Monday, May 22, 2006

The Spellings Report: The Secretary's Fuzzy Math

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has written an op/ed piece that appeared in the Poughkeepsie Journal just the other day. Titled, "Accountability Plus Standards Equals Success" it makes for interesting reading:
In the past, education reform was like the weather—everyone talked about it, but no one ever seemed to do much about it. That all changed four years ago with the bipartisan passage of the No Child Left Behind Act. Now, the talk in New York, and elsewhere, is about improving schools and rising test scores.

"Elementary schoolchildren are getting a better education, and the achievement gap is continuing to close," New York state Education Commissioner Richard Mills said last year.

"Now we can see elementary schoolchildren in the highest-need schools improving year after year," Regents Chancellor Robert M. Bennett agreed.

What's the key to this success? No Child Left Behind has changed the equation on reform. For years, we poured new money into the same old education system, which yielded the same old outcomes—stagnant reading and math scores and a growing achievement gap between rich and poor and black and white.

The act has introduced high standards and accountability to the equation. Schools are now responsible for measuring and improving student performance in grades 3-8, toward full grade-level proficiency in reading and math by 2014. This is an achievable goal, and not too much to ask; in fact, some schools have already achieved 100 percent proficiency.

Under the law, all categories of students, including minorities, English-language learners and students with disabilities or from disadvantaged families, must show improvement. This is what is meant by "no child left behind."

To meet these higher standards, resources have been increased as well. Federal education spending for New York's schools has risen by 44 percent, including $1.2 billion in Title I funding to help the Empire State's neediest children.

In the past, additional federal dollars often meant new federal mandates. Under the act, funds can be used for innovative and individually tailored programs, such as Reading First, which trains teachers in scientifically proven instructional methods, or after-school instruction, such as Hyde Park school district's Saturday morning math classes for middle school students.

The results have been clear and unmistakable. In New York, fourth-grade math achievement rose 11 points between 2002 and 2004. Meanwhile, the achievement gaps between white and Hispanic and white and black fourth-graders fell by 10 points. Last year, a record 70 percent of fourth-graders met all state learning standards in English, 22 points better than in 1999—including, for the first time, a majority of black and Hispanic students.

In short, the act is working as advertised. It has defied the critics who argued its high standards were unrealistic and would unfairly "stigmatize" our schools. On the contrary, the number of schools missing their academic goals in New York fell by 4 percent last year. "The standards under NCLB were higher this year," Mills noted, "yet fewer schools are being named as in need of improvement."

The worst thing we could do now is to stop this reform in its tracks when students reach grade nine. Everywhere I go I hear about the need for reform of our nation's high schools. Less than half of all high school graduates are prepared for college-level math and science coursework, according to ACT.

And America's 15-year-olds rank 24th out of 29 developed nations in mathematics literacy and problem-solving. In this changed, competitive world, warns Micro-soft Chairman Bill Gates, "I would rather be a genius born in China than an average guy born in Poughkeepsie."

President Bush's new High School Reform Initiative would extend the act's accountability principles to grades 9-12 while helping older students struggling with reading or math. And his American Competitiveness Initiative would commit nearly $6 billion to strengthen mathematics, science and critical foreign language instruction and expand Advanced Placement testing in middle and high school.

We now know what works—higher standards and accountability. Our dedicated teachers, principals and administrators have turned these principles into real results for our kids. They deserve the chance to do so once again.
Did you notice that the Secretary's equation (Accountability + Standards = Success) doesn't add up? Spellings' so-called "equation for success" is missing one key component that is found in just about every successful academic program.


Unlike Secretary Spellings, who has never worked with real kids in a classroom or anywhere else, those of us who have know that without parental support, the odds that any given student will succeed academically become much longer.

As is the case with nearly all of Spellings utterances, she completely neglects to mention the vital role played by parents in the educational process.

But some things she rarely forgets to mention in her public remarks. As one can see, Spellings just loves repeating the U.S. Department of Education's favorite shibboleth, "In God we trust, all others bring data."

Heh. Maybe Madame Secretary should practice what she preaches and authorize a study in order to see how American parents compare with parents of other countries when it comes to helping their children with their homework assignments. I wonder if there is a corralation?

And I find it fascinating that while the secreatary brags about increased funding, classroom teachers in our mid-sized school district here in California haven't had any kind of increase in take-home pay in nearly five years even though test scores have increased each year.

Administrators, on the other hand, have had their salaries increased by 4-6% each and every one of those years. They get their insurance covered too.

I wonder why neither Spellings nor the Governator ever have anything to say about that?
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