Friday, June 12, 2015

Data Smokescreen Covers Up Real Problems in Public Education

Data Smokescreen Covers Up Real Problems in Public Education:

Data Smokescreen Covers Up Real Problems in Public Education

Last week, a very distinguished panel convened by the National Research Council published an Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia. The report is 341 pages long and cost millions of dollars to produce. What’s most impressive about this evaluation is how very far removed from reality it is.

The experts who contributed to the analysis relied principally on data sets that covered the city’s DC-CAS standardized tests, the NAEP nationwide standardized tests, and the local teacher evaluation model called IMPACT. They also considered other data such as graduation rates, attendance, dismissal, and teacher retention. The third of three major recommendations from this evaluation cannot be denied: the school system needs to address the so-called “achievement gap,” which—as noted elsewhere—has been greatly exacerbated since “school reform” came to the District in 2007.

What are recommendations one and two? The first is to create “a comprehensive data warehouse.” The second is to pay for ongoing independent evaluation of this data. Really.

The purpose of this column is not to criticize the National Research Council’s evaluation. To be fair, the Council did what it was asked to do. The problem is not this particular study; it is how this evaluation perfectly illustrates the way our nation’s education debate has become a shipwreck, adrift in a sea of numbers. In search of objective “metrics,” education experts have lost sight of the purpose of public education: to provide each and every child the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential in life.

To compile a real evaluation of the District’s public schools, one needs to interview teachers who have served long enough to remember what the school system was like before the mayoral takeover of 2007. (Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of experienced teachers have been driven out of D.C.’s high-poverty schools, and those few who are left insist on anonymity because truthful testimony would surely get them fired.) But here is what they would tell you:

Students in high-poverty schools are forced to waste tremendous amounts of instructional time preparing for, practicing, or taking standardized tests. Most students took about 20 days of tests and pre-tests this year. All the test-taking skills taught and employed during these days are useless in real life.

Teachers in high-poverty schools are required to teach to the standardized tests; in fact, their jobs depend on it. Homework is often in the style of test questions downloaded from a central test-oriented website. This mode of instruction and form of homework would astonish those of you who attended middle-class or upper-middle-class schools.

Course offerings to high-poverty students have been narrowed to focus their studies on reading and math. It is common for these schools to provide little or no band, chorus, art, or foreign languages. Some schools have required students to take double periods of reading and math. Some require kids to take classes specifically to improve test-taking or study skills. These children’s knowledge of geography, history, social studies, and science is often abysmalData Smokescreen Covers Up Real Problems in Public Education: