Saturday, December 22, 2007

Denial Ain't Just a River in Egypt...

The Sacramento Bee a few weeks ago had an op-ed entitled "State of our schools: Not all good, not all terrible." The author, Peter Schrag, is a veteran journalist and the author of Final Test: The Battle for Adequacy in America's Schools. In the op-ed, he criticizes what he calls the "schools [vulgar term meaning 'stinks'] industry" for continuing "to churn out information falling between distorted and flat wrong."

Mr. Schrag writes:

On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), sometimes called the 'nation's report card,' California scores lower than comparable states. But its data (as [educational consultant John] Mockler says) 'are just silly' because each state chooses its own sample of students to be tested. Texas, which consistently ranks higher than California on NAEP, tests English learners only after they've been in school three years. We test them after one.
This is a valid point, but Mr. Schrag conveniently ignores the fact that non-Latino white students in California on average score near the bottom of the nation on the NAEP. On the 8th grade reading test, white Californian students scored 48th, above only West Virginia and Nevada. If California's low NAEP scores were just an artifact of the large number of immigrant kids, then why are the white kids (the overwhelming majority of whom are native English speakers) doing so poorly?

I live in a town where the median income for a 4 person household is >$105k and 70% of the residents hold a bachelor's degree or higher. Only 6.5% of the students in our neighborhood public elementary school are low-income (as defined by qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches). Yet the standardized test scores are terrible- nearly 1/3 of the kids are below grade level in English and almost 1/4 are behind in math. And the non-Latino white kids are doing even worse than the overall average!

As a comparison, I checked the numbers for some towns with similar demographics near where I grew up in Massachusetts. Here are the results:

Median Income % Passing Math % Passing English
Town 1 $ 97,100 93 82
Town 2 $ 111,600 87 86
Town 3 $ 81,000 83 80
Town 4 $ 125,821 83 83
Town 5 $ 104,000 79 80
Town 6 $ 108,900 78 84
Town 7 $ 86,813 77 80
Town 8 $ 119,200 77 80
Average $ 104,304 82.1 81.9

Now if these school districts with similar demographics are able to get most of their students to the "proficient" level, why can't my town's do the same? It isn't a question of spending more money- only Town 2 has a per-pupil expenditure higher than my local district's and Towns 1 & 7 spend over a thousand dollars less per student.

Sorry, Mr. Schrag, but the conclusion I come to looking at this data is that California's government-run schools do, in fact, stink.

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