The one thing you can say about both state and federal politicians and their appointees when it comes to education reform is that they are consistent. They are consistently wrong, but they are consistent.
The latest high profile foolishness comes from United States Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in a press release sharing her reaction to how poorly 290,000 fourth- and eighth-grade public school students performed on the 2019 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) math and reading exams. These tests are administered every other year to “a representative percentage” of students, and, according to Ms. DeVos, this year’s results were alarming, with eighth grade reading scores declining in over half of the states. In typical political hyperbole, Ms. DeVos suggests the results “should be America’s wake-up call.”
One would hope it would serve as her wake-up call, too, but she remains in a deep slumber. Instead of using the results to drive meaningful discussions about how and why children become successful, she misuses them to promote her school choice agenda, which is the only reason she was appointed to her position by President Trump. Her selection certainly wasn’t due to her unmatched expertise in child development. The school choice initiative, promoted primarily by Republicans, is one of the great and most expensive political shams perpetrated on the American public.
Sometimes one has to wonder if the politicians and their appointees Vern read the press releases written for them, because they sound so foolish. For example, DeVos said, “We can neither excuse them (poor test scores) away, nor simply throw more money at the problem.” Of course, she said this while revealing her intention to spend $5 billion more on her school choice program, even as the NAEP test results she touts show that students attending charter schools regularly perform more poorly than students in traditional public schools.
In other words, despite what she says, her plan for education reform is to throw more money at the problem, specifically on a program that has been proven not to make a difference.
By the way, in case you’re interested, the money she will be wasting is yours and mine.
One only needs to watch her abysmal performance on the March 11, 2018, interview on “Sixty Minutes” to witness her lack of knowledge regarding education “reform.” It is mind boggling, but not at all unusual, that a person who knows so little about education would be put in charge of education.
But, that’s politics for you.
Ms. DeVos even admitted the test scores show, “The gap between the highest and lowest performing students is widening, despite $1 trillion dollars in Federal spending over forty years designed specifically to help close it.”
If you need that comment translated, the Secretary of Education for the United States of America admits that a TRILLION of our tax dollars has been wasted on politically created education reform programs that have not worked. Then, she says the solution is to spend another five billion dollars expanding a politically created education reform program that has not worked.
And, that doesn’t include the hundreds of millions of dollars Ohio’s legislators have also wasted on failed programs.
You cannot make this stuff up.
The NAEP web site suggests these exams are important because “they are helping inform decisions about how to improve the education system in our country.” That would certainly be a noble mission if, in fact, that was what was occurring.
But, alas, it is not.
For decades, politicians and policy wonks have pretended as if schools exist in a vacuum, unaffected by external factors such as a child’s home life, environment, genetics, and self-motivation. In doing so, they have bamboozled the public into believing student achievement is solely the school’s responsibility and it can be fixed by throwing more money into failed programs while living by the axiom, “If you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth.”
No, it doesn’t.
For someone in DeVos’s position to merely regurgitate only the statistics that appear to justify her school choice agenda is particularly dishonest and egregious. Why, for example, as she touts spending another $5 billion on school choice, doesn’t she share that students who attend charter schools, as a rule, score worse on the NAEP than students who attend public schools?
Or, as she expresses her disgust at the final test results, why doesn’t she discuss the impact including students with learning disabilities and those who do not speak English has on final results? Or, why doesn’t she tell us that the highest achieving students have improved over time while the lowest achieving have regressed? Or, why doesn’t she acknowledge that there is a direct correlation between parents’ education levels and their children’s test performance?
Why doesn’t she seek the answer, for example, as to why Asian students regularly outperform every other student group on exams like this, why test result mirror students’ economic standing, or why some students in the same school enjoy great success while others do not?
On the NAEP’s own web site, under a section labeled, “Cautions in Interpretations,” it reads, “Inferences related to student group performance or to the effectiveness of public or nonpublic schools, for example, should take into consideration the many socioeconomic and educational factors that may also have an impact on student performance.”
In other words, it warns against using the test data in exactly the way the Secretary of Education has done to legitimize her school choice agenda.
And, that’s really all you need to know.
Tom Dunn is the former superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.