Wednesday Reading List: The Nation's ... Report Card?

The annual results of the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) - otherwise known as the "nation's report card" - came out yesterday. Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat looked at the data and found little to celebrate:

The 2017 results also mean that the U.S. has seen its test scores largely stagnate for a decade, after 10 years of substantial gains in math. The country’s “achievement gaps” between black and white students, and between low-income and affluent students, have also largely held steady over the last 10 years. “I’m pleased that eighth-grade reading scores improved slightly but remain disappointed that only about one-third of America’s fourth- and eighth-grade students read at the NAEP Proficient level,” said former Michigan Governor John Engler, the chair of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the tests. “We are seeing troubling gaps between the highest- and lowest-performing students. We must do better for all children.”

Barnum notes that it's almost impossible to attribute the scores to any particular educational policy, as laws and regulations vary so widely from state to state. Still, it's striking that, on an internationally benchmarked test, only about 1/3 of all American students are at a level that experts would consider "proficient."

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Sarah Sparks of Education Week looked at data for subgroups:

Achievement gaps remained stubbornly wide for particular student groups, too. In grade 4 math, the average achievement fell by four scale points for students with disabilities, two points for urban students, and one point for students in poverty. No other grade or subject showed changes for individual student groups. Over the past decade, the results for students with special needs have been grimmer. Students with disabilities nationwide had an average scale score of 214 out of 500 in 4th grade reading in 2017, right at the cutoff for NAEP's "basic" level of performance. That's the lowest average performance for this group since 2003. At 8th grade, students with disabilities had an average score of 247, about the same as a decade ago, and down from a high of 250 in 2011. Similarly, 8th grade English-language learners have not improved significantly in reading since 2003.

It is important to juxtapose the stagnation in performance improvements, against the backlash towards education policy reforms. Some parties were justifiably miffed by the pace and tenor of change during the Obama era, but it's baffling to me that there are still people out there who believe that the status quo in education is acceptable.

In the meantime, Alia Wong of The Atlantic thinks we should be paying attention to the bigger picture of teacher strikes:

The Oklahoma teachers’ strike has a lot in common with an earlier strike last month in West Virginia, where classrooms across all of its 55 counties were shuttered for nine school days. Like West Virginia’s teachers, educators in Oklahoma are demanding higher pay and better benefits—but they’re also similarly driven by an underlying mission to improve the quality of public education offered in their state ... In these states (and potentially others yet to come), a strike may be the most effective pathway for securing more investment in public schools and creating educational equity ... Historically, the courts have led the way on that conversation, mandating certain funding levels or desegregation, but the judiciary has in recent decades retreated from that role. “So what do the people do when the courts are reluctant to intervene and the other branches of government have failed them for so long?” [Professor Joshua] Weishart asked. “They either quietly accept their fate or they publicly resist and demand change.”

Two things to keep in mind here. First, teachers should be compensated much, much better in this country, and striking may be the only way to achieve that goal.

That said, Wong is far too optimistic about the notion that a labor strike will lead to improvements in educational equity, particularly when it comes to student outcomes. I'm not sure what the basis is for her assertion about this, other than wishful thinking.

I would love to see teachers and their professional associations push for the things that we know could improve the quality of public schooling in this country, but my suspicion is that they will be extremely forceful on issues of funding, and silent about other important topics, like teacher quality and data.

Happy to be proven wrong here!

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Two oversimplifications currently define the debate about education policy. On the left, it's the idea that more money alone will improve the quality of public services. On the right, it's the idea that deregulation and market forces are akin to a panacea. Neither idea is anywhere near correct, and after a decade of crippled state and local revenues, driven by the collapse of the economy, there's finally more money to go back into public services. The responsible thing to do would be to both add money to education budgets, AND require concomitant reforms.

I suspect, though, that our policymakers are going to struggle to both walk and chew gum at the same time.

Have a great day!