a list of school districts that are having troubles, like Harrisburg and Providence, but she has the giant brass ovaries to finish with Detroit, as if Detroit is not a freakin' educational nightmare because of policies that she personally rammed through the Michigan education system. She mentions suing for the right to read which, yeah, three years ago happened and the state successfully argued that they don't have to provide adequate education-- just something called school.

She tells some more stories, including one about a father who discovered that his son was an honored high school grad who couldn't read. N one of these stories feature the kind of details that would allow for fact checking.

Now she will point fingers. Education spending has increased in this country (she knows because, I don't know, avoiding paying taxes gets harder every year). It all goes to bureaucracy and administrators  and assistant superintendents and a list that does not include failed charters or bogus voucher programs or even successful charters that pay administrators far more than public systems do. She cites with horror that taxpayers have spent over a trillion dollars trying to fix public education, which I guess is a more impressive figure than the one billion that taxpayers had wasted on failed and fraudulent charter schools.

So, she concludes, we shouldn't spend any more money on school buildings. She throws out the Einstein insanity, because she still holds to the false belief that US education has stayed in place for a hundred years. Oh, and she wants us to think of how much of this money could have been spent on teacher salaries, because that's a thing she's really keen on.

She does get one thing right:

No amount of spending can bring about good results from bad policy.

Unfortunately, she does not mean all the failed reform ideas of the past twenty-some years, because in Betsy's Bizarro worlds, those policies are the product of the same Deep State "Big ED" group of people, as if everything from NCLB to Common Core to charter baloney and voucher foolishness hasn't been strenuously fought by folks in education, as if ed reform itself hasn't been the product of meddling rich amateurs many of whom are DeVos's friends and one of whom is, in fact, Betsy DeVos. Nope. Somehow, in this new alternate history, they weren't there.

She moves on to positive examples. Mississippi's reading score went up, which could be for any number of reasons but probably just one, and she is soooooooo close to figuring it out.

The idea was simple: students who can't read, can't learn. And if a student can't read by third grade, a student won't learn. So now, all Mississippi's third graders must demonstrate that they can at least read at grade level before advancing to fourth grade.

In other words, students who will do poorly on the NAEP given in fourth grade are kept out of fourth grade.This is like keeping all the short kids hidden in a back room on measuring day and then announcing that your student average height has gone up. This may be the part where my blood pressure medication threw up its hands in defeat.

Then it's Florida.

"Students there outperform nearly every other state," she says, and no, no they don't. Florida uses the same "hide the third grader trick" and has the advantage of starting in the basement for all growth measures. The rest of their policies range from disastrous to damaging. They are well on their way to completely dismantling public education, though, so they will be oft-referenced by folks like DeVos who want to see the same thing. And Florida did not do well this time.

Next comes her pitch for privatization, currently branded as "freedom." She wants to see states flex their ESSA-endowed freedom, and she wants to see the USED go away. She is anti-bulding. She wants to see more of a whole bunch of reformster ideals that have flourished in the past decade, and yet, somehow, here we are with unimpressive NAEP scores and an ever-increasing gap between the top and the bottom and Detroit and Milwaukee, loaded with all her favorite choiciness, bringing up the NAEP rear. None of Big Reform's ideas has panned out, and yet, Betsy "Einstein" DeVos wants us to do more of the same. And here comes the big finish:

If we rediscover that Founding principle, if we embrace education freedom, American students can achieve, American students can compete, American students will lead, and America will win.

Good Lord, what the hell does that even mean? Compete with whom? Win what? And since when were school vouchers a Founding principle? And can we stop pretending that the NAE$P scores aren't related to policies that reformsters have been pushing for the last twenty years? And now I need to take another pill and lie down.


  1. I'm floored. I also have a question that maybe you or one of your (millions of!) readers could help answer. I'd like to find an introduction to public school privatization that would be accessible to my 8th grade students who have asked to study it (really). I thought of the film "Backpack Full of Cash," but I don't have $350 for the license fee. A documentary film would be ideal, because we could all experience it together. Is there such a thing available, or perhaps an in-depth piece of TV reporting we could look at instead?

  2. DeVos is the greatest danger public education has ever faced. Not only does she represent the marketization of education, she also epitomizes ignorance, a doubly dangerous combination!

    1. You could start with John Oliver's take on charter schools:

  3. Coleman's "4-corners" approach to reading reflected an astonishing level of ignorance about how children learn. Teaching (and testing) literacy skills in a vacuum was a really bad idea. Doing it at the cost of lost learning opportunities in science, geography, history, civics, etc., was an inexcusable reaction by the profession to RTTT and the NCLB Duncan waivers.

  4. Thanks for this. I too was ready to throw up! When Biddle and I wrote the manufactured crisis we thought we quieted these folks. But Bill Bennett has reappeared, in drag, in the form of Betsy DeVos.