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The Art of Teaching Science: Low Levels & Bottom-Feeders: Education Through the Eyes of Educationnext

A colleague in Massachusetts alerted me to an article in Educationnext, an opinion and research site sponsored by the Hoover Institution and The Thomas Fordham Institute. The article, written by the editor-in-chief of Educationnext, Paul E. Peterson, and Peter Kaplan, an undergraduate, describes the view from these two men at Harvard and what they think of American education.

They are unhappy with the state of American education, and continue the right-wing cleansing of schools by claiming that American teachers are setting the bars so low that we come in at the bottom (feeders) of international test comparisons.

Educationnext claims to measure state proficiency standards over time, and change these metrics to marks or grades, A – F. The Thomas Fordham Institute did a similar mathematical trick by grading state science standards against the Next Generation Science Standards. You can read about Fordham’s grading technique applied to science here and here.

Educationnext is also the publisher of articles by Kate Walsh of the National Council of Teacher Quality (NCTQ). NCTQ is leading the assault on teacher preparation, and just recently conspired with U.S. News and World Report to on teacher education at American universities. The NCTQ report was rated junk science not only by this blog’s author, but many other people and institutions.

Common Core

Now comes a new publication, entitled Despite Common Core, States Still Lack Common Standards by the editor-in-chief of Educationnext resurrecting the argument that American education is losing out to the rest of the industrialized nations in math and reading. Using the Olympic “high jump” of setting the bar high or low, Peterson and Kaplan (an undergraduate in political science) claim that too many states have set their “proficiency” bar too low. They suggest that states do this because it would cause less embarrassment.

But don’t worry, say the authors. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are here. And the CCSS administrators have set the bars high to match (according to these conservative reformers) international “benchmarks” that will bring American kids up to where they should be. And if American kids don’t do this, then our economy will tank, and they won’t get jobs. This is hogwash.

Voodoo Math

Image 7-12-13 at 7.21 PMBack to the article. The authors claim to estimate each state’s real standards using Voodoo math. Using voodoo math, they then use their calculations to grade each state in math and reading at the 4th and 8th grade levels for 2003, 2005, 2007, 2011, even though 2003 and 2005 data are missing. The use of grades by these two authors demeans again the work of thousands of teachers across the country. But that is what they are about.

There is no credible evidence that Peterson and Kaplan have unveiled a method to compare standards across the country. If they looked at the literature they would find that researchers who have attempted this have found that student achievement is “unrelated” to the height of the skill bar set by the various states. To spend this time on highlighting standards by grading the states camouflages the issues that determine the quality of education in American schools, and that is poverty.

The authors are optimistic, however. They put it is way:

But states are not doomed to bottom-feeding status.

That’s right. Across the country there are states that are, in their words, “bottom-feeders,” a kind of lowlife, riffraff, or bottom feeding invertebrate. According to the authors there has been a convergence among the states. You need to go to their article and look at their voodoo math that helps them set up trends in state proficiency standards over time.

The article, like others reviewed on Educationnext should be read carefully, but we must be cautious about any results that they report.

What do you think about this article on Educationnext? Do you think that comparing standards across states is valid, according to the authors?

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Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a former high school science teacher and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University. While at Georgia State he was coordina...