UPDATED: From Spellings to Duncan [Add King]: Incompetence and Deceit

NOTE: With the appointment of John King to replace Duncan, consider this Tweet from Bruce Baker:

While Secretary of Education (2005-2009), Margaret Spellings announced that a jump of 7 points in NAEP reading scores from 1999-2005 was proof No Child Left Behind was working. The problem, however, was in the details:

During President George W. Bush’s tenure, NCLB was a corner stone of his agenda, and when then-Secretary Spellings announced that test scores were proving NCLB a success, Gerald Bracey and Stephen Krashenexposed one of two possible problems with the data. Spellings either did not understand basic statistics or was misleading for political gain. Krashen detailed the deception or ineptitude by showing that the gain Spellings noted did occur from 1999 to 2005, a change of seven points. But he also revealed that the scores rose as follows: 1999 = 212; 2000 = 213; 2002 = 219; 2003 = 218 ; 2005 = 219. The jump Spellings used to promote NCLB and Reading First occurred from 2000 to 2002, before the implementation of Reading First. Krashen notes even more problems with claiming success for NCLB and Reading First, including:

“Bracey (2006) also notes that it is very unlikely that many Reading First children were included in the NAEP assessments in 2004 (and even 2005). NAEP is given to nine year olds, but RF is directed at grade three and lower. Many RF programs did not begin until late in 2003; in fact, Bracey notes that the application package for RF was not available until April, 2002.”

With the 2013 release of NAEP data, then, shouldn’t we be skeptical of Duncan’s rush to claim victory for education reform under Obama?:

This year, Tennessee and the District of Columbia, which have both launched high-profile efforts to strengthen education by improving teacher evaluations and by other measures, showed across-the-board growth on the test compared to 2011, likely stoking more debate. Only the Defense Department schools also saw gains in both grade levels and subjects.

In Hawaii, which has also seen a concentrated effort to improve teaching quality, scores also increased with the exception of fourth grade reading. In Iowa and Washington state, scores increased except in 8th-grade math.

Specifically pointing to Tennessee, Hawaii and D.C., Education Secretary Arne Duncan said on a conference call with reporters that many of the changes seen in these states were “very, very difficult and courageous” and appear to have had an impact.

Duncan’s claims, in fact, have prompted The Wall Street Journal to announce “School Reform Delivers”:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan hailed this year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (i.e., the nation’s report card) results on Thursday as “encouraging.” That’s true only if you look at Washington, D.C., Tennessee and states that have led on teacher accountability and other reforms….

However, a handful of states did post significant gains, and the District of Columbia and Tennessee stand out. Until very recently, Washington, D.C. was an example of public school failure. Then in 2009 former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee implemented more rigorous teacher evaluations that place a heavy emphasis on student learning. The district also tied pay to performance evaluations and eliminated tenure so that ineffective teachers could be fired.

Between 2010 and 2012, about 4% of D.C. teachers—and nearly all of those rated “ineffective”—were dismissed. About 30% of teachers rated “minimally effective” left on their own, likely because they didn’t receive a pay bump and were warned that they could be removed within a year if they failed to shape up.

Clearing out the deadwood appears to have lifted scores.

As I warned on the release date of NAEP, we should anticipate this careless and unsupported eagerness to use NAEP data as evidence of corporate reform success.

Jim Horn has highlighted that NAEP shows a powerful picture of the growing problem with re-segregation and the entrenched reality of racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps—messages ignored by Duncan. At the very least, then, Duncan is cherry-picking.

Gary Rubinstein has also dismantled the DC NAEP “miracle,” and G.F. Brandenburg provides a clear chart showing that DC gains are a continuation of a trend pre-Rhee, and thus before the policies praised by Duncan. As Rubinstein concludes:

I’m still pretty confident that in the long run education reform based primarily on putting pressure on teachers and shutting down schools for failing to live up to the PR of charter schools will not be good for kids or for the country, in general.  I hope politicians won’t accept the first ‘gains’ chart without putting it into context with the rest of the data.

With the USDOE at Duncan’s disposal, it seems careless and inexcusable to make unproven claims that policy has caused test score changes when no one has had time to analyze the data in order to make such claims.

As Bruce Baker explains, after showing making causational claims between reform policy and NAEP gains is tenuous at best:

Is Tennessee’s 2-year growth an anomaly? We’ll have to wait at least another two years to figure that out [emphasis added]. Was it caused by teacher evaluation policies? That’s really unlikely, given that those states that are equally and even further above their expectations have approached teacher evaluation in very mixed ways and other states that had taken the reformy lead on teacher policies – Louisiana and Colorado – fall well below expectations.

Like Spellings, Duncan proves that he is either unqualified to be Secretary of Education due to a lack of understanding of statistics or that he is willing to place partisan politics above what is best for children and public education. Either way, this is yet another example of failure from the top in the world of education reform and politics—as well as the likelihood that the mainstream media will continue to play along.

9 comments

  1. Pingback: From Spellings to Duncan: Using NAEP as Policy Propaganda – @ THE CHALK FACE
  2. freetoteach

    Publicity and air war surrounding NAEP results are just the fig leaves for inequality and poverty – nothing more but a lot less for children and the future.

    Yes, the tests and punishments are working Maggie. Hope you are enjoying golf with your Boss, Geroge W., who says he has few regrets.

    When will they start taxing the data collectors at a reasonable rate?
    Oh, that’s not on the test so how would anyone even know to ask the question?

    Christie got re-elected in New Jersey by a landslide. That’s what happens when social studies, civics and current events are practically banned from the curriculum.
    New Jersey gets a lying bully who cuts education funding, promotes vouchers and charter schools, vetoes same sex marriage, and won’t raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires, but he still gets elected for a second term.

  3. Pingback: An Arne Duncan Reader: Let’s Have that Conversation – @ THE CHALK FACE
  4. Pingback: The Duncan Debacle: It’s Not (Just) about Duncan | the becoming radical
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  6. Pingback: Paul Thomas: The Politics of White Outrage–and My Dissent | Diane Ravitch's blog
  7. Pingback: What Is Only PISA Stat that Matters? – @ THE CHALK FACE
  8. Pingback: Spellings Doubles-Down on “Incredibly Complicated” High-Stakes Testing – @ THE CHALK FACE
  9. Pingback: Once Again, NAEP? Nope: “states and schools have lied about the rigor of their courses” | the becoming radical

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