(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.
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.