DON’T DEFEND YOUR SCHOOL WITH INDEFENSIBLE TESTS
No! No! No! No!
Look, I understand why Rod Gardin, the superintendent of East Porter County School Corporation in northwest Indiana, wrote the op-ed on NWI.com titled Public schools outperform charter schools. Studies across the nation have shown that charters don’t perform any better than regular public schools given the same students.
I understand why Superintendent Gardin is defensive about his local public schools. Charter schools are taking students away from public schools. Vouchers are taking students away from public schools. The legislature continues to provide more support for privatization and less support for public schools. The Governor’s new plan for education is simply more transference of public money from public schools to voucher accepting schools and charter schools. Public schools are consistently and wrongly bashed as “failures.”
I get it…professional educators are tired of being insulted and slandered by politicians and pundits and want to strike back with the truth. So Superintendent Gardin compared the letter grades assigned to schools by the Indiana Department of Education, based mostly on student test scores, and discovered that a higher percentage of public schools got A’s than charter schools and a higher percentage of charter schools got F’s than public schools…and so on for B’s, C’s and D’s.
According to the A-F grades assigned by the Indiana Department of Education, public schools outperform charter schools across all grade categories. Forty-eight percent of public schools received an A while only 25.4 percent of charter schools received the same grade. Twenty-two percent of public schools received a B. Only 1.7 percent of charter schools received that grade. 18.5 percent of public schools received a C. Charter schools once again underperformed, with 17 percent receiving the same grade.
What is most startling is the number of charter schools that received a D or an F. Twenty-seven percent of charter schools received a D as compared to 10 percent of public schools. Worse yet, 29 percent of charter schools received an F while only 4.8 percent of public schools did. Overall, 56 percent of the charter schools performed in the two lowest categories (D and F). That is almost four times greater than the percent of public schools that received a D or an F (14.8 percent). Public schools vastly outperformed charter schools in the two highest categories (A and B), with 66.6 percent of public schools earning those grades as compared to 27.1 percent of the charter schools.
BUT IT CUTS BOTH WAYS
Based on those tests charter schools score lower than public schools…and Superintendent Gardin, in his attempt to defend and support his public schools — for which I commend him — wants everyone to know it!
But what happens when someone from the state decides to close a public school based on those same test scores…or those same letter grades given by the state DOE? What happens when low-scoring public schools are bashed and labeled “failures” because they received an “F” from the state? What happens when teachers in those schools are labeled “ineffective” simply because their students scored low on the state tests?
Do we wait till then to stand up and claim that Indiana’s A-F School Accountability grading system is worthless because “there’s more to school than test scores”? Do wait till then to remind everyone that standardized test scores have more to do with a family’s income than a student’s teachers?
Poverty, not “bad teachers,” is the main cause of low achievement in America’s public schools and anyone involved in public schools knows it [even Arne Duncan and other “reformers.” They know it, too, but saying “We need to reduce poverty” doesn’t get the campaign donations that yelling “Teachers unions are destroying America!” does].
Giving a school an A based on student test scores doesn’t tell you anything about that school. It doesn’t tell you about the atmosphere in the school. It doesn’t tell you about the quality of the teachers, staff members, administrators and volunteers. It doesn’t tell you about the parents — other than perhaps their income. We’re still overusing, and finding new ways to misuse, standardized tests.
Instead, we need to say, right now, that Indiana’s A-F School Accountability grading system is flawed. It doesn’t give a real-life picture of what goes on in a school. We need to say, right now, that grading school systems, schools, and teachers with students’ scores on standardized tests is a misuse of data. We shouldn’t join in the misuse of standardized tests just when it suits us.
DEFEND YOUR SCHOOL WITH TRUTH
Instead of defending our schools by using test scores to compare them to private and charter schools we need to defend our public schools by informing people of the advantages of public education.
Peter Greene, in his blog Curmudgucation, had a great post about public education. In it he listed some of the positives about public education…
- The public education system takes all students.
- The public education system is publicly funded.
- The public education system is run by local taxpayers.
- The public school system is run transparently.
- The public school system is not run for profit.
- The public school is stably staffed with the best professionals the available money can buy.
- The public school is a long term commitment.
Instead of defending our schools by comparing them to private and charter schools we need to defend our public schools by repeating the truth that public education in the U. S. is successful, not failing. Public school teachers are not failing. Students are not failing.
Public education is a public good…like public libraries, public parks, municipal water systems and roads. Our states and communities should support public education, not because public schools are better than private or charter schools (though they might be), but because they belong to all of us and are good for our communities.
Defend public education with truth not test scores!
The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.