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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Failing Fordham and the Journal Sentinel

(Bumped from the misc. list below.)

The state's largest daily paper followed up yesterday's love note to the MPS superintendent--literally re-imagining him as the hero in a spy movie--with another in its series on how the Wisconsin DPI is failing miserably. I found this part the most interesting:
In the Fordham report, Wisconsin's academic standards in five areas were given poor grades: A "C" in English, a "D" in math and "F's" in U.S. history, world history and science. The overall grade of "D-" was down from "C-" when Fordham did a similar report in 2000--although [Deputy State Superintendent Tony] Evers noted that Wisconsin's standards have not themselves changed over that period.
That's my emphasis there on the sentence that should have sent up red flags all over the newsroom and editors' desks. It clearly raises questions about the Fordham's study's methodology. I'm not sure what they are specifically; Xoff, on the other hand, has a pretty good idea. He cites Gerald Bracey's analysis of the 2000 study:
The problem with the evaluations is a simple one: the states’ rankings for quality of standards are inverse to their performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). That is, the same states that have done the best job in the eyes of the Fordham report’s authors in implementing high standards have shown the poorest performance on widely accepted national tests for student achievement, and vice versa.
Seth does a bit of an update of Bracey's work:
Out of the fifty states plus the District of Columbia, there were 9 that received a grade of B- or higher in the Fordham study. [. . .] Wisconsin was given a D- in the Fordham study. Yet, when we take a look at the NAEP reports [. . .] on student performance for 2005, Wisconsin ranks higher than all of the nine states [with a B- or higher] except Massachusetts.
Seth's got the links to prove it, so click through if you doubt me.

I commented on this series about the DPI's supposed failure back in June, doing some of this same kind of research to show that the doom-and-gloom proclamations from out-of-state "think tanks" don't match reality here on the ground. This should not be new news to anyone. (Note that the other stories in paper's series are conveniently linked in the sidebar of the current story.)

Alan Borsuk has access to all of the same data--probably a lot more--that Xoff, Seth, and I do; he should have been able to put the Fordham and other studies into much better context than he did. Instead, he protests that his story is balanced (my emphasis again):
But the three education advocates interviewed Monday [. . .] come from varying places on the political spectrum [. . .] Fordham is politically conservative, but the Education Trust and Education Sector are each harder to peg politically. However, both generally favor the approach to raising student achievement that underlies No Child Left Behind, which became law in 2002.
Yes! We talked to three people on the same side of the issue! But they were different people! That's balance!

It's crap, is what it is.

I'm not suggesting that there is no room for improvement, either in the Milwaukee schools or state-wide (we need to recapture the number one ACT spot back from Minnesota!). If I thought we were as good as we were going to get I'd quit teaching and move on to something else that sorely needs improvement (like journalism?).

Instead, I'm suggesting that biased or unreliable reports about Wisconsin's performance don't deserve front-page, unrebutted status. In June, I noted that the week before the study saying how badly Wisconsin was doing--another front-page story--the paper had buried on page 8B the story of our state's fourth-place score on the NAEP science exam. Some of us think that our successes are front-page news, not these questionable-on-their-faces think-tank "studies."

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