"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, November 17, 2013

How's that RttT Working for You, Massachusetts?

Massachusetts has been on the corporate education bandwagon since 1993 with the coming of MCAS, and in recent years the corporate PR machines have made the world aware of how much further ahead MA is in the international testing derbies and on NAEP.  

Last week's appearance of new NAEP scores gave us a chance to have a fresh look at where MA stands in relation to the other states.  Even though the CorpEd pols in MA do not acknowledge the fact, we should point out that MA started far ahead of the national average in reading and math (both 4th and 8th grade) in 1992, when the last generation of testing accountability got underway.  Since the 1990s, in fact, MA has gained nothing on the national average score in 4th and 8th grade reading and math, while gaining 11 points in 8th grad math and 3 points against the national average in 8th grade reading.

The latest NAEP results come just a month after the CorpEd's official organ in MA, the Boston Globe, printed an op-ed by Tom Payzant and Elaine Weiss entitled "Race to the Top: Good for Mass, but a Mismatch Overall."  If the 2013 NAEP scores provide at least a tiny indicator of how good RttT has been for MA, we'd have to put aside Payzant and Weiss on this one.  Massachusetts lost ground between 20011 and 2013 in 4th grade (-4) and 8th grade (-2) reading, held its place in 4th grade math, and lost 2 points in 8th grade math.  In fact, MA lost more ground than any other state since 2011.

Two days ago, the MA Secretary of Education, Matt Malone, gave a brief talk followed by a Q-A at UMass Dartmouth.  I was there to present some of the findings from TMoE, and since I had been engrossed in the NAEP data last week, I came with a question, which I had the opportunity to ask:

This year there is a new contender for the top NAEP honors--the Department of Defense schools.  They are nearly half minority, over half qualify for free or reduced priced lunch, they have a 35% annual mobility rate, over 90 percent of parents have only a high school degree.  

DoD schools were exempted from NCLB and RttT, and they have had no MCAS equivalent used to close schools or keep students from graduating. Without NCLB or RttT, they have had
  • no corporate tutoring,
  • no segregated charter schools,
  • no AYP,
  • no school closure and staff firing,
  • no coerced adoption of Common Core,
  • no unscientific growth models,
  • no teacher evaluation based on test scores.
Even without all these corporate ed "advantages," DoD schools have a smaller percentage of "below basic" students than any other state, including MA, and they have a higher percentage of students at "proficiency."  Plus their minority-white achievement gaps are smaller than MA.  

My question, then: what are the benefits of MA's 20 years of corporate education reform that could not have been achieved without it and its accompanying pain, punishment, disruption, and divisiveness?  And can we expect another 20 years of more of the same corporate reforms?

Mr. Malone's did what most good politicians do by answering a question that he, doubtless, would prefer to have been asked, rather than the one I put to him.  He began his response, however, with a claim that DoD schools depended largely upon charter schools to educate our DoD employee's children.  And then he asked me where my accent was from, and told me that he thought I must be nice guy.  

I can live with the patronizing attitude--I have become accustomed to parochial and pedestrian yankee yokels being surprised that Southerners wear shoes, but I can't let the charter claim go without pointing that there are exactly seven (7) charter schools among DoD's 224 schools.  As a good Southerner, I thanked Mr. Malone for his answer and wished him well.  My impression: he ain't no Horace Mann.

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