Monday, September 13, 2010

Not So Smart, ALEC

The recent headline in the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press was sent to me by my good friend Carl Glickman: “Low-income Vt. students rank No. 1: Report faults state on education reform.”

It seems that despite the gains made by the kids in Vermont, ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) gave the state an “F” for education reform. Incredulous, I decided to check out ALEC’s web site for verification. Guess what, while they give Vermont their #1 “performance ranking” they actually give Vermont a grade of “D”, dead last, on education reform.

I have often thought that debates about public education go on in an ‘evidence-free’ zone, but this takes the cake!

To understand how this first to last phenomenon occurs, you have to see how the smart guys and gals at ALEC come up with their ratings. The performance rating, the one that puts Vermont on top, comes from student gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) fourth- and eighth-grade reading and mathematics exams over the period of 2003 to 2009. In particular, they look to see what states help low-income children increase their scores the most. Like tests or not, congratulations to Vermont and its teachers for their good work.

But when it comes to rating education reform, ideology, not data, raises its ugly head.

Seems that ALEC has an agenda here, with private school choice, charter school availability, online learning, homeschooling, and alternative routes to teaching certification making up 8 out of 13 categories (or over 60%) of the grade. Three more of the categories come from how well ALEC thinks a state does on retaining effective teachers and firing ineffective ones and two others rate the state’s education standards. Because Vermont does not buy the political agenda of ALEC around school choice, charters, and alternative certification they get a “D”. Tough graders, these guys. (“Teacher, I go the answers right, why did I get a bad grade.” “Because I didn’t like how you did it.”)

After digging through ALEC’s so-called “Report Card on American Education” (and please, click here to read it, just in case you don’t believe me) I am amazed at the paucity of evidence that the education reform ratings are based upon. There is no evidence that school choice, charters, alternative routes to teaching, etc. necessarily improve student performance. In fact, as Diane Ravitch, formerly a supporter of such agendas, has pointed out there is actually evidence that these strategies hurt the educational attainment of our children.

Of course, maybe ALEC’s report card is the best evidence we could have that such strategies do not work. Take a look at the top five states for student performance and the grades/ranking that ALEC gives them for education reform: Vermont rates #1 in performance but gets a “D” in reform; Massachusetts #2 for performance, “C” in reform; Florida #3 in performance, B+ in reform; New Hampshire #4 in performance, “C” in reform; and New York at #5 in performance earns a “D+” in reform.

For even better evidence that the reforms ALEC supports should be avoided at all costs, here are the bottom five states: Louisiana #47 in performance earns a “B” in reform; New Mexico #48 for performance gets a “B” in reform as does the #49 state, Michigan; West Virginia ranked 50th in performance earns a “C” for reform and South Carolina, coming in at 51st in performance (includes the District of Columbia) is near the top of the education reform rankings with a “B”. (“B+” was the highest ranking given, and Vermont’s “D” was the lowest, no grading on a curve for these guys).

Being from Ohio, I had to also take a peek at our scores. We ranked 35th in performance, but forgive me for not being surprised that we earned a “B-“ for our school reform efforts. The report’s authors must have been supremely impressed by our charter school laws, the topic of yet another scandal this week.

The authors of ALEC’s report card (who come to us from the Goldwater and Heritage Foundations) are to be thanked. They have provided all the evidence we need to show that the emperor, this time in the guise of the charter/choice/alternative certificate crowd, has no clothes. I just hope someone tells the people of Vermont.

No comments:

Post a Comment