Seems to describe recent “educational crisis:” Doggone it!
That’s what several of the analysts said after reading David Sirota’s recent column at Salon. In the column, Sirota seemed to describe an “educational crisis” of fairly recent origin.
Is the United States experiencing an “educational crisis?” That’s a matter of semantic preference. But if we are experiencing an educational crisis, it certainly isn’t of recent origin. Test scores for all major student population groups have risen substantially in reading and math over the past several decades.
On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, test scores for black kids and Hispanic kids are way up. You’d almost think that progressive writers would want to proclaim this good news.
Those test scores in reading and math are way up—but very few people have ever heard this encouraging news. You see, powerful folk like to trash public schools and their infernal unionized teachers.
These powerful people constantly say that things have been getting worse, so much worse. They like to compare the present day with some imagined golden age, when American educational performance was just massively better.
This familiar portrait flies in the face of the available evidence. That’s why the analysts were upset with Sirota’s portrait of an educational crisis which seems to have developed since the year 2000.
That said, they had other complaints with Sirota’s piece. Let’s touch on them first.
Question: Where do our most advantaged students rank on international scales?
Sirota makes an obvious point in his column—American children who come from poverty backgrounds tend to do less well in school than their middle-class peers. But at one point, he advanced a bogus claim—a bogus claim many liberals have adopted in recent years:
SIROTA (6/3/13): [A]s Barkan shows, for all the claims that the traditional public school system is flawed, America’s wealthiest traditional public schools happen to be among the world’s highest-achieving schools. Most of those high-performing wealthy public schools also happen to be unionized. If, as “reformers” suggest, the public school system or the presence of organized labor was really the key factor in harming American education, then those wealthy schools would be in serious crisis—and wouldn’t be at the top of the international charts.Sirota is defending teachers unions in that passage. In the process, he makes a bogus, misleading claim.
Do “America’s wealthiest public schools happen to be among the world’s highest-achieving schools?” That sounds impressive, although, in the way Sirota states it, the claim is a bit hard to parse.
This claim has been floating around for years. Here’s what Joanne Barkan said in the piece at Dissent to which Sirota linked and referred:
BARKAN (2011): To justify their campaign, ed reformers repeat, mantra-like, that U.S. students are trailing far behind their peers in other nations, that U.S. public schools are failing. The claims are specious. Two of the three major international tests—the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study and the Trends in International Math and Science Study—break down student scores according to the poverty rate in each school. The tests are given every five years. The most recent results (2006) showed the following: students in U.S. schools where the poverty rate was less than 10 percent ranked first in reading, first in science, and third in math...For the record, the TIMSS was administered in 2007, not in 2006. In the claim we have highlighted, Barkan makes a much more significant error.
The National Center for Educational Statistics reports average TIMSS scores for U.S. schools where fewer than ten percent of the students receive free or reduced price lunch.
Despite Barkan’s representation, that isn’t a measure of “poverty.” But Barkan seems to be citing these statistics as she makes her claim about U.S. schools with low poverty rates.
What's wrong or misleading about Barkan’s claim? For starters, a surprisingly small number of American schools have fewer than ten percent of their students receiving free or reduced priced lunch. In the main, these schools are found in our nation's most upscale neighborhoods.
Kids in those schools are our most advantaged. In the statistics to which Barkan refers, their performance is being compared with the performance of entire student populations, warts and all, from other nations.
Reading Barkan, it may sound like our wealthiest schools outscore the wealthiest schools from all other nations. That isn't what those NCES statistics show or mean.
Duh. It shouldn’t be surprising if our most advantaged student groups produce better average scores than the entire student populations of other nations. This only means that a limited group of advantaged kids can outperform the full range of kids, advantaged and otherwise, from other countries.
There’s nothing surprising about that. And it doesn’t mean that the U.S. schools in question are “among the world’s highest-achieving schools,” to quote Sirota’s claim, although in some sense they may be.
In recent years, liberals have started reciting versions of this claim, trying to show how great our schools are except for the effects of poverty. This is a silly, bogus claim. It’s depressing to see the liberal world act like employees of Fox.
Question: Should Rahm Emanuel be closing those schools in Chicago?
All across the United States, urban mayors have been closing schools as student populations shrink. This led Sirota to offer these thoughts about Chicago’s “wildly unpopular” mayor, Rahm Emanuel:
SIROTA: [D]espite the fact that many “reformers’” policies have spectacularly failed, prompted massive scandals and/or offered no actual proof of success, an elite media that typically amplifies—rather than challenges—power and money loyally casts “reformers’” systematic pillaging of public education as laudable courage (the most recent example of this is Time magazine’s cover cheering on wildly unpopular Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel after he cited budget austerity to justify the largest mass school closing in American history—all while he is also proposing to spend $100 million of taxpayer dollars on a new private sports stadium).Is Emanuel “wildly unpopular?” We clicked the link Sirota offered. It took us to the Huffington Post, which said a new poll “reports that 50 percent of respondents approve of the job Emanuel is doing leading the city while 40 percent disapprove.”
As noted: It’s depressing when major progressives act like employees of Fox.
According to Sirota’s source, Emanuel isn’t wildly unpopular. That said, is this really “the largest mass school closing in American history?”
In this case, Sirota’s link took us to an interview at Democracy Now, where Aaron Mate made that claim about Emanuel’s closing of 50 schools. Unfortunately, Mate’s guest, Diane Ravitch, immediately referred to New York City, “where the mayor has closed something like 150 schools over several years.” Mayor Bloomberg just hasn't closed “so many at one time,” Ravitch added.
Sirota’s claim isn’t exactly “wrong.” It’s just pointlessly misleading. Are we somehow required to act like we work for Fox?
Most important question: Are we experiencing an education crisis of recent origin?
Sirota does some very sloppy writing in this piece. Progressives who care about public schools really should demand better.
That said, Sirota made the analysts tear their hair early in his piece. In this passage, it almost sounds like he’s taking dictation from Michelle Rhee and other such types:
SIROTA: According to a new U.S. Department of Education study, “about one in five public schools was considered high poverty in 2011…up from about to one in eight in 2000.” This followed an earlier study from the department finding that “many high-poverty schools receive less than their fair share of state and local funding…leav(ing) students in high-poverty schools with fewer resources than schools attended by their wealthier peers.”In that passage, Sirota makes it sound like a “public education crisis” of some sort has been underway since sometime around the year 2000. He seems to say that this “public education crisis” has been caused by a rise in poverty.
Those data sets powerfully raise the question that “reformers” are so desperate to avoid: Are we really expected to believe that it’s just a coincidence that the public education and poverty crises are happening at the same time? Put another way: Are we really expected to believe that everything other than poverty is what’s causing problems in failing public schools?
In his citation of poverty, Sirota sends a thrill up progressives legs. In the process, he also advances a bogus claim the corporate types love to advance.
It’s amazingly foolish for progressives to act like our public schools went into a tailspin around 2000. Beyond that, it just isn’t true. Tests scores by black kids and Hispanic kids are strongly improved since that time.
In a rational world, progressives would want to announce that encouraging fact about American kids and their public school teachers. But later, Sirota played the Rhee card once again, referring to “an overwhelming wave of evidence showing that our education crisis has far less to do with public schools or bad teachers than it does with the taboo subject of crushing poverty.”
This may send a thrill up the legs of some. It made our analysts tear their hair.
This jumbled column is riddled with errors. But reading and math scores are strongly improved over the past few decades. It's amazing to see the way major progressives refuse to share this good news with the public.
It's what Michelle Rhee wants us to do. We happily rush off to do it.