Yesterday, Jeb Bush announced his candidacy for President under the logo Jeb!2016. Then today, Donald Trump, from a basement in one of his buildings in NYC, announced that he is running for President! Is his logo The Donald!2016? Can it get any worse?
But Trump aside, I want to focus on the idea of influence peddling by examining three ideas that drive much of what happens, not only in education, but in other important issues in the upcoming election such as democracy, immigration reform, race, and jobs.
Here, however, I want to zero in on education.
Politicians, lobbyists and corporate executives have worked together to peddle their influence in the name of educational reform. This triad of influence is dismantling public education one charter school, voucher, tax incentive, and law at a time.
This group of education peddlers is known as “reformsters”, and I’ll use that term in this and future posts. For more about the term “reformster,” please see here, here, here, and here.
As you read this article, think of Jeb! 2016, the man also known as John Ellis Bush, and Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida. He is a good example of a reformster, and it may help in seeing how reformsters work as you read the rest of my article. I am not particularly picking on Jeb Bush. I could have just as easily replaced Bush’s name with Bill Gates. But Bush is representative of a host of people who have pitched their ideas around the country in the way a salesperson tries to solicit your business. And he’s running for President.
In today’s culture, politicians and especially business leaders, have perpetuated the myth that academic achievement in a few subjects is the most important outcome of schooling, and that indeed, there is a huge gap between achievement of students in the United States and its counterparts in other industrialized nations. Furthermore, these same politicians and business leaders (reformsters) would have us believe that there is a serious decline in the supply of high-quality students from the beginning (the end of high school) to the end of the Science & Engineering “pipeline.” Both of these cases are myths—that U.S. students do not achieve at high levels, and that there is a serious shortage of high quality persons for science & engineering. They are perpetuated to fulfill the needs and desires of officials whose best interests are served by claiming such weaknesses in the American educational system (see Lowell & Salzman).
These myths are real, however. They are fodder for those looking to game the system.
Fear, Money & Gaming
Influence peddling is wide-spread in American education. During the 2016 Presidential campaigns, you will see slick videos, prepared speeches, and hucksters of all shape and sizes pushing ideas that rest on three ideas:
Fear, money, and gaming dominate the system. I’ve organized this inquiry around three ideas, and have additionally provided several case studies, as shown in the tabs below. You’ll find two or more articles that I’ve written related to the fear, money, and gaming, as well as two case studies, one of Jeb Bush, and other on Bill Gates. You will be surprised. Did they go to the same schools?
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[restab title=”Fear Factor” active=”active”]Since the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957, and a U.S. government report, A Nation at Risk was published in 1983, American education has been cast as a failing system, and if “reforms” were not put in place, the sky would fall. Although the sky hasn’t fallen, teachers and schools are envisioned as the cause of the mythical failure of American education.
The underlying and foundational reason that influence peddling is flourishing in education is the move toward the privatization of education. And the privatization of education is born out of assumptions that American education is a failed system, and that the only way to prove that the system is improving is show that it returning a profit to the taxpayers. When we begin to think of schools as a business, then test scores are a measure of profitability. Indeed, students of teachers who get high achievement scores are rewarded in the same way that employees earn bonuses. But when scores are low, it is analogous to a unprofitable business, which might mean layoffs, store closings, and fired staff. Here are two articles that underscore this fear.
[restab title=”Gaming the System”]The drive to privatize education is a web of connections worked out by politicians and corporate executives with the support of some very prominent and not so prominent foundations and “not-for-profit” organizations that have cropped up spreading their spray over the public education landscape. The relationships and the overall web of connectivity has brought a lot of people together who have influenced state legislatures to the extent that they collectively are gaming not only public schools, but the citizens who pay the taxes to support local and neighborhood schools. This web shows very clearly how these organizations and people have figured out how to game the education system. In these articles, we show how politicians have learned to game the system to not only use laws written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, but make use of the Tax Code to set up not-for-profit organizations that ask for money from around the country to support the bills that they support in their legislative bodies.
Using Students for Politics and Influence Peddling. In this article, I show how politicians have learned to game the system to not only use laws written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, but make use of the Tax Code to set up not-for-profit organizations that request money from around the country to support the bills in their legislative bodies.
Why Don’t Our Elected Representatives Write Their Own Legislation? In this article, we show that ALEC, a national “bill-mill” is an “amazon” marketplace for state legislators looking to acquire “legislative bills.[/restab]
[restab title=”Money”]More than $700 billion is spent annually on public education in America, making education an investment and consumer market comparable to banking, energy, transportation, and retail. But just as important is the idea that education is being shaped by organizations and a few people with a lot of money. Here are two articles to offer some evidence for this.
Billions and Billions, and I am not Talking About Stars! I am talking about dollars, and how billionaires are influencing (science) education policy from the K-12 level to the U.S. Department of Education, and this is being done in an environment where the billionaires are demanding accountability from the recipients of its money, but do so without having to be held to any standards or accountability themselves.
Are the Deep Pockets of Gates, Walton and Broad Contrary to the Ideals of Education in a Democracy? In this article, I wonder if the deep pockets of just 10 people can be consistent with the ideals of public education.[/restab]
[restab title=”Case Studies”]In this inquiry, we look at the Gates Foundation and Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education as core examples of organizations that use power and money to influence educational change throughout the states, often in the interests of corporate affiliates.
Bush’s Education Foundation and Influence Peddling: Any Truth to it? The connections between Bush’s Foundation, private companies, and state officials has set up the perfect storm for not just a privatization of schooling, but the expansion of a corrupt and secret, behind closed doors operation that changes laws to line the pockets of corporate officials
The drive to privatize education is the outcome of connections worked out by politicians and corporate executives with the support of some very prominent and not so prominent foundations and “not-for-profit” organizations that have cropped up spreading their sp ray over the public education landscape. And this spray stinks.
During the election cycle, including the debates to held by each party, America will be covered by this sediment comprised of nuggets of fear, money, gaming and untruths forming layer upon layer of spray, which in the is nothing but a pile of “excrement.”
What is your take on the nature of influence peddling in education?
The conservative world-view is at the root of educational reform, not only in the United States, but in most countries around the world. This world-view has set in motion the reform of education based on a common set of standards, high-stakes tests, and accountability metrics that demoralize not only students and their families, but the educators who families regard as significant others in the lives of their children.
This eBook explores how these educational reforms, which are rooted in authoritarianism, have damaged public education with its canopy of a Common Core, high-stakes tests, and market based tactics which are nothing but hooey.
These reforms have largely been funded by non-educators, and very rich people, who think that because they made a success in the business community, then their ideas should be accepted by public education.
The Gates Foundation has invested more than $3 billion into standards development & test-based reform. Did you know that since 1999, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (technically founded in 2000) has made over 4,000 grants in its US Program, one of the major categories of funding for the Gates Foundation? The 4,000 grants were distributed among 16 categories such as College-Ready Education, Community Grants, Postsecondary Success, Global Policy & Advocacy, etc. About 2,000 of these grants were made to carry out the Common Core State Standards, the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers, and support technology that would increase the surveillance of students, parents and teachers to create sets of “big data” that can be mined by private companies to seek out customers and clients for their products.
Lets think of corporate standardized education reform as a kind of “spray” whose mist and slag has covered public education killing creativity, innovation, and spontaneity. This corporate designed “standardized” spray is analogous to DDT spray which was used as an agricultural insecticide, to control malaria and typhus among civilians and troops, and as contact poison against several arthropods. The academic formulation of the corporate spray mechanisms is planned violence with very little intellectual , moral, and emotional basis.
For example, from 1940 – 1972, 1.3 billion pounds of DDT were released into U.S. communities indiscriminately. In 1962, Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring (Library Copy) explained how the release of DDT into the environment caused havoc and great harm to the affected ecosystems, as well as human health. Even though the bio-chemical industry tried to subvert Carson’s work, she was eventually vindicated of the criticisms being leveled by this industry, and the US Congress went on to pass legislation banning DDT. Later the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established. Carson had started the environmental movement, and many leading ecologists and environmentalists from around the world looked to her work as an inspiration.
There is a vanguard of gentile (and not-so-gentile) subversives who are leading the way to uncover and expose the damage that is being done to educational ecosystems, as well as student health (social, emotional, intellectual) by the standardized, test-centered and market-oriented reform that is spreading like a virus with global implications. This vanguard is composed of educators who offer different accounts of what teaching and learning is about. They are leading an effort to challenge the current reform movement.
And just over the past two years, we’ve witnessed the movement to get states to vote against the use the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), to support parents who choose to opt their children out of high stakes test and support back lash against the U. S. Department of Education (ED) from using an unsubstantiated Value Added Model (VAM).
Please follow this link to read about some of the people identified as part of this vanguard. There are many more, and most of them are teaching in classrooms across the United States.
So, what is this vanguard voicing opposition to? They all are questioning the lack of wisdom, the signs of ignorance, and ineptness of an educational reform movement that is rooted in a very narrow purpose of schooling: teaching to the test. Many of the ideas integrated into The Mischief of Standardized Teaching & Learning are fruits from the voices of the vanguard of teachers and researchers that I identified earlier.
Global Educational Reform Model (GERM)
The Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) promotes and spreads the “strategies and interests” of global agencies, billionaire donors, and private consultants as if it was a live virus (Sahlberg 2013). According to Sahlberg, three primary sources led to the spread of the GERM virus including:
The need for proficiency in literacy and numeracy,
A guarantee that all students will learn the same set of standards in math and language arts and reading, and value placed on competition, and
Accountability by holding schools to a set of standards, and benchmarks using aligned assessments and tests.
The Guardian newspaper published a series of articles about the 2013 PISA international test results. Sahlberg points out that creating league tables that showcase or shame countries based on their student’s performance on standardized tests is simply not a proper use of international test results, in this case PISA. As I’ve reported many times on The Art of Teaching Science blog, international test results fall prey to newspaper headlines that predict the collapse of economies, or the inability of its students to compete in the ‘global market.’ The ‘sky is falling’ mantra was alive and well when the 2013 results were announced.
Imagine reading the headlines in Helsinki after its students fell from second place to 12th in just three years. Sahlberg reports that in Sweden, the test result for its students was considered a national disaster. In the United States, the Secretary of Education (Arne Duncan) said the U.S. the results are “straightforward and stark: It is a picture of educational stagnation.”
But Sahlberg suggests that the PISA results are proof that the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) is working and spreading itself around. According to Sahlberg, GERM is a virus that has infected many nations in their march to “reform” education. In his view, GERM is characterized by
standardization (Common Core),
core subjects (math, reading, science),
teaching to the test,
corporate management style, and
When Duncan commented (Guardian News, 2013) on the 2013 PISA results, he said it was clear that this “must serve as a wake-up call against educational complacency and low expectations.” And to correct American education’s shortcomings, “we must invest in early learning, redesign high schools, raise standards and support great teachers.”
Good examples of GERM schools can be found in the US, England, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden and Chile. Here is how they fared in the PISA tests (Table 1).
These nations have adopted a model of education based on competition, standardization, and test-based accountability. In Sahlberg’s view,
GERM has acted like a virus that “infects” education systems as it travels around the world.
A New Vanguard for Educational Reform
But Sahlberg, if he were ever asked by Duncan how to improve American schools, would not suggest the “reforms” that Duncan has funded for the past five years. Instead Sahlberg would suggest that the standards-corporate styled reforms (GERM) are based on premises that are rejected by educators and policy makers in nations that seem to be successful.
In this book we have at our fingertips answers to important questions about how such a limited number of individual’s faces crop-up in various media outlets as the experts on public schools. If you want to find how to get wealthy and have a really big office, read about Joel Klein in chapter 1. Find out how Teach for America is transforming teacher education into a temp business by reading the Wendy Kopp story in chapter 3. You’ll find important episodes about characters including Eva Moskovitz, Michelle Rhee, Erik Hanushek, Arne Duncan, David Coleman, Chester Finn, and others. You’ll also find out about organizations that fund each other in the name of reform, but in the end seek to dismantle public education. Welcome to TFA, the New Teacher Project, the National Council on Teacher Quality (not), the Aspen Institute, the Gates Foundation, and cousins Walton and Broad. And the best is yet to come as she saves the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the nation’s bill mill for the last chapter. The content of the book is thoroughly researched and authenticated. If you read her blog, you’ll certainly enjoy this book.
The conservative view of schooling must be challenged and the battleground for this is on the front lines in American schools and districts. There is a pressing need to reverse the overreach of a few organizations and very wealthy people whose foundations have reigned havoc on American schools. Here are some suggestions that Sahlberg makes, and many teachers and researchers would agree with:
1. Schools should have autonomy over its curricula and how students are assessed. Teachers should work collaboratively to design and develop curriculum, and make decisions about the nature of instruction in their own classrooms. This is contrary to the reforms that have dominated American education for decades, especially starting with the publication, Nation at Risk, followed by the No Child Left Behind Act during the Bush Administration, and The Race to the Top during the Obama administration. Sahlberg says:
PISA shows how success is often associated with balanced professional autonomy with a collaborative culture in schools. Evidence also shows how high performing education systems engage teachers to set their own teaching and learning targets, to craft productive learning environments, and to design multiple forms student assessments to best support student learning and school improvement.
2. Schools need to focus on equity by giving priority to early childhood (one point for Duncan), comprehensive health and special education in schools, a balanced curriculum that sees the arts, music and sports as equals to math, reading and science.
3. School choice does not improve academic performance in a nation’s schools. In fact, the overemphasis on school choice and competition between schools leads to greater segregation of schools.
4. Successful schools are public schools and are controlled locally, not by a state or federal government. If we want to improve education in the US, we need to move away from the competitive, corporate-based model that is based on standardization and test accountability.
As Dr. Nel Noddings says in her book, Education and Democracy in the 21st Century,
Education in the 21st century must put away some 20th-century thinking. All over the world today, many educators and policymakers believe that cooperation must displace competition as a primary form of relating. Competition is not to be abandoned— some competition is healthy and necessary— but it should no longer be the defining characteristic of relationships in an era of growing globalization. If we agree with this judgment, then we must consider how to prepare students for a cooperative world, not solely for one of competition. (Noddings, Nel (2013-01-25).
American public schools are not failing. The premise that they are failing is based on one factor–test scores. We need to move beyond this concept of schooling and embrace collaboration, dialogue, interdependence, and creativity (Noddings, 2013).
The Mischief of Standardized Teaching and Learning
Mischief investigates the nature of the corporate reform by challenging its approach and results. We also investigate how progressive educators are marching to their own drummer charting new paths and walking away from The Mischief of Standardized Teaching and Learning.
The book’s 12 chapters are organized into three parts as follows:
A colleague in Massachusetts alerted me to an article in Educationnext, an opinion and research site sponsored by the Hoover Institution and The Thomas Fordham Institute. The article, written by the editor-in-chief of Educationnext, Paul E. Peterson, and Peter Kaplan, an undergraduate, describes the view from these two men at Harvard and what they think of American education.
They are unhappy with the state of American education, and continue the right-wing cleansing of schools by claiming that American teachers are setting the bars so low that we come in at the bottom (feeders) of international test comparisons.
Educationnext claims to measure state proficiency standards over time, and change these metrics to marks or grades, A – F. The Thomas Fordham Institute did a similar mathematical trick by grading state science standards against the Next Generation Science Standards. You can read about Fordham’s grading technique applied to science here and here.
Now comes a new publication, entitled Despite Common Core, States Still Lack Common Standards by the editor-in-chief of Educationnext resurrecting the argument that American education is losing out to the rest of the industrialized nations in math and reading. Using the Olympic “high jump” of setting the bar high or low, Peterson and Kaplan (an undergraduate in political science) claim that too many states have set their “proficiency” bar too low. They suggest that states do this because it would cause less embarrassment.
But don’t worry, say the authors. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are here. And the CCSS administrators have set the bars high to match (according to these conservative reformers) international “benchmarks” that will bring American kids up to where they should be. And if American kids don’t do this, then our economy will tank, and they won’t get jobs. This is hogwash.
Back to the article. The authors claim to estimate each state’s real standards using Voodoo math. Using voodoo math, they then use their calculations to grade each state in math and reading at the 4th and 8th grade levels for 2003, 2005, 2007, 2011, even though 2003 and 2005 data are missing. The use of grades by these two authors demeans again the work of thousands of teachers across the country. But that is what they are about.
There is no credible evidence that Peterson and Kaplan have unveiled a method to compare standards across the country. If they looked at the literature they would find that researchers who have attempted this have found that student achievement is “unrelated” to the height of the skill bar set by the various states. To spend this time on highlighting standards by grading the states camouflages the issues that determine the quality of education in American schools, and that is poverty.
The authors are optimistic, however. They put it is way:
But states are not doomed to bottom-feeding status.
That’s right. Across the country there are states that are, in their words, “bottom-feeders,” a kind of lowlife, riffraff, or bottom feeding invertebrate. According to the authors there has been a convergence among the states. You need to go to their article and look at their voodoo math that helps them set up trends in state proficiency standards over time.
The article, like others reviewed on Educationnext should be read carefully, but we must be cautious about any results that they report.
What do you think about this article on Educationnext? Do you think that comparing standards across states is valid, according to the authors?
In a recent article in Scientific American, it was suggested that the U.S. should adopt higher standards in science, and that all 50 states should adopt them.
When you check the literature on science standards, the main reason for aiming for higher standards (raising the bar) is because in the “Olympics” of international academic test taking, the U.S. never takes home the gold. In fact, according the tests results reported by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), U.S. students never score high enough to even merit a bronze medal. In the last PISA Science Olympics, Shanghai-China (population 23 million) took home the Gold, Finland (population 5.4 million) the Silver, and Hong Kong-China (population 7 million, the Bronze. The United States (population 314 million) average score positioned them 22nd on the leaderboard of 65 countries that participated in the PISA 2009 testing.
Some would argue that comparing scores across countries that vary so much in population, ethnic groups, poverty, health care, and housing is not a valid enterprise. We’ll take that into consideration as we explore the relationship of standards to student achievement.
Its assumed that there is a connection or correlation between the quality of the standards in a particular discipline such as science, and the achievement levels of students as measured by tests. So the argument is promoted that because U.S. students score near the bottom of the top third of countries that took the PISA test in 2009, then the U.S. science education standards need to be ramped up. If we ramp up the standards, that is to say, make them more rigorous and at a higher level, then we should see a movement upwards for U.S. students on future PISA tests. It seems like a reasonable assumption, and one that has driven the U.S. education system toward a single set of standards in mathematics and reading/language arts (Common Core State Standards-CCSS), and very soon, there will be a single set of science standards.
There is a real problem here
There is no research to support the contention that higher standards mean higher student achievement. In fact there are very few facts to show that standards make a difference in student achievement. It could be that standards, per se, act as barriers to learning, not bridges to the world of science.
Barriers to Learning
I’ve reported on this blog research published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching by professor Carolyn Wallace of Indiana State University that indicates that the science standards in Georgia actually present barriers to teaching and learning. Wallace analyzed the effects of authoritarian standards language on science classroom teaching. She argues that curriculum standards based on a content and product model of education are “incongruent” with research in science education, cognitive psychology, language use, and science as inquiry. The Next Generation Science Standards is based on a content and product model of teaching, and in fact, has not deviated from the earlier National Science Education Standards.
Over the past three decades, researchers from around the world have shown that students prior knowledge and the context of how science is learned are significant factors in helping students learn science. Instead of starting with the prior experiences and interests of students, the standards are used to determine what students learn. Even the standards in the NGSS, or the CCSS are lists of objectives defining a body of knowledge to be learned by all learners. As Wallace shows, its the individuals in charge of curriculum (read standards) that determine the lists of standards to be learned. Science content to be learned exists without a context, and without any knowledge of the students who are required to master this stuff, and teachers who plan and carry out the instruction.
An important point that Wallace highlights is that teachers (and students) are recipients of the standards, rather than having been a part of the process in creating the standards. By and large teachers are nonparticipants in the design and writing of standards. But more importantly, teachers were not part of the decision to use standards to drive school science, in the first place. That was done by élite groups of scientists, consultants, and educators.
The Brown Center Report
According to the 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education, the Common Core State Standards will have little to no effect on student achievement. Author Tom Loveless explains that neither the quality nor the rigor of state standards is related to state NAEP scores. Loveless suggests that if there was an effect, we would have seen it since all states had standards since 2003.
For example in the Brown Center study, it was reported (in a separate 2009 study by Whitehurst), that there was no correlation of NAEP scores with the quality ratings of state standards. Whitehurst studied scores from 2000 to 2007, and found that NAEP scores did not depend upon the “quality of the standards,” and he reported that this was true for both white and black students (The Brown Center Report on American Education, p.9). The correlation coefficients ranged from -0.6 to 0.08.
The higher a “cut score” that a state established for difficulty of performance can be used to define the rigor or expectations of standards. One would expect that over time, achievement scores in states that have more rigorous and higher expectations, would trend upwards. The Brown study reported it this way:
States with higher, more rigorous cut points did not have stronger NAEP scores than states with less rigorous cut points.
The researchers found that it did not matter if states raised the bar, or lowered the bar on NAEP scores. The only positive and significant correlations reported between raising and lowering the bar were in 4th grade math and reading. One can not decide causality using simple correlations, but we can say there is some relationship here.
When researchers looked at facts to find out if standardization would cut the variation of scores between states, they found that the variation was relatively small compared to looking at the variation within states. The researchers put it this way (The Brown Center Report on American Education, p. 12): The findings are clear.
Most variation on NAEP occurs within states not between them. The variation within states is four to five times larger than the variation between states.
According to the Brown Report, the Common Core will have very little impact on national achievement (Brown Report, p. 12). There is no reason to believe that won’t be true for science.
The researchers concluded that we should not expect much from the Common Core. In an interesting discussion of the implications of their findings, Tom Loveless, the author of the report, cautions us to be careful about not being drawn into thinking that standards represent a kind of system of “weights and measures.” Loveless tells us that standards’ reformers use the word—benchmarks—as a synonym for standards. And he says that they use it too often. In science education, we’ve had a long history of using the word benchmarks, and Loveless reminds us that there are not real, or measured benchmarks in any content area. Yet, when you read the standards—common core or science—there is the implication we really know–almost in a measured way–what standards should be met at a particular grade level.
Loveless also makes a strong point when he says the entire system of education is “teeming with variation.” To think that creating a set of common core standards will cut this variation between states or within a state simply will not succeed. As he puts it, the common core (a kind of intended curriculum) sits on top of the implemented and achieved curriculum. The implemented curriculum is what teachers do with their students day-to-day. It is full of variation within a school. Two biology teachers in the same school will get very different results for a lot of different factors. But as far as the state is concerned, the achieved curriculum is all that matters. The state uses high-stakes tests to decide whether schools met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
If standards do not result in improved learning as measured by achievement tests, what should we be doing to improve schools?
Over on Anthony Cody’s blog on Education Week, we might find some answers to this question. Cody has begun a series of dialogs with the Gates Foundation on educational reform by bringing together discussions between opposing views to uncover some common ground. Cody has already broken new ground because the Gates Foundation is not only participating with him on his website, but Gates is publishing everything on their own site: Impatient Optimists blog. Three of the five dialog posts have been written, and it is the third one written by Anthony Cody that I want to bring in here.
In his post, Can Schools Defeat Poverty by Ignoring it?, Cody reminds us that the U.S. Department of Education (through the Race to the Top and NCLB Flexibility Requests) is unwavering in its promotion of data-driven education, using student test scores to rate and evaluate teachers and administrators. Cody believes that the Gates Foundation has used its political influence to support this. There is also an alliance between the ED, and PARCC which is developing assessments to be aligned to the Common Core Standards. The Gates Foundation is a financial contributor to Achieve, which oversees the Common Core State Standards, the Next Generation Science Standards, and PARCC.
There is a “no excuses” attitude suggesting that students from impoverished backgrounds should do just as well as students from enriched communities. The idea here is that teachers make the difference in student learning, and if this is true, then it is the “quality” of the teacher that will decide whether students do well on academic tests.
In the US, the linchpin for education is not teacher effectiveness or data-driven management systems. It is the effects of poverty and racial isolation on our children.
As he points out, teachers account for only 20% of the variance in student test scores. More than 60% of score variance on achievement tests correlates to out-of-school factors. Out-of-school factors vary a great deal. However, as Cody points out, the impact of violence, health, housing, and child development in poverty are factors that far out weigh the effect of teacher on a test given in the spring to students whose attendance is attendance, interest, and acceptance is poor.
In the Scientific American article I referenced at the beginning of this post, the author cites research from the Fordham Foundation that scores most state science standards as poor to mediocre. We debunked the Fordham “research” here, and showed that its research method was unreliable, and invalid. Unfortunately, various groups, even Scientific American, accept Fordham’s findings, and use in articles and papers as if it a valid assessment of science education standards. It is not.
It’s not that we don’t have adequate science standards. It’s that if we ignore the most important and significant factors that affect the life of students in and out of school, then standards of any quality won’t make a difference.
What is your view on the effect of changing the science standards on student achievement. Are we heading in the wrong direction? If so, which way should we go?
In the 2008 and 2012, Science Debate asked presidential candidates (as well as congressional candidates) why have American students fallen behind in science and mathematics and what role should the federal government play to better prepare students for the science and technology global economy?
Following are some “talking points” that Obama and Romney, and congressional candidates might consider as they talk about mathematics and science education.
Table 1 shows the education questions put to the two presidential and congressional candidates.
Science Education Question 2008
Science Education Question 2012
A comparison of 15-year-olds in 30 wealthy nations found that average science scores among U.S. students ranked 17th, while average U.S. math scores ranked 24th. What role do you think the federal government should play in preparing K-12 students for the science and technology driven 21st Century?
Increasingly, the global economy is driven by science, technology, engineering and math, but a recent comparison of 15-year-olds in 65 countries found that average science scores among U.S. students ranked 23rd, while average U.S. math scores ranked 31st. In your view, why have American students fallen behind over the last three decades, and what role should the federal government play to better prepare students of all ages for the science and technology-driven global economy?
Table 1. 2008 and 2012 Education Question asked by Science Debate
In each question, the premise is that American mathematics and science education is way behind other countries based on rankings on PISA, an international study of more than 60 county’s educational system by testing students in mathematics, reading and science literacy. Based on academic tests, PISA claims to assess literacy in terms of knowledge and skills needed in adult life. It is important to note that there is controversy around using a test to “measure” higher level thinking and applications to real life.
Dr. Svein Sjøberg of the University of Oslo questions the use of these tests, and suggests that tests such as PISA are often considered as objective and value-free scientific truths, while in fact they are not. Consequently, politicians and the media misuse test results and create perceptions of a country’s overall education system that may in fact not be correct.
Normally, the results are reported comparing countries in a fashion similar to standings in professional sports, where 1 is at the top, which is typically Singapore, followed by lower scoring countries, and as suggested in the question, placing the U.S.A. 17th out of 30.
And it’s not just a concern expressed by U.S. politicians. Sjoberg reported (in a studyReal Life Challenges: Mission Impossible) that results on PISA of students in Norway provided war-like headings in most of Norways newspapers. In fact the commissioner of education of Norway was quoted as saying, Norway is a school loser, and now it is well documented.
There is a real problem in using results to compare one country to another. As some researchers have pointed out, the scores reported are averages for the country of the students who took the test. Often the differences between average scores from country to another are not significant, BUT politicians and the media see that if their country is not NUMBER ONE, the sky is falling.
So, when U.S. students score 17th on an international test, policy makers make the claim that science education in the U.S. is in free-fall, and needs to uplifted. Remember, that the score used on these tests is an average. There are more than 15,000 independent school systems in the U.S. and to use an average score on a science test (typically composed of 40 60 questions) does not describe the qualities or inequalities inherent in the U.S.A.s schools.
David Berliner (in a research study entitled Our Schools vs. Theirs: Averages That Hide The True Extremes) points out that the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) data for the U.S.A., when analyzed by socioeconomic levels, shows great disparities and inequalities. For example, schools in the most affluent neighborhoods do well on these tests, but schools in poorer neighborhoods do not. And Berliner points out that scores on international tests will not change unless the inequalities in the schools are fixed.
That said, lets look at the question that Science Debate has posed to our politicians. Up front, it’s a good question because it will tell us a lot about the candidate’s understanding of our educational system, what tests measure, and what role the federal government should play in supporting American schools and what to do with the math and science “problem.”
Economic Preparedness of Students
If we are going to try to use test scores obtained from international tests to discuss student’s preparedness in a global economy, then we need to explore this connection in more detail. Is there really a connection?
Why is the perception of science education in the U.S. (and other countries as well) driven by rankings of students on international test score comparisons? The perception is that U.S. students are not competitive in the global market place because of their place in the rankings of the scores obtained on tests such as PISA and TIMSS. The same is true for many other countries.
Will the candidates examine the research related to the use of rankings based on test scores to make assessments about a country’s educational system, or the likelihood that its students are prepared to live in the 21st Century?
Iris C. Rotberg, Professor of Education Policy, George Washington University, has shown in her analysis of educational reforms on a global scale that most of the conclusions that we make based on international studies are not supported either by their findings or by research in general.
For example, the most visible conclusion that is made from the international studies is that test-score rankings are linked to a countrys economic competitiveness. Rotberg uses data from the World Economic Forums 2010 2011 global-competitiveness report to show that student test score rankings do not correlate with a nations economic competitiveness. For example, on the 2009 PISA international test, U.S. students do not rank in the top 10 member countries in any of these areas: Maths, Sciences, and Reading. The United States ranked 30 in maths, 23 in sciences, and 17 in reading.
Yet, in 2011, the United States was in 4th place in the rankings of 139 countries global competitiveness (dropping from the number 2 place from the last year). The comparisons are made across countries using 12 pillars of competitiveness, including basic requirements (institutions, infrastructure, etc.), efficiency enhancers (higher education, good market, labor market, financial market, etc.) and innovation and sophistication factors (business sophistication, innovation).
Indeed, if you look at the report, student achievement test scores or changes in student scores over time, are not part of the 12 pillars of competitiveness.
If our presidential and congressional candidates were to study the research by Rotberg they might conclude as she does that:
Other variables, such as outsourcing to gain access to lower-wage employees, the climate and incentives for innovation, tax rates, health-care and retirement costs, the extent of government subsidies or partnerships, protectionism, intellectual-property enforcement, natural resources, and exchange rates overwhelm mathematics and science scores in predicting economic competitiveness. Continuing to use student test scores is not a valid argument to understand a nation’s competitiveness.
If American students are not well prepared in mathematics, science and technology, how do we account for America’s inventiveness. The National Science Foundation reports that the United States has consistently led the world in inventiveness as measured by the number of patents applied for between the period 1985 2005. and this seems to be continuing. The community of scientists in the United States has consistently produced thousands of peer-reviewed articles per year, and is only exceeded in this output by the European Union, which is composed of many nations. The United States also graduates more people with doctoral degrees than any other nation in science, science education and engineering. Furthermore, K-12 students fare very well on tests, and consistently show improvement over time, and with its peer group of industrialized nations, does very well.
The accountability movement that now dominates our schools derives from an authority, and that authority is far from the classrooms of teachers who really know how to work with their students. Accountability in American schools is based on a conservative world-view, deriving its power from the top, then down to schools, classrooms, teachers and students. Success is defined by the authority with no advice from schools, teachers or parents. In general, the state is able to raise the bar on students over time. Its as if the authority is mad at students (because of scores on international tests?), and punishes them by making it more difficult to pass the tests. Is this the kind of accountability that professional educators would choose?
The AFT at their annual convention in Detroit, unanimously approved a resolution against high-stakes testing. Last year the National Council of Teachers of English resolved to call for an end to high stakes testing. Professors in Chicago and in the state of Georgia, led by EmpowerED Georgia have written letters to government and education officials questioning the use of tests to evaluate teachers. Based on research in peer-reviewed journals, these professors have provided government and education officials with data and recommendations on the use of testing. Go slow, and pilot programs before they are imposed on the masses.
Test Score Trajectory: Are We Falling Behind?
The latest data was reported this year by NAEP on how American students are doing in science. According to the Science 2011 report, average scores for eight-grade students was 2 points higher in 2011 than in 2009, which was significantly different. The only groups of students that didn’t show significant positive changes were the highest performing students. Maybe they topped out?
We have much better data for math and reading. Long-term trend NAEP measures student performance in mathematics and reading every four years. The last report was in 2008. The next report will be in 2012.
Average reading scores for 9- and 13-year-olds increased in 2008 compared to 1971, but the reading score for 17-year-olds was not significantly different. The national trend in mathematics showed that both 9- and 13-year-olds had higher average scores in 2008 than in any earlier assessment year. For 17-year-olds, there were no significant differences between the average score in 2008 and those in 1973 or 2004.
Main NAEP assessments measure student performance in mathematics and reading every two years, most recently in 2011, and then in 2013. Other subjects, such as science, writing, and more, are also assessed.
Although science is not part of the “long-term trend” NAEP testing, NAEP does have data that show trends in science achievement. According to NAEP, the trends in science are characterized by declines in the 1970, followed by increases during the 1980s and early 1990s, and mostly stable performance since then. Science (and math) scores have NOT been falling in U.S. schools. And the data shows that the achievement gap between white and black students is narrowing, but at the level that is acceptable to many.
Are we falling behind?
It is very convenient for some groups to make the claim that the U.S. is falling behind in math and science. But the evidence is that student learning in science, mathematics and reading has either improved or remained stable over the past thirty years, and during that time the achievements in science and technology have been breathtaking.
American mathematics and teachers are by nature inventive, and readily solve problems in their classrooms every day. If anything is in teachers’ ways of continuing creative and innovative teaching, it is rules imposed by NCLB on our schools. The requirements lessen the opportunity for learning. On this blog, we have cited peer-reviewed research that indicates that the high-stakes testing, and authoritarian standards impedes learning, and prevents teachers from doing what they are prepared to do, and that is help students uncover their love of mathematics and science.
Are we falling behind?
In mathematics, the only country of similar size and demographics that scored higher than the U.S. was Canada. Most of the other countries that did score significantly higher were small European or Asian (Korea, Japan) countries. The U.S. score was above the average score of OECD countries. Although there were 12 countries that scored significantly higher, there were only three that are similar to the U.S. in size and demographics. We are not ranked 25th in math and 21st in science. (source: PISA Data 2009)
Are we falling behind?
Americas top students performance place near the top of all students tested by PISA. For example Dr. Gerold Tirozzi, Executive Director of the National Association of Secondary Schools, analyzed the PISA data from the lens of poverty, as measured by the percentage of students receiving government free or reduced lunches. For example, Tirozzi found that in schools where less than 10% of the students get a free lunch, the reading score would place them number 2 in the ranking of countries.
What role should the federal government play in improving science and mathematic? President Obama partially answered this question. Here is what he said in this year’s State of the Union address:
At a time when other countries are doubling down on education, tight budgets have forced states to lay off thousands of teachers. We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000. A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance. Every person in this chamber can point to a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives. Most teachers work tirelessly, with modest pay, sometimes digging into their own pocket for school supplies just to make a difference.
Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, lets offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. And in return, grant schools flexibility: to teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just arent helping kids learn. Thats a bargain worth making. (Emphasis mine).
Obama should reach back to his earlier work in Chicago where he will find the paradigm that will be advance education in ways that I’ve urged in this post. In his book, Dreams from My Father, Obama discussed his desire to become involved with the Chicago Public Schools.
Obama and his colleague & friend Johnnie had decided to visit a high school, and the principal of the school introduced them to one of the school counselors, Mr. Asante Moran. He was, according to the principal, interested in establishing a mentorship program for young men in the school.
In his office, which was decorated with African themes, Obama discovered that Mr. Moran had visited Kenya 15 years earlier, and he indicated that it had a profound effect on him. In the course of this short meeting with Mr. Moran, Obama was clearly told that real education was not happening for black children, and then he offered Obama his view on what real education might be. Here is what he said on that Spring day in 1987:
Just think about what a real education for these children would involve. It would start by giving a child an understanding of himself, his world, his culture, his community. Thats the starting point of any educational process. Thats what makes a child hungry to learnthe promise of being part of something, of mastering his environment. But for the black child, everythings turned upside down. From day one, whats he learning about? Someone elses history. Someone elses culture. Not only that, this culture hes supposed to learn is the same culture thats systematically rejected him, denied his humanity (p. 158, Dreams from My Father).
Starting with the child as he or she is, and helping them connect to their environmentthis is the core of progressive teaching. Most teachers know and try and act on this philosophy, but for many, it is an upstream battle.
The locus of control is far removed from the individual teachers classroom. The control is centered in state departments of education, and the No Child Left Behind act (NCLB). And much of that control creates a conflict for innovative teachers. As responsible professional teachers, they want their students to do well on the high-stakes, end-of-year exams, yet know intuitively that this persistence on testing leaves creative teaching behind.
For science and mathematics education to flourish, teachers need to be set free to work as professionals in their schools. They are quite able to interpret professional standards in mathematics and science, and do not need to be held to a “Common” set of standards that all students are expected to meet.
What do you think? Are American students falling behind the rest of the world in science and mathematics?