Contradiction: Sorrowful, aint it? On its front page, the New York Times presents this striking report, by Dexter Filkins, about the education of girls in Afghanistan. But alas! On its op-ed page, the paper presents this typical mess, by a famous American scribe whose education has been vastly squandered.
In her last four grafs, Maureen Dowd types her latest novel. Please note: Theres no evidence, anywhere in her column, suggesting that her novel is true. Who knows? Maybe Dowd had a feeling this day, like Margaret Carlson before her. Perhaps just a thrill up the leg?
Sorrowful, aint it? Girls in one country risk death to learn. In another land, scribes play the fool.
TESTING SPELLINGS: Margaret Spellings made several important claims in yesterdays Dear Arne letter (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/13/09). The letter appeared in the form of a column on the Washington Posts op-ed page. The outgoing education secretarys claims included these:
Those were three of Spellings major claims; we thought it might be worth checking their accuracy. Lets start with the good news involved in those national test scores:
National test scores: On the national level, have test scores in reading and math reached record highs? We assume that Spellings refers to test scores produced as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a competent, largely non-politicized federal program known as The Nations Report Card. (For the NAEP web site, click here.) Heres the good news: In both reading and math, NAEP test scores in 2007 were higher than ever before. Thats true for students as a whole; its also true for whites, for blacks and for Hispanics when these groups are considered separately. (These are the most recent NAEP scores. The next set of tests will be given this year.) This is true in both reading and math, at both grade levels tested (grades 4 and 8.) And so, according to results from the NAEP, Spellings first claim is factually accurate. Test scores in both reading and math have reached record highs. (But hold on. There will be a catch.)
Duncans big shoulders: How about Spellings second claimthe claim that Duncan achieved results for Chicagos schoolchildren. Here the logic starts to get murky (more below)but NAEP test scores have, in fact, gone up in Chicago in the years since Duncan became superintendent in June 2001. Chicago happens to be one of ten cities studied by NAEP as part of its Trial Urban District Assessment. And sure enough: The citys test scores have gone up in both reading and math, in both grade levels tested, since Duncan became the main man.
So far, its just as Spellings said and implied: National test scores have risen in recent years, to record highs in both reading and math. Scores in Chicago did go up in the years of Duncans tenure. And we think the NAEP is more reliable (more competent, less politicized) than the typical state-run, statewide testing program. But this brings us back to Spellings third major claimand to the large problem with her logic. In her column, Spellings clearly implied that those record-high test scores were the fruit of No Child Left Behind. But, whatever one thinks of that national program, this claim is an obvious stretch. Whatever one thinks of that national program, Spellings logic falls apart when she makes this self-glorying claim:
The fruit of No Child Left Behind: Whats the problem with Spellings claim? Just this: National test scores were already rising to record highs in the years before No Child Left Behind; essentially, the nations students have been producing record scores ever since NAEP began gathering data in 1971! (No Child Left Behind became law in 2001.) That is important good news, of coursebut it undermines Spellings implied claim, the claim that last years record-high scores were the fruit of No Child Left Behind. For one example, click down to page ten of the current NAEP Reading Report Card to see scale scores for the nations fourth-graders, going back to 1992. (Headline: Most racial/ethnic groups show improvement.) You will see that reading scores were improving for whites, for blacks and for Hispanics in the ten years before the 2002 teststhe first tests after No Child Left Behind became law. There is no sign of any special score bump in the years since NCLB became law. Scores had been rising before the act passed. Scores continued to rise after that, at roughly similar rates.
(Somewhat similarly, its hard to identify unusual score gains associated with Duncans tenure in Chicago. We dont attempt, in any way, to denigrate his work in that city. But scores were rising in other big cities, as in the nation as a whole, during the period when he was in charge. We look forward, eagerly, to Duncans tenure as Ed Sec. But we should proceed with care when we seem to attribute authorship to score gainsor to score drops, for that matter.)
Spellings made some important claims in her column; we thought those claims were worth examining. For our money, the lady misbehavespoliticizes the nations schoolswith her implied claim about the effects of No Child Left Behind. (Wed suggest that she be asked to spend a few moments standing alone in the corner. Shell have to exit the Oval Office, of course, before she can serve this term.) We dont offer this as a judgment about the various parts of No Child Left behind; indeed, we think some parts of the act are constructive. We offer this as a rebuke to those who would politicize such important matters.
But what about Spellings other claimthat murky claim about teaching to [sic] grade level? Addressing Duncan, Spellings spoke for the nations parents: They recognize, as do you and President-elect Obama, that when we raise expectations, we achieve results.
When we raise expectations, we achieve results. Thats a very familiar claim. But what does it actually mean?
Tomorrow: About expectations/grade level.