Wednesday, January 29, 2020

MI: Whitmer Stands Up For Reading Sense (GLEP Opposes)

Of all the pieces of bad, dumb, abusive policy that have come out of the ed reformster movement, one of the worst is third grade reading retention. Michigan has it, and their governor wants to get rid of it. Guess who wants to stand up for it.

Lansing in winter; much like April in Paris
How did this damn fool policy get spread across the country? Somebody half-looked at some  research and said, "Hey, there's a correlation between how well a student reads in third grade and their later success, so let's just flunk all third graders who don't pass the Big Standardized Reading Test." This is bad policy for oh so many reasons. Let me count the ways:

* It confuses correlation with causation. It's like saying "We notice that students who have larger than size 5 shoes at age 8 are taller by age 12, so let's hold everyone who has smaller shoe sizes in third grade until they get big enough. That way they'll be taller when they're age 12." No, actually, it's worse than that, because the low reading level and the lack of future success are probably both related to something else entirely and that something else is what schools should be addressing.

* It assumes that for some reason a bunch of eight year olds are slacking off and that what would really motivate them is a big-ass threat to say goodbye to all their friends and repeat third grade.

* Also, nothing really motivates a child like having to be repeatedly labeled a failure.

* Also, children have no real interest in reading, which has no intrinsic appeal, so we'd better come up with some exterior motivator.

* It assumes that for some reason teachers are slacking, so maybe if we threaten their students, they'll Teach Better.

* It leads to the kind of foolishness that we've seen (of course) in Florida, where third graders who are excellent readers, but who didn't comply with the testing regimen, were flunked.

* And finally-- and I cannot type this hard enough-- IT DOES NOT WORK!

* Seriously. The evidence just keeps piling up. And piling up. From state to state. Study after study. It is true, again, that students who struggle with reading in third grade continue to struggle with school, but there is not an iota of evidence that retaining them helps, and plenty that it does not-- even does harm.

Third grade reading retention has one effect that some folks like. If you start holding back third graders who can't pass a reading test (like Mississippi did) then you'll probably find that your fourth graders passing rate for a BS Test like NAEP will improve (like Mississippi's did).

Michigan is in the process of phasing reading retention in after passing a law to punish eight year olds implement the policy in 2016. But Michigan is also in the process of installing a governor who is not a giant tool, and she indicated way back in March of last year that she wanted to see that "destructive" law go away.

“That doesn’t fix the problem,” she said. “A child who can’t read isn’t going to get better because you told him he was bad. Parents aren’t going to get more engaged” in that scenario.

This made the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP) sad. GLEP is an advocacy/lobbying group set up by Betsy DeVos to push for charters, choice, A-F grades, etc-- all the things she loves. So it's not surprising that they oppose the non-reformy Gov. Whitmer, including by misrepresenting her proposal, indicating that she wants to "eliminate reading intervention" despite her call to triple the number of literacy coaches in the state.

Well, that flap was last March. Now it's back. Whitmer was expected to call for an initiative that would provide students and families with ways to circumvent the law as well as get additional assistance. The Bridge offers one insightful sentence about reactions:

Whitmer’s actions will likely be popular among education leaders, who in general oppose the law, but struck a sour note for one Michigan business leader and longtime proponent of K-12 reform.

Two things to note. Apparently The Bridge doesn't have any education leaders that it can call and ask for comment. Second, yes, educators will think this is a good idea, and amateurs who don't know what they're talking about will not. Speaking of which, GLEP has some thoughts, again, via Executive Director Beth DeShone:

Michigan’s 3rd grade reading law provides students with the resources and supports they need to read at grade level before they leave the 3rd grade, and the governor’s aggressive attempts to undermine the law will cost many the chance at a brighter future.

And so on, in a similar combative vein, heavy on rhetoric that stops just short of saying that Whitmer hates children, but which includes zero evidence that the third grade retention policy does any good (Whitmer, for her part, has frequently brought up things like "science" and "evidence.")

I've never fully understood why some reformsters love this policy so much. Because they sincerely don't comprehend why it's a b ad policy? Because of the fourth grade test results bump? Because it lets some folks make a lot of money off of testing and remediation? Because it creates another data point that can be used to argue that schools and teachers are big failing failures? Or because the reformsters are largely conservatives, and what passes for conservatives these days includes a lot of people who seem haunted that Some People are getting Good Stuff they don't deserve while escaping Bad Stuff they should have to suffer through (looking at you, Secretary DeVos), and somehow that idea extends all the way down to eight year olds?

I don't know. There are ed reform policies that I disagree with, but which I recognize can seem reasonable and right from a certain point of view, and while I think they're wrong, I don't think you have to be evil or stupid to support them. Third grade retention is not one of those policies. It's absolutely indefensible. Governor Whitmer is absolutely right to focus on helping children learn to read instead of punishing eight year olds for failing a BS Reading Test. That's what makes sense-- do as much as you can to help, which includes not hammering an eight year old with threats and punishment. Throw all your resources into helping them, and zero into punishing them. That doesn't seem so hard to grasp, GLEP.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your common sense blog and curmudgeon-liness!