Ravitch releases her own report card on state K-12 policy

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Diane Ravitch released her own K-12 state policy report card today:

And it is also important to identify states that have weakened public education—by seeking to privatize their schools or turn them into profit-making ventures, as well as states that have aggressively instituted a regime of high stakes testing that unfairly sorts, ranks and demoralizes students, educators and schools.

Unlike other organizations such as The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, whose report cards rank states in  relation to their willingness to privatize public education and weaken the status of the teaching profession, we take another path. We give low marks to states that devalue public education, attack teachers and place high stakes outcomes on standardized tests.

But…..there seems to be no consideration of outcomes going on in Little Ramona‘s report card. She pulled together some University of Arizona College of Education folks and they gave states a grade on various policies like “No High Stakes Testing” and “Resistance to Privatization” and others. “Chance for Success” is my personal favorite: why gather someone’s opinions about the chance for success rather than measure er actual success? In the Report Card on American Education that I have coauthored/authored for the American Education Exchange Council, we rank states according to the overall NAEP scores and NAEP gains for low-income general education students. We think this is a reasonable approach given the large differences between average family incomes etc. between states. Some disagree (and we claim only that the comparison is reasonable rather than perfect) but at least we are looking at student outcomes, which don’t even constitute an afterthought in Ravitch’s Report Card.

Anyway, my home state of Arizona received an overall grade of “F.” Quelle horreur! 

Strangely enough though, if we conjure up the NAEP data and examine academic progress by state for the period in which all 50 states participated (2003 to 2015) this is what you learn about Arizona: in 4th grade math Arizona had the 9th largest state gains, in 8th grade math the 3rd largest. In 4th grade reading Arizona students had the 17th largest gain and in 8th grade reading the 2nd largest state gain.

Ah well Arizona’s demographics became more favorable during this period. Nope-economy got drop kicked and the student population moved to majority minority status. Yeah but spending went way up. Er, no, it actually went down after the Great Recession. But maybe the scores would have gone up even more without all of these terrible policies! Mmm hmmm….and maybe there is a breeding population of aquatic dinosaurs in Loch Ness as well. What do you mean no credible evidence? Maybe they eat their dead so dino bodies don’t wash up on shore. I mean it could be something stranger still going on.

Seems legit…

A few years ago I successfully campaigned to receive the first (and as far as I know still only!) Lifetime Bunkum Award from Reactionaries-R-Us. In that same spirit, I can’t wait to see what happens with Arizona’s gains once we earn our way to the first Ravitch F-minus!

UPDATE: I recalled the the University of Arizona College of Education played a large role in the creation of a charter school in Tucson called the Wildcat School. The Arizona Daily Star reported “When it opened, it was lauded as the first charter school to have an affiliation with a state university. Its goal was to provide an academically rigorous math- and science-focused education for low-income students.”

The school closed in 2013 after receiving two “D” grades in a row and facing the prospect of a third, which would have qualified the school for state intervention. The Board President, a professor at the U of A College of Education Professor explained “We just know we weren’t making the achievement test scores that we needed to make. I’m not sure I have an explanation for that,” he said. “We just faced the reality that we needed to act in a way that was best for the families and students in our school.”

Kudos to the board for pulling the plug on something that wasn’t working for kids. If I were a cynic I might note that they made a rational decision after getting themselves in over their heads, facing the prospect of an increasingly embarrassing situation. Thus under this uncharitable view they made the right call to pull the band-aid off rather than have things get progressively worse. You might very well think that, but I of course could never be so cynical. Ever. Ravitch hires University of Arizona ed school profs to grade state K-12 policies, they give Arizona and F. Meanwhile Arizona comes near first in overall NAEP gains. Professors from the same department essentially create their own charter school and it folds. Meanwhile Arizona’s charter schools rock the 2015 NAEP like a New England state.

I’m pretty sure I do have an explanation for that and it’s fairly straightforward- no aquatic dinos eating dead aquatic dino explanations necessary.



9 Responses to Ravitch releases her own report card on state K-12 policy

  1. Greg Forster says:

    You have the causal arrow backwards at the end there, Matt. You don’t get an F- from Little Ramona and then see your scores go up. You see your scores go up and then get an F- from Little Ramona. Because states that enact school choice and get better even as spending falls and demographics become more challenging must be punished!

  2. matthewladner says:

    Hmmm….I’m not sure. Ramona seems utterly unconcerned with scores, so it could come down to lag times. Does the next edition come out with the F minus before the next NAEP in 2017?

  3. George Mitchell says:

    One of Ravitch’s ranking criteria is “Spend Taxpayer Resources Wisely.” As Rick Hanushek demonstrates in a recent EdNext article, the pupil-teacher ratio has declined to 16:1 fro 27:1 and real per pupil spending has quadrupled since 1955. Given Ravitch’s grades, one might conclude that her new-found allies have not done a very good job over the last half century.

  4. George Mitchell says:

    She asserts that the doors of public schools are open to all regardless of disability. This is offensive to the very large group of Americans who have the agonizing personal experience of knowing that this is a lie.

  5. Tunya Audain says:

    Paradigm Differences Rob Kids Of Life Chances

    Just as we tolerate legitimate religious differences — do we equally tolerate differences in education paradigms? Should we?

    Obviously, Diane Ravitch comes from a very different worldview than some others in the education reform field. Her dedication is to the “teacher empowerment” side of things, and of course, student outcomes are not on the checklist of priorities. Preserving an intact system for teacher security is a priority.

    To try to refute this Report’s “research” is to slide down the same rabbit hole that the Whole-Language movement led for the last 35 years. W-L “research” has always been shaky to outsiders, but not to the followers in the movement. The best article on this “paradigm blindness” is explained by one of the top leaders of W-L crusade, Carole Edelsky — “Whose Agenda Is It Anyway?” Outsider measures just cannot apply to us, therefore don’t bother! (Academics should find this easily through their access privileges.)

    What the Ravitch collaborative deplores is the disassembling of the status quo, which is seriously threatened by the likes of vouchers, parent trigger, charters, and ESAs (Education Savings Accounts). In the Report the term used is ESEAs — is that a misspelling or are ESAs also called ESEAs?

    Leakage from the mass-production public education system must be reduced, implies the Report. I theorize that the 5 ESA states, and probably even Oklahoma, were Exhibit A passed on to the evaluation designers at the University as a starting point from which to build the case for the Report. Contrived “standards” were then developed. Switching from one catchment area to another was a grave NO NO, for example. It is no surprise that AZ, FL, TN, MS, NV & OK are at the bottom of the 50 states that don’t fit the Report’s basics for their ideal schooling system.

    Fulfilling the education needs of children is not a priority in this Report but is in the ESA movement. What a pity that people have to fight so hard for the freedom and choices to do what’s best for children !

  6. prgibbons says:

    I love how Iowa and New Hampshire gets high marks for integration… I bet the “chance for success” highly correlates with income per capita and whiteness…

  7. mike g says:

    U of A story makes me think that some enterprising writer should track down ALL the charters started by Ed Schools. Another failure that comes to mind is Stanford’s. If you add in the general notion of “starting a public school that serves poor children,” Columbia U has a real struggler (they chose to make it non-charter).

    I suspect the narrative if we could find 10 examples would be….Ed Schools are the least successful charter founders/operators.

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