Valerie Strauss Throws Her Shoe at the Telescreen

May 30, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The never ending two minute hate over at the Answer Sheet blog prints a long write up regarding the parental choice movement by Joanne Barkan. It is generally a color-by-numbers case for the evils of education reform, although I approve of her quoting of Rick Hess, who makes an important point.

Omitted from the saga is the part where school district elections often involve single digit rates for turnout, the decades of steadily increasing spending per pupil without substantially improved student learning outcomes, gigantic equity concerns, etc. These sort of concerns are artfully dodged with a simple “Over time, many Americans came to regard public education as a mainstay of democracy.”

The Emmanuel Goldstein of this story are the various villains supporting charter schools, private school choice, and standardized testing. Draining money, creating a terrible false impression of a non-existent academic crisis, etc.

In response, I offer the following chart from the NAEP. Florida started all of this nasty and brutish testing and choice business around about 1999. They did both of these things with relative gusto. If it is as terrible as all of that, we does NAEP show the percentage of Florida 4th graders unable to make heads or tails of 4th grade math and reading in sharp decline?

The last math NAEP given before the neo-liberal legion of darkness Jeb Bush and company instituted their reforms was 1996. The last reading pre-Jeb reading exam was 1998.

The lost golden age of late 1990s Florida K-12 involved almost half of students scoring below basic on both 4th grade math and reading. Sure Florida may have a much more diverse student body today than in 1998, and more of them seem to be learning, but ah, well, maybe it would have been even more progress if not for any of that nasty reform business, but color me skeptical.


“How Do You Sleep at Night?”

February 7, 2012

Just fine, thank you.

But some teachers seem determined to disturb the sleep of people who do research they dislike.  When Heritage’s Jason Richwine co-authored a study on teacher pay, he received a message from his child’s second grade teacher asking him, “How do you sleep at night?”

Note that the teacher did not ask him to describe the source of the data analyzed or defend the interpretation of results.  The teacher was just engaged in bullying, a practice that schools say they are trying to discourage.  And part of the bullying is the not so subtle reminder that the teacher has Richwine’s children all day.  Parents are (at least partially) compelled to send their children to the care of adults who may threaten you if you say things they dislike.

Imagine a doctor similarly bullying a patient who advocated for reductions in Medicare reimbursement rates.  I imagine the doctor could face disciplinary action from licensing authorities for unethical conduct.  If teachers want to be treated as professionals, then they have to abide by professional norms of behavior, including separating one’s personal feelings from one’s job.

Most teachers do behave professionally, but these outbursts are not as rare as they should be.  Unfortunately, the teacher unions and their advocates, like Diane Ravitch and Valerie Strauss, encourage strident views and confrontational tactics that make unprofessional behavior far more likely.

Long run, it’s a bad strategy for teachers to get their way in policy disputes by threatening and intimidating parents.  It takes a couple hundred ads about teachers buying school supplies with their own funds to counter one such incident.

WaPo on Florida Reforms

April 2, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Nick Anderson of the Washington Post ran a very nice story on Governor Jeb Bush’s education reform efforts.  A couple of quotes, first from our friend Mike Petrilli:

He is the standard-bearer,” said Michael J. Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative-leaning education think tank. “Those governors who are going to have religion on education reform are looking to him to be their mentor.”

and from Paul G. Pastorek, Louisiana’s superintendent of education:

Arne and Jeb are really the most influential people at the national level right now pushing college and career readiness for our kids and improvement for our schools,” said Paul G. Pastorek, Louisiana’s superintendent of education and a Republican. “Jeb is working with statehouses and state leaders to directly impact the agenda. He is above all others on the issue among Republicans.”

Of course, journalistic ethics require “balance” and this is where it gets fun:

Many Democrats and labor leaders denounce the Bush agenda. They say that vouchers drain funding from public education and that grades of D and F stigmatize schools that need help. Critics also say other policies he espouses — including merit pay — are unfair to teachers and rely too much on standardized tests.

Florida’s academic gains, critics say, could have been much larger if Bush had sought more collaboration.

“He doesn’t believe in bringing people along with him,” said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, the state teachers union. “He just forces his will on everybody.”

Ford said many teachers were irate that Obama shared a platform in Miami with a former governor who fought the union almost nonstop for eight years. “The White House is on the wrong track by associating with Jeb Bush,” he said.

Don’t worry Andy, Governor Bush is bringing plenty of people along with him. Someday even you reactionary types may come around, but no one has time to wait for that.  As for “the gains would have been much larger if Governor Bush had sought more collaboration” claim,  strangely enough, Florida has had the largest NAEP score gains in the country. Try again. As for the President associating with Governor Bush, well, who wouldn’t want to associate with results like these:

Not to be outdone by Ford, Valerie Strauss over at the WaPo Answer Sheet Blog grasps at some additional straws:

The first is Bush’s own creation of the Florida Reading Research Center, a state technical assistance agency solely focused on providing reading assistance — complete with reading coaches — in elementary schools so that kids could read by the time they graduate third grade.

It would be hard to argue that this wasn’t a big reason for the rise in Florida’s fourth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress, the grade and area where the state saw the highest gains under Bush.

The former governor also never mentions any possible effects from a class-size reduction referendum in the state which he opposed but was approved anyway by voters early in his tenure.

Dorn, in a Q & A I did with him late last year, also noted that Bush was governor during a real-estate boom that allowed per-pupil expenditures in Florida to rise 19 percent. That allowed schools to hire hundreds of reading coaches. But, said Dorn: “That kind of money is not available in any state right now, and I suspect a number of states will be in for a rude shock when they try the symbolic step of assigning letter grades to schools without supporting instruction.”

Let’s take these one at a time:

1. Governor Bush happily acknowledges that the reading improvement effort strongly contributed to the overall effort to improve literacy.  No one necessarily needs to create the State X Reading Research Center. If they want to hit the ground running they can use the Florida Reading Research Center’s research.

2. The class size initiative wasn’t implemented until last year and a Harvard study found it had nothing to do with the improvement in Florida, a result consistent with the vast majority of decades of empirical research.

3. The Digest of Education Statistics shows Florida’s increase in per pupil spending as smaller than the national average during Governor Bush’s term in office, and below the national average in absolute terms.

Bless their hearts, the edu-reactionaries come across as a bit desperate to spin their way to a story that will justify what seems to be their goal: a yet more expensive version of today’s failed status-quo.  No one should take this the least bit seriously, as we cannot afford it, and it wouldn’t work anyway. States around the country are drawing inspiration from the Florida reforms for a reason, and Governor Bush is the first one to emphasize that the Florida cocktail was state of the art, cutting edge reform in 1999. Today’s reformers can take Florida’s reforms as their floor, rather than their ceiling.

Has the Washington Post lost their BS detector?

January 21, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Valerie Strauss over at the Answer Sheet put up a guest post from a fellow Arizonan, Michael Martin, who is a research analyst at the Arizona School Boards Association, about the “real” source of Florida’s education gains.

I’ve never met Martin, but was taken aback a few years ago when he authored a column in the Arizona Republic claiming that the state ought not to take over the Roosevelt School District, one of the worst in Arizona. Martin made this claim based on the assertion that there was a massive incidence of lead poisoning in the district.

I thought that this was an extraordinary claim to make that ought to be incredibly alarming to parents in the district. I spoke to local health officials, who assured me that there was zero evidence to support such an irresponsible claim. I called on Martin to provide evidence to support the notion that South Phoenix kids had been turned into uncontrollable lead poison zombies.

Strangely enough, I never heard back from him. But other than that, I’m sure he is a swell guy.

Now in the WaPo blog, Martin spins a yarn about Florida NAEP scores which is far beyond absurd. The first clue that something is wrong here comes in the fact that the Arizona School Boards Association disavowed the “analysis.”

Good move on their part.

So go read the thing for yourself. People in the comments section began to decimate the Martin analysis, but the comments section is now closed. When they were closed, no one had yet made the most obvious possible criticism.

I’ll give you a hint: according the the National Center for Education Statistics there are 4,491 district run schools in the state of Florida.

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