Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Education Experts Baffled: SAT Scores Decline Again

OH, THE HUMANITY! All those poor education reformers. It's true! SAT scores fell once again last year.

It's a little dip. True. Still, wasn't No Child Left Behind supposed to fix this mess? Didn't President George W. Bush and a bipartisan coalition in Congress promise that NCLB was going to eliminate racial gaps in education? Didn't politicians guarantee this massive new law would insure that every child was proficient in reading and math by 2014?

States were going to raise all kinds of standards--you're darn tootin'--and if test scores didn't go up they were going to get busy and fire a whole bunch of teachers.

So, it's fair to ask, "How are we doing?" If you're a teacher, and you've been getting your brains beat out by the media for most of the last decade, you see this item in the New York Times and you have to wonder:
For the high school class of 2012, the average score on the critical reading section of the SAT college entrance exam, 496, was down 1 point from the previous year, as was the average writing score, 488. The average math score, 514, was unchanged. Also unchanged: only 43 percent of the 1.66 million test-takers achieved the benchmark score, 1550, that indicates readiness for college. Among students whose parents have bachelor’s degrees, though, 60 percent were college ready. The College Board, which administers the test, says those with the benchmark score have a 65 percent likelihood of achieving a B- or higher grade average in their first year in college.
Down two points last year? Could be a statistical anomaly.

Or: it could be our "leaders" can't tell the difference between s--- and standardized testing. I'm thinking, "Charge of the Light Brigade" here. (More about that later.) First, let's look at the bigger picture. I blogged on this same topic in 2011, when scores also fell. Today, all I have to do is quote myself:

[The] weeks and months are ticking by; and we're now less than three years [two today] removed from a time when reformers promise they can take us to a state of absolute academic perfection, when every child in America will be proficient in reading and math.

By now don't you...have to assume the first sweet fruits of success are finally ripe for picking?

So how is the BIG REFORM PUSH going?

I was heading out the door to run a few errands last week--catch up on chores that went untended while I was pedaling [across the United States on a bike]--when I passed the TV and heard Andrea Mitchell on CNN mention declining SAT scores. Mitchell went on to say that Michelle Rhee would be on after a commercial break to explain.

I was in a hurry that day and didn't get to hear Rhee spout. But I'm sure it was fun. Remember her? The woman with the PLAN to save education? The lady who blames teachers for all the nation's academic failings? 

Anyway, SAT scores fell for high school seniors in 2011. It seemed like that might make reformers weep.

Or, weep again this week. Unless you're Rhee. As head of a school reform organization known as Students First, she's had a good year. At the time of my last post on the SAT's, she was busy putting the final touches on a speech about education to be delivered at Kent State and deciding how much to charge for her wisdom. Hmmm...$35,000 sounded about right...

Maybe Rhee should call her organization "Rhee First," if you think about it.

AFTER ALMOST A DECADE OF "REFORM" under No Child Left Behind, after all the preaching of Rhee and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and a host of others, here's where we land. Since NCLB became law SAT scores are down from 504 to 496 in reading. They're down in math from 516 to 514. Despite billions of dollars spent on all the kinds of reforms reformers have insisted will work, we still don't have one point of gain. And in six short years, since a writing test was instituted, seniors have lost nine points, down from 497 to 488.

I said it last year, I'll say it again today:

Since 2002, when the standardized-testing craze swept America's schools and education experts began acting like zombies in an old science fiction movie--all promising improvement if only we followed them, followed them, followed them--we have been in slow decline.

Rhee, Duncan, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Joel Klein (his long-time chancellor) in New York, Chester Finn Jr., Steven Brill, the producer of Waiting for Superman and various know-it-all governors will, of course, continue to blame America's "school crisis" on classroom teachers and push their own solutions.

We already have way more charter schools, just as they wanted.

We have more vouchers too.

We have way, way more standardized testing.

And when students fail to meet "standards" we "evaluate" teachers, place the entire burden on their shoulders, and fire them by the thousands.

So why isn't this working? We've listened to experts and we're going nowhere fast, unless you count backwards.

I tried to explain it last fall:

Here's the first problem: We allow school reform to be driven by people like Rhee and governors like John Kasich [in Ohio], Scott Walker (Wisconsin) and Chris Christie (New Jersey), who either went to private schools, send their children to private schools, or both. These are people who want to fix the schools they didn't care to attend.

Secondly, we listen to people like Rhee and Duncan who have only the briefest classroom experience, or like Klein, none at all, and lack insight. It's an odd trend, really. If you placed the top ten names in education reform today and all U. S. Secretaries of Education end to end...their classroom service would not equal ONE thirty-year elementary school veteran in Peoria, Pocatello, or Pompano Beach.

...This idea that if only we get better teachers into classrooms then every student can be a success is shallow and simplistic. It's like saying, "If only ministers gave better sermons sin in the United States would disappear."

A year ago, I feared America's education generals were blind. Today, I'm more worried than ever. I'm beginning to think they're not blind. They're arrogant fools. They're like the Earl of Lucan, Lord Cardigan and Lord Raglan, British officers at the Battle of Balaclava (1854), who confused their own orders and sent six hundred cavalrymen of the famed Light Brigade charging down the wrong valley, with Russians on both sides and Russian cannon bottling them up at the end. Every man in the ranks could look down that valley and tell the attack was doomed and at least one junior officer, a Captain Nolan, tried to redirect the attack. But down the valley they thundered and horses and men were cut down by the hundreds. It was bravery wasted and slaughter without gain.

If you read what Wikipedia says about Cardigan's leadership style, you can substitute "Duncan" or "Bloomberg" or "Klein" (except that they compound problems by leading from the rear) and know where we stand in U. S. education in 2012:
Cardigan survived the battle. Although stories circulated afterwards that he was not actually present, he led the charge from the front and, never looking back, did not see what was happening to the troops behind him. He reached the Russian guns, took part in the fight, and then returned alone up the valley without bothering to rally or even find out what had happened to the survivors...After riding back up the valley, he considered he had done all that he could and then, with considerable sang-froid, left the field and went on board his yacht in Balaclava harbour, where he ate a champagne dinner.
Our leaders in education aren't blind. They see where we're going; but they're too arrogant to realize they're "leading" good troops the wrong way. Like Lord Cardigan they have no interest in looking back and even though their policies continue to fail they keep right on giving advice and then go off and drink their champagne.

Or charge $35,000 to give a speech.

I noticed something odd when I pedaled up Tioga Pass into Yosemite on a bicycle.
It's a rise in elevation of 3100 feet in ten miles and I had to do some very serious sweating.
So far: when experts talk about education reform 
the only people they call on to pedal harder are America's teachers.



  1. How true................. Someone made the comment that holding teachers accountable for students test scores is like holding Dr. accountable for medical tests. Both Ideas are REDICULOUS>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Parents and Students have to OWN IT>............. Teachers should be allowed to teach skills.......... NOT TESTS.

  2. Your bias and lack of knowledge, 'teacher on teaching' is very clear in your articulation to the 'left'leaning radicals present in all corners of education today. When do we ask more from our students and their parents? Let me educate you, 'teacher on teaching'. You ask more when tax dollars already collected do not cover sports. You ask for extra-curricular sports fees. You ask more when you ask for increases to your non performance based salary, benefits, and pension. You ask more when you push for compliance rules that in fact, takeaway, what parents could be doing more for their kids. You ask that kids know how to read before they start k-12. You ask that kids get appropriate rest every day. You ask that kids get appropriate exercise every day. You ask that kids are prepared, and have done homework from ALL subjects, every day. You ask that parents stay involved in their kids homework. You ask parents to supply all supplies, and in fact, do more of the work at home, that should be done by the teacher. You ask that kids know what they want to do for life, at age 17 or 18. You ask that parents stay involved in the life of their child. You ask that parents parent the way YOU want them to parent. You are the blind one, along with all NEA, education folks who have fallen to the indoctrination of 'education'. What do I ask? Stop indoctrinating kids to your left leaning liberal idealogy. When did the left and education in America become synonymous? When folks in the CENTER stopped putting a line in the sand between the responsibility of ojbective skill learning (reading, writing, math, phy-ed, etc.)and the liberal ways of education in the United States of America. The Republic, of the United States of America.
    I could come teach for you too, hurry up and ask me, I might as well, at least the kids would not be exposed to the radical left leaning ways you present.
    God help this country.

    1. So much anger. So many words. So little logic.

    2. What do you consider the most liberal about his post. The part where he is ripping Obama's Secretary of Education or the part where he rips the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act? And since when exactly are all teachers "liberal"? Do you have some evidence that right wing leaning teachers have more success with their students... You are kind of a moron.

  3. Anonymous....most people would be absolutely delighted if all that happened in education today would be objective skill learning. No wonder people don't want their kids going to liberal education centers (k-12 public schools). public education is soooooooo far from objective skill development that it's insane. Absolutely insane, and you left leaning folks are so indoctrinated, that you actually believe your own state of mind, and are ignorant and too high and mighty to see what you have done to this country.

    1. Not really worth responding to. Except to apply a quote from Shakespeare to you:

      "Not Hercules
      Could have knocked out his brains,
      for he had none."

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  5. Funny how in a free country liberals always have to respond in DEFENSE by saying...'Oh, so angry'. Stop reading emotion into what is not emotional. You simply avoid the perspective of those you do not agree with, and it is in your word that you do this. You are no different than all other liberals avoiding, to a detriment, what isn't working in this country, only to save your cushy pension, while you stroll around the country touting your greatness.

    1. I don't argue with fools; I feel it's beneath my dignity.

      I just delete their comments and hope you have a nice day.

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  11. Some poor benighted soul keeps making crazy comments; so I keep deleting them.

  12. This blog is a magnificent source of helpful information! Will you be mind if I reblog some of your posts on my personal blog?

    1. Please do. Are you a teacher? Spread the word; I think we are falsely accused of being to blame for what ails American education.

  13. I find it unreasonable to expect kids to come to school fed, rested, and to do thier homework. Damn liberals. That's what wrong with education today.