Friday, May 21, 2010

Test-and-punish in schools

This from a reader:
If you don't support more "test-and-punish" in schools, please speak out now!

Along with fighting for adequate funding for our schools, we public school parents also have to battle the misguided mania for high-stakes testing and punishment of struggling schools and their children and teachers. Diane Ravitch (a former Bush administration education official who is now speaking out against the test-and-punish mania), met yesterday with Sen. Tom Harkin and was shocked that he had NO idea that No Child Left Behind and the testing madness are not wildly popular -- our leaders are in such an echo chamber. Ravitch sent a few advocates the message below, which I'm sharing with her permission. We're especially being urged to contact Nancy Pelosi (especially those in her district) and George Miller.

Please share this message in your own way, as far and wide as you can.

Our elected leaders, our opinion leaders and the business titans who are currently heavily influencing education policy are sold on "test, punish and privatize" as the solution. ESEA, aka No Child Left Behind, is about to be reauthorized, calling for still MORE high-stakes testing and more destruction wrought on struggling schools.

Below is Ravitch's message:

I met with Senator Harkin yesterday in DC about RTTT and ESEA. I told him that teachers and parents across the country (based on my recent cross country tour, where I met thousands) are deeply demoralized by NCLB, now RTTT. He was surprised, he never heard such things. He said the disabilities community loves NCLB, and as far as he had heard, so did everyone else. He also had been led to believe that ... teachers must be held accountable if students don't learn. You see the mindset. It permeates the policymaking world of DC.

I think he needs to hear from more people, as he is now head of the Senate committee that will preside over reauthorization of ESEA.

In addition to Senator Harkins, whose email is online, here is a list of House Committee members. Some know the facts on the ground, many others don't. It would be wonderful if they heard from more of their constituents.

Full Committee, 111th Congress


* George Miller, Chairman (CA-07)
* Dale E. Kildee (MI-05)
* Donald M. Payne (NJ-10)
* Robert E. Andrews (NJ-01)
* Robert C. Scott (VA-03)
* Lynn C. Woolsey (CA-06)
* Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15)
* Carolyn McCarthy (NY-04)
* John F. Tierney (MA-06)
* Dennis J. Kucinich (OH-10)
* David Wu (OR-01)
* Rush D. Holt (NJ-12)
* Susan A. Davis (CA-53)
* Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-07)
* Timothy H. Bishop (NY-01)
* Joe Sestak (PA-07)
* Dave Loebsack (IA-02)
* Mazie Hirono (HI-02)
* Jason Altmire (PA-04)
* Phil Hare (IL-17)
* Yvette Clarke (NY-11) MET WITH HER; SHE IS GREAT!
* Joe Courtney (CT-02)
* Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01)
* Marcia Fudge (OH-11) MET WITH HER; SHE IS GREAT!
* Jared Polis (CO-2)
* Paul Tonko (NY-21)
* Pedro Pierluisi (PR)
* Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (Northern Mariana Islands)
* Dina Titus (NV-3)


  1. California news & views re:
    "Race to the Top" - Round 2 MOU - (SEE EXCERPT BELOW) --

    "San Diego Unified spokesman Bernie Rhinerson said the same reasons that kept the school district from pursuing Race to the Top (Round 1) are even more pressing this time: the requirements are too limiting and the process is rushed. The school board has not voted formally on it, but Rhinerson said there was little interest in the idea.
    It isn't the only educational group with doubts:
    The California County Superintendents Educational Services Association sent out an e-mail saying that with a short timeline, little detail about what resources schools would get to make reforms and 'the total lack of state policy direction,' they wouldn't recommend that school districts sign on. San Diego County Superintendent Randy Ward forwarded that e-mail to superintendents across San Diego County, writing simply that he agreed. "
    -- see article source:

  2. sfusd is one of the few CA districts that is opting to join rttt. does not seem very thought out and is rushed....

  3. I appreciate the postings about this issue. However, I honestly would like to hear from the other viewpoint about it. I read a long New York Times Magazine article by Steve Brill on this subject and I'm worried that we all are only getting one side of this argument on this blog. I'd like to encourage folks to read that article. It does appear that something -- and I stress "something" -- positive is happening in some inner city schools as a result of these efforts. Lastly, I lived in NYC for many years and watched Diane Ravitch suck up to the Republicans in the administration. I'm intrigued by her change of heart, but I'm kind of suspicious. I view her as akin to Arlen Specter. So I'm really kind of skeptical that this isn't some effort to undermine the Obama administration. Just my two cent concern.

  4. I acknowledge having a strong perspective, and I'm the one who asked Amy to post the Ravitch item. But I submit that the reason you largely hear one side on this blog is that informed, aware public school parents are extremely unlikely to support the test-and-punish, scapegoat-the-teachers philosophies behind Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind.

    With rare exceptions, the more you know, the more appalled you are. The support from that philosophy is not coming from the public school community but rather from those who have as little contact as possible with public schools.

    For anyone who is wondering and willing to devote some time and effort, PLEASE read Ravitch's book. I have an extra copy and I'll lend it -- I'll even deliver it!

    Here's Education Week blogger Alexander Russo's headline and a quote from his commentary on the Steve Brill piece:

    Media: Brill's Big Sloppy Wet Kiss For Reformy Types

    "...Brill's reformy bias is clear right from the get go. He makes a slew of unsupported claims and ignores the uncertainties and opposing forces at play..."

  5. I only post because of the uniquely thoughtful and obvious care that the previous posts show toward public education.

    Anonymous wrote, " It does appear that something -- and I stress "something" -- positive is happening in some inner city schools".

    I am a public school teacher reviewing results from many districts and states, and anonymous is right, NCLB has had some positive impact. To the extent that previously poorly performing schools were caused by complete ambivalence and apathy by teachers and administrators, the addition of a system of accountability, regardless of its accuracy or precision, created a generalized impetus to do "something", where essentially "nothing" had been the rule. But the areas in which those sorts of gains can be achieved are already exhausted, and will not achieve the kind of broad-based improvements we need.

    The key to broad-based improvements is to include all stakeholders in the system of accountability - not just teachers - which is what NCLB does. As Albert Shanker said, telling students that if they don't do well, their teachers will be punished, is not effective motivation. Instead, while accountability is a laudable goal, it is absolutely essential that the parties most important for improved achievement (students) and the parties most able to strategically create environments that promote achievement (administrators) have at least equal accountability within the public school system.

  6. Mr. McNally, I hope my kid gets you as a teacher someday!

    I'm curious -- how do you think students can/should be made accountable for performance, beyond individual grades and without a snarkily competitive environment? And do parents fit into your idea of all stakeholders? I'm not really sure what improved parental achievement might mean, or how to get it, but I'd love to hear any ideas you had.

  7. I posted the comment below on the "class size increases thread". It seems that at least some people high up in the administration are unaware of the testing routinely taking place in some low API SFUSD schools.

    This is an excerpt from Rachel Norton's latest blog post.

    "I keep thinking of Deputy Superintendent Carranza’s statement to the Board last month that — due to the district’s lack of data/assessment on student progress throughout the year – he could not give us any idea of how our third graders would do on the CST this year. That lack of data means that our annual CST results, to be reported in August, will be more like an autopsy than a diagnostic exam. I’m glad the Deputy Superintendent in charge of instruction in this district is focusing on the need for more and better data on student achievement — the lack of reading proficiency is an urgent problem that we’ve been talking about for far too long."

    And then a SFUSD teacher posted this comment on this thread about the excessive testing throughout the year at low SES schools:

    "I'm also an SFUSD teacher, and 10:36 makes an excellent point about the straitjackets into which teachers at low-performing schools are forced. Schools with low test scores are monitored by the district; they have to give many more standardized tests and report the scores online to ensure that they are both using the mandated curriculum, and adhering to pacing guides that do not allow for reteaching or remediation. In many cases, the students cannot read their textbooks or the instructions in their workbooks nor do the work without extensive teacher support. Even when it is painfully obvious that the required materials are several grade levels above the students' abilities, the teachers must use them, and the disconnect only exacerbates behavior problems."

    So what is going on here? Are teachers required to do excessive testing that the central office isn't aware of or is someone horribly misinformed or even worse?

  8. Well when you put that way - I mean who's for punishment in schools? That sounds like abuse. But is what you said an accurate way to describe the situation? How do you know most parents are against these measures? No one has ever asked the parents to my recollection. If NCLB can't turn around the problems that have been going on forever, something has to be done. What do you suggest? It is fair enough to say - I don't know the answer, but this ain't it. But what is? That's the real question because you have got NCLB for better or worse unless you can come up with something better.

  9. A couple days ago my younger 8 y.o.son told me he didn't believe in the tooth fairy. I asked him why then does he always put his tooth under the pillow? He paused and said - for the money.

    If NCLB is the tooth fairy why do we continue to put our teeth under the pillow? We should opt out and not be one of the few districts that oblige the DOE and give RTTT credence by our application. In fact, Duncan is worried that states and districts that don't participate by applying will be tendering a no-confidence vote on federal ed policy and that this could lead to a congressional questioning. Lordy me, we wouldn't want Congress overseeing how the executive branch spends the $4.35B.

  10. I intended to say "don't participate by NOT applying (for RTTT)

    Will the candidates for federal money get $50K or the 2 million.

    Given the Superintendent expressed dislike for the turnover strategies that our worst schools must employ for federal aid, why are we still in the race? Is it s strategy by Mr. Garcia's participation in Round 2 to get the max?

  11. On one hand, we compare our public education system to the ones in other countries and see us lacking.

    On the other hand, we don't like proven practice from other countries.

    Do anyone have any idea how students are tested in other countries? I don't know about Europe, but in Asia, students are very much burdened with tests. For example, in China, although there is no standard tests every year, the students face middle school, high school, and higher education entrance exam. You wouldn't believe how much pressure the kids (and teachers) face, even from elementary school.

    Yes, they do teach for the tests. However, whether you like it or not, the kids come out with much stronger reading, writing, math and science skills than kids in US.

    I am not saying that's the right way to go. Actually, Chinese themselves are often fed up with their education system, because it discourage creativity, critical thinking and problem solving skills.

    However, we have to realize that for a particular goal, there will be a certain way to reach the goal. US education is seriously lacking in certain areas. You cannot stick to the existing methods and expect the result to change. It doesn't work that way.

    Drilling is an essential part of education. Testing is an essential part of the education. I am against teaching purely for the scores. However, that's the necessary evil. Performance is what we are after which picking school. Don't expect the kids to have a care-free life without serious work.

  12. 10:15, are you a parent of kids in school, and would you be amenable to increasing the number of standardized tests they're given?

  13. Also, I question whether this can be backed up:

    "However, whether you like it or not, the kids (in China) come out with much stronger reading, writing, math and science skills than kids in US."

    The research comparing nations' achievement in math and science is the TIMSS -- Trends in International Math and Science Study. The People's Republic of China doesn't participate in the TIMSS, so its achievement is unknown. If you know of research comparing nations' achievement in reading and writing, can you point us to it?

    I would also question that statement on the basis that in almost every such claim, there's a huge apples-and-oranges factor confounding the comparison and rendering it invalid and misleading. For example, in a number of developed nations, students are tracked into academic vs. vocational tracks sometime at what here would be middle-school age, and those on the vocational tracks complete their schooling after fewer than the 13 years required here. The key point is that those students who were tracked into vocational training are not being tested in the international comparisons. Here in the U.S., all students are tested.

    I don't know how many nations that applies to because I've never found a report comparing nations' educational systems. I know that the educational systems of the Netherlands, Switzerland and Japan function that way.

  14. "The key point is that those students who were tracked into vocational training are not being tested in the international comparisons. Here in the U.S., all students are tested."

    Caroline, your post intrigued me. I'd like to hear more on this.

  15. 9:43, I'd like to know more too, and I wish I could find some good clear research comparing school systems from nation to nation.

    Here's how it works in the Netherlands, according to good friends who have lived here since the '90s but spend as much time with relatives in their home country as they can. Students are tested somewhere in middle school years and tracked. Vocational track students graduate from the equivalent of our high school after the equivalent of our 10th grade, at about age 16. They are legitimately considered graduates. Then they go on for further vocational training in their field. Students on the academic track graduate after the equivalent of our 12th grade and go on to college.

    Swiss friends tell me it works like that in their country too. And a friend who just returned from Japan and made a point of touring schools there with a local guide tells me that students vocational tracks graduate from school after 8th grade. I'm sure there are people reading this blog who could add to this information.

    This situation confounds all attempts to compare based on test scores and all attempts to compare dropout rates (which doesn't stop public education critics from constantly, though falsely for the above reasons, claiming that the U.S. has higher dropout rates than other nations.)

    I don't know why there aren't evident nation-to-nation comparisons of how the school systems work, though.

    Oh, and I hear about the French school system from friends in Paris who have a 16-year-old. Some interesting things: Disabled children are gone, invisible, disappeared. Fighting and bullying are viewed as normal and acceptable and are not discouraged (I'm referring to between kids here). Art, music and sports are minimal -- even though my friends' son attends a school named after Maurice Ravel, there are just brief recorder lessons, no orchestra or chorus or anything. And parents are not ever allowed into the school at all. If anyone has different information I'd definitely love to hear it. I actually haven't gotten a clear description from them of the vocational vs. academic situation - their son is on the academic track.

  16. The BOE wants every child to be college ready (ergo A-G requirements), which is a rejection of tracking. The idea of instituting European style vocational education in SFUSD is antithetical to progressive values. Am I mistaken?

  17. That philosophy is extremely popular on the right too, Don. It's complicated, but in my view different political philosophies have different rationales for pushing it. I think when it comes from the right-wing free-marketers, it's because they believe that it's a way to set public schools up for failure -- creating goals that have not been set before and that are not set elsewhere (the goal that all children should be college material) -- and they intend to set public schools up for failure as a strategy toward privatizing public education.

    For other political philosophies -- I think it's about a belief that setting higher goals for all means that all kids will rise to meet them. In the bad old days, of course, higher goals were automatic for kids from certain backgrounds, and others were encouraged to stay in their place. The progressive/liberal view of course aims at putting that forever behind us, which is as it should be. But I think the notion that every single student can be turned into college material (when it's based on sincere and benevolent rather than malicious intent) is most popular with people who have no actual contact with kids and schools, put it that way.

  18. What's going on in other states with voc ed? Giving children a choice at 15 seems reasonable. Unless kids can read they are not going to college, vod ed or anywhere else except the street. The BOE should get off its high horse and realize that not every child is college bound. Testing demonstrates that a large percentage of those in high school are not going to graduate let alone go to college. To think otherwise is to have your head in the clouds. It's fine to dream - it doesn't require any reading skills.

    The comparisons to other countries is valid regardless of the differences. While we head down the road to European style socialism, it is not inappropriate to compare our institutions. In fact is exactly what we should be doing.

  19. The problem with this early tracking is that too often kids aren't tracked based on their ability or interests, but on their ethnic or family background or affluence. It's hard to imagine that most readers of this blog would think it a great idea to tell their 14-year-olds that they aren't college material, and should instead spend the next two years learning a trade so they can get right to work at age 16. I know plenty of kids from middle class families who probably should be in vocational programs, but there's no way their parents would allow that.

  20. What is the point of all this testing if we can't determine at some reasonble juncture in a student's secondary education whether he is on an academic tract or not? I completely understand the motivation not to cut short the opportunities for children. But let's face it - if you are 15 and you read at a second grade level, you need to be thinking about what you CAN DO outside of the college track. Wake up and smell the coffee. Even the military won't take these kids unless they graduate from HS.

    Debating the validity and relativity of testing seems somewhat silly if you cannot use the volumes of data available to make even the most rudimentary decisions about student achievement. The way we are going were just relegating students to fail by social advancement and one track thinking.

    I do agree with Caroline that some of these comparisons are apples and oranges. Rather than try to find the kernel of truth some believe is present in international comparisons and pontificating over its potential meaning , why not spend our efforts teaching kids who can't read how to? Then we can talk about college. In other words, let's get real about saving kids by making sure we teach them basic skill rather than just doing their dreaming for them.

  21. Little Johnny's daddy may want his son to be a doctor, but Johnny doesn't know how to add. Many countries solve the problems with tests that sort the wheat from the chaffe. They don't want high school and college graduates that can't compete. If testing in high school is not productive for teaching and learning why would it be for college? Why not get rid of all evaluations? We can make blood tests, CT scans and clinical examinations a crime.

  22. caroline,

    I am Chinese. I came to US for college. I have relatives in US. When I was in middle school, I got a copy of their high school math exams and I was able to do all of them. The math level in US is multiple years behind what I learned in China.

    Even when I was in college, the math, physics, chemistry and biology classes were what I learned in high school (10th or 11th grade).

    I talk to my friends (ex HS classmates) in China. Their kids have MORE pressure today than what we had then.

    I toured IHS for my step daughter. A student finishing IB can probably get 1 year of credit in college.

    People can dig their head in the sand. However, when a kid graduate from an US HS (even private ones), he's likely to be one year behind his peers in Europe, and one to two years behind his peers in Asia.

    I want to be clear. I dislike Chinese education, because it puts way too much on memorization and drilling. However, US is the other extreme. There has to be some middle ground.

    When problem is, when people are too used to the relaxed standard, any push toward the middle becomes a battle.

    If you don't want any changes, fine, just don't expect any change in results. US is and will continue to be severely lacking in science and engineering unless there is some fundamental changes. You have to give some to get some.

  23. The kid who reads at a 2nd grade level and can't add isn't likely to succeed in a vocational ed program either. This is a red herring. The question is whether you want to decide at age 13 whether a kid will EVER be prepared for college. You can give them all the tests you want, but I really don't think it's a great idea to try to separate "the wheat from the chaff" at age 13. China has a centuries-old tradition of allowing people from all classes to enter the upper classes through education. Unfortunately, in the U.S. access to education has too often served as a way to enforce existing barriers.

  24. It's important to note that the trade unions are in full support of A-G requirements as well. A friend of mine is high up in Local 22 (Carpenter's Union) and they believe these requirements make better quality members that provide better work.

  25. It is not about evaluating whether a kid is ready for college at grade two. It is about getting the kid to be used to study for tests, which make the kid getting used to drilling and memorization.

    No, it is not fun. However, it is even less fun to try to play catch-up at grade 9.

  26. Sure the trade unions want AG requirements. What do they care if there is a high drop out rate? Requirements to get into UC are not necessary or helpful for kids that are illiterate. They need the focus on remedial work. They are not going to be in the trades or in college if they can't read.

  27. Moving from the 19th to the 21st Century model is not proving to be an easy leap all at once. There was so little fundamental reform over the decades that it is now time pay the piper. Can education be sliced and diced like a science experiment or a business model, analyzed and deciphered via data that is questionable for its validity? Large scale social experimentation is gambling with the lives of children. Waiting for agreement from the education community on the fix is just as damaging. Leave schools alone to innovate and compete. Scrap the Education Code and bring accountability to the schools themselves. Give the schools the widest margin of self governance.

  28. I don't think it's sound to toss off a pronouncement like this, 12:43, and you can't back it up. As noted, the comparison is apples and oranges when it comes to nations that I and others have learned about. "...when a kid graduate from an US HS (even private ones), he's likely to be one year behind his peers in Europe, and one to two years behind his peers in Asia...." Then the usual question comes up -- why is there so much more innovation coming from the U.S.? and for that matter, my kids went to school with a number of "helicopter kids" whose parents in China sent them here to live with relatives and get a U.S. education -- yes, in urban public schools. Why would they do that if education in China is so superior? Know anyone who lives in the U.S. sending their kids to get an education in China?

  29. 12:43,

    I commend you for speaking your mind and relating to us your personal experience which I find compelling. But I'm not fooled.I suspect that you are a Chinese spy here to find out how to strengthen NCLB and destroy American public education. This will give Chinese education consortiums a foot in the door to propagandize American children with a Chinese education and make money in the process.

  30. Caroline,

    Please read my post carefully. Maybe I didn't stress enough. The Chinese education overly stress memorization and drilling and overlook creativity and problem solving. If you talk to anyone from china, you will find most chinese dislike the system. It put too much pressure on the kid.

    IMHO, US has the BEST higher education in the world. A rich Chinese family can afford and want to send the kids to US for college. And knowing how easy the HS is here, why would they want to make the kids study until midnight everyday in China? Sending them here for HS to get better English is way easier and better for the kids.

    Next time, feel free to ask those kids what they think about their classes and how theyare doing. Ask them to compare the educations between the two system.

    No, I am not advocating chinese way of education. However, I do believe US's lowever education is on the other extreme.

    Regarding one year behind, that's not even comparing to China. Please tour International HS when you have a chance and learn about their IB. It is French curriculum. If a kid graduate with the IB track, he/she has completed about half of the general Ed requirement in a typical US university.

  31. Oh, Lordy.

    Anyway, back to the real conversation, I wonder if vocational education is no longer an option because we have so few trades left. I suspect that parents who might once have felt like hey, a kid who has a solid middle-class job is OK by me, now feel like their kid will end up in the ranks of the working poor, doing menial service jobs, if they don't get a college education.

    A different way to put it: a B.A. is the new high school diploma, necessary for entry level into just about any job that pays above minimum wage. And the content of the college curriculum (at the UCs, at least) has been dumbed down to meet that reality. My best UC students are as good as students I've taught at Ivy-league universities and selective liberal arts colleges. But the middle is shockingly low. Work I would have refused to accept at the above institutions now merits a C, or half my students would fail. And most of my students don't want an education, just a decent GPA and a diploma. This is the top 12%; I can't even imagine what the lower tiers look like.

    So exiting high schoolers are apparently tested for some minimum proficiency which is not college-ready, not by a long shot -- it looks to be about 8th grade level. We clean up the mess as best we can, but it's pretty grim. I don't blame the teachers or the students; I blame the secondary ed curriculum, overcrowding, and an assessment system that seems to obliterate deep literacy and critical thinking. I've had several students weeping in my office when I tell them, as gently as I can, that they have been done a great disservice if they have gotten As for this kind of writing in high school. But voc ed isn't the answer, given what we've done to our economy.

  32. 7:28

    Can you give me some comparison between American kids and international students?

  33. 7:16, your comment about International HS is unsupported and doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. It’s clearly a fine school, but we have friends with kids there, and their education is not visibly superior. I have two friends whose older kids graduated from IHS in ’09 and whose younger kids (who are all bright) attend SFUSD high schools. Those parents felt that IHS met their kids’ needs, but they don’t see it as superior.

    7:28, you are probably right that many parents feel their kids will be screwed without a college degree. Yet it seems like there are many careers that could still be supported with vocational ed in high school. One obvious example is something I hope you’ll see on the ballot in the not-to-distant future (via a bond measure): a culinary arts high school for SFUSD, combined with a central kitchen for school food service.

    Your bleak picture of the education of recent grads doesn’t jibe with what I see with my own kids and their peers, though of course it’s subjective. To me the top tier seems considerably better-educated than graduates of my era (1971). (The California High School Exit Exam does indeed test at about 8th-grade level, though. But on the other hand, your UC students have taken the SAT and gone through a selective admissions process, so it's hard to know where that failed.

  34. Caroline

    Most kids at IHS do not take the IB. They prefer to take it easy in senior year. Even IHS admits that.

    But pay attention to the curriculum. A French student in France would have completed that curriculum.

  35. Sorry, not buying it, 11 a.m. You have no data to back up a case that IHS OR for that matter the French school system are doing something notably superior. You may be personally impressed with them; that's not the same as having data and being able to make a valid claim of superiority. In the case of the French school system, I'd like to know how it operates in terms of tracking and separating out vocational students. In the case of IHS, it's clearly a high-quality private school, but its grads end up with the same thing my SFUSD grad did: A solid K-12 education. IHS grads are not on another plane academically.

  36. caroline

    Then show me some concrete data that US is equal to other countries in education please.

    If you don't believe anything others say, there is no point in discussion, is there? At least show your own data.

    I guess Obama has no real data that US public education is falling behind, so the whole thing about improving public ed is just politics.

    Same applies to you. You may be impressed by your own kid. That's not the same as having data and being able to make a valid claim of anything.

  37. Google is your friend:

  38. Caroline wants others to provide data but no sooner uses anecdotal accounts of the experiences of her friends' children to rebut. Cut others the break you cut yourself.

  39. More data then:

  40. Increasingly, many top tier universities are looking at results from the American Mathematics Competition to get an idea of where kids really stand in math. (MIT uses this.)

    I did tour the International High School. I would say that at least in the science program, their program is superior to most schools in the city, accepting Lowell. Many of the advanced placement classes needed for consideration at a top tier university aren't even taught at many SF public high schools.

    I don't know why we continually beat a dead horse on this one. The California curriculum is a good one. The CST measures understanding against the California Curriculum. You can check the CST scores yourself for various high schools to decide how we are doing.

    [Note that posted CST scores are for the "proficient" standard, as in 67%. I don't know too many kids getting into the UCs with a 67% average.]

    Regarding skilled trades:

    In most industrialized countries, skilled tradesmen have at least graduated from high school. The standard for high school graduation is generally higher and more uniform than in California.

    So a mason, a plumber, an electronics technician, and a welder generally have a higher level of skill going in. Many do have a two year trade degree or a four year undergraduate degree, but that two year college degree isn't exactly easy.

    Even my hair colorist has a four year degree. And she does use some of what she learned doing her job. (Chemistry, business skills, interacting on an intelligent level with her custormers.)

    Caroline, believe it or not, we can't run an entire economy on culinary school grads. How about them culinary school grads? Do you think many of them are getting jobs these days? And what is their starting salary?

    Really, Caroline, I'm so tired of the pablum you spoon out on this site. You have absolutely no interest or knowledge about the more demanding disciplines that are key to gaining access to high paying jobs in this very difficult economy.

    The information you are handing out is deceptive and harmful.

  41. I didn't make a claim that the U.S. is superior, or any specific claim about how the U.S. compares to other nations -- so I didn't make any statements that would call for being supported by data.

    What I said is that the comparisons that are slung around by those who pronounce that the U.S. is INFERIOR are largely apples-to-oranges, or sometimes simply false and invalid.

    I said that I have to rely on anecdote for comparisons between how our nation's educational system works compared with other nations', because I haven't been able to find any material giving clear nation-by-nation comparisons.
    (I am talking about how the school system works in terms of tracking, how many years students on different tracks stay in school, etc.)

    Regarding the links posted: The NationMaster comparison between 12th-graders nation by nation is not sound or valid because of the differences in educational systems, nation by nation, meaning that only the academic track students in some (many? most?) nations reach 12th grade at all, while all U.S. students are expected to and are required to IF they want to graduate.

    Same with the InfoPlease link, which appears to be the TIMSS to which I already referred. The 4Choice link (a far-right anti-public-education organization) references the TIMSS as well.

    Here's the late education researcher Gerald Bracey on both TIMSS and PISA, referred to in another link:

    "On both TIMSS math and science, the U. S. has a much higher proportion of "advanced" scorers than the international median although the proportion is much smaller than in Asian nations.

    This was not true on PISA, another international comparison that tests 15-year-olds. Only 1.5% of American students scored at the highest level compared to top performing New Zealand at 4% and second place Finland at 3.9%. Yet the proportion of Americans at the highest level meant that 70,000 kids scored there compared to about 2,000 for New Zealand and Sweden. No one else even came close--Japan was second with about 33,000 top performers. These are the people who might end up creating leading edge technology in the future."

  42. "This was not true on PISA, another international comparison that tests 15-year-olds. Only 1.5% of American students scored at the highest level compared to top performing New Zealand at 4% and second place Finland at 3.9%. Yet the proportion of Americans at the highest level meant that 70,000 kids scored there compared to about 2,000 for New Zealand and Sweden. No one else even came close--Japan was second with about 33,000 top performers. These are the people who might end up creating leading edge technology in the future."

    So, Caroline, you're saying that it's OK to have a nation of poor underskilled dummies, as long as we have a high scoring 1% of the population.

    Great! Why bother with democracy at all. And why bother with schools. We can just have a well educated elite and forget about the other 99%.

    Yeah! A nation of stumbling grade 12 burger flippers.

  43. 1:16, why the attack mode? I didn't say we could run an entire nation on culinary school grads, or anything like that.

    It appears that you are giving inaccurate informatino here: "In most industrialized countries, skilled tradesmen have at least graduated from high school. The standard for high school graduation is generally higher and more uniform than in California."

    Note my earlier posts, based on anecdotal information BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT I AM ABLE TO GET. In the Netherlands and Switzerland students on vocational tracks graduate from high school after the equivalent of our 10th grade, at about age 16. In Japan, students on vocational tracks graduate from school at the end of 8th grade. Obviously, those are not higher standards than California's -- they are apples and oranges and can't be compared. I have not been able to find a clear comparison between nations' educational systems -- do you have a source?

    I do think it's not sound to believe that every student should be on a college-bound track. That's not an unusual or controversial opinion, though it's not the current fad in education policy. That's not the same as claiming we can run the country with culinary school grads, needless to say.

  44. We don't need more narrowly trained people who don't have even the slightest notion or care of what is going on around them.

    If we can't accomplish that on the 50% of the California budget that education currently eats up, it's time to consider other avenues such as:

    pension reform
    immigration policy
    trade policy

    The notion that a Japanese style vocational track will fix our fiscal crisis is a fairytale.

  45. And regarding the PISA:

    The country which you do not mention that consistently places in the top five of the PISA is Canada. (compared to the US, which usually comes in at about 20th.)

    Canada does not have a separate vocational track. It does have a number of two year vocational and government sponsored programs to foster on-going job training in the skilled trades.

    It also has a much tighter immigration policy than the US for unskilled, uneducated workers.

    Take your pick.

  46. 9:24, my information about international students is only anecdotal.

    Caroline, I believe that California high schools graduate good test-takers -- hence decent scores on the (dumbed down) SAT, which can also be obtained through prep courses. The UCs use inflated GPAs and test scores because it is hard to do qualitative admissions with such large numbers of applicants. But the information processing, oral expression, reading comprehension, writing, and critical thinking skills of the *middle* range of my students are miles behind their peers at the private institutions I was teaching at 10 years ago (as I said, the best at the UCs are as good as the best anywhere, so that might be your kid and his/her peer group -- it's the middle I'm concerned about).

    In classes of 100-300 students, we can't address their gaps, either. I try and try and try, but the conditions for instruction don't allow that kind of close-up contact, sustained engagement with difficult works of art, multiple revisions of written work, oral presentations and critical dialogue, etc. Nor, I suspect, does No Child Left Behind. I believe that from grades 6-16, at least, we are not producing the basic competencies necessary for citizenship, middle-class employment, and self-reflective personhood in a developed country. I believe that there is a cause/effect relationship between the retooling of K-16 education on the business model, and the lack of these basic competencies. And I believe that these competencies are everyone's right by high school graduation, actually.

  47. Re : test and punish

    What we need is more punishment or bertter put...discipline. This is the problem with our schools ...lack of classroom discipline that erodes the learning environment. All the discussion of educational reform is a big waste of time if we can't establish a code of behavior that is enforced uniformly and rigorously across racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Right now morons set the tone and everyone suffers as a consequence of the lack of political will to insist upon standards of behavior. We don't need more tests. We do need more punishment for lack of a better word that would suit the anything-goes liberal crowd of apologists.

  48. Actually, caroline has a point. Sorry I didn't really get it earlier. There is a selection bias when only the top XX% goes to high school.

    However, the 4th and 8th grade comparisons are valid.

    In addition, the level of the top performing kids is a good indicator, since they are the future drivers of the economy. 1:35 is correct.

    So, you cannot just discard the data due to selection bias. The US is behind in many aspects no matter how you slice and dice the data. The best you can do is to say "it is not as bad as it seems", but it is still bad.

  49. I think we are running an enrire nation on culinary school grads. It's call the Independent Santuary State of San Francisco, a state that has more restaurants per square block and little else besides our panoramic views and real estate to drive the economy. Corporations are leaving SF and California and, as all you oh so smart liberals know, we lead the nation or at least we think you do in forward thinking. Or course the rest of the country just thinks we are a bunch of wacked out liberal wingnuts. There just a bunch of reactionaries. The entire country is wrong! Wrong I say. We are in the vanguard in our culinary tastes here on the left coast. Only our Asain fusion is more like a mix of Chinese totalitarian socialism and liberal mind expansionism.

  50. 8:18 give us:

    Or course
    wacked out
    There (they're)

    Perhaps a little voc ed in keyboarding for the trolls?

  51. Dear 6:54 AM:

    It does seem that there is one poor speller on this thread. However, as the OECD/PISA exam indicates, poor spelling, does not an incompetent thinker make.

    From the wiki page on the PISA exam:

    "In the reading test, "OECD/PISA does not measure the extent to which 15-year-old students are fluent readers or how competent they are at word recognition tasks or spelling". Instead, they should be able to "construct, extend and reflect on the meaning of what they have read across a wide range of continuous and non-continuous texts."

    According to the OECD/PISA, American students rank at the bottom of G20 countries. Their ability to comprehend and reflect on the meaning of what they have read is at the bottom of the G20 countries.

    So go ahead and pick away at someone's spelling.

    However, that doesn't change the fact that the majority of our public schools are terrible, whether we choose to test the students or not.

    The problem of our schools is not testing. The problem is that teachers are not able and not willing to teach the material that is in the California curriculum.

    And because of many factors, including parent disengagement from the education process, students are not able to learn the material that is in the California curriculum.

  52. Needless to say, I disagree that the majority of our schools are terrible.

    Here's another commentary (it's easier to read if you click on the link):

    The late, lamented Gerald Bracey, "A Test Everyone Will Fail," Washington Post, 5/3/07:
    The National Assessment Governing Board defined the "proficient" rating on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the nation's report card, as the level that "all students should reach." (The other levels are "basic" and "advanced"; the proficient and advanced levels are often reported together as "proficient or better.") Given that, and given that Sweden was the top-ranked country among 35 in the most recent international reading study, answer the following:

    1. If Swedish fourth-graders sat for our National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test, what proportion of them would be labeled "proficient or better"?

    2. If Singaporean eighth-graders sat for our NAEP science test, what proportion would be labeled "proficient or better"?

    3. In the Third International Mathematics and Science Study of 1995, where did American fourth-graders rank in science among the 26 participating nations?

    4. What percentage of American fourth-graders were labeled "proficient or better" in the 1996 NAEP science assessment?

    5. What indicators of achievement have been rejected by the Government Accountability Office; the National Academy of Sciences; the National Academy of Education; and the Center for Research on Evaluation, Student Standards and Testing?

    6. What are the first words in set-off text that one encounters in the "Leaders and Laggards" report released in February by the Center for American Progress and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce?

    Here are the answers:

    1. Thirty-three percent.

    2. Fifty-one percent.

    3. Third.

    4. Twenty-nine percent.

    5. The NAEP achievement levels: basic, proficient and advanced.

    6. "The measures of our educational shortcomings are stark indeed; most 4th and 8th graders are not proficient in either reading or mathematics."

    The extent to which our leaders, press and citizenry are eager to beat up on our schools is really pretty amazing.

    I do think it goes with one area in which the U.S. really DOES seem deficient -- respect for education and educators. We're all familiar with the contempt and hostility with which public school teachers are showered constantly -- as demonstrated by 9:27 -- but think also about the disdain from so many commentators about "academics," "latte-sipping professors," "pointy-headed intellectuals" and thus higher education as well.

    I certainly will acknowledge that other nations excel in that area, with cultures that actually respect educators and education, while it's so much a part of our culture to sneer and grimace.

    It's quite a struggle to have it both ways -- do we as a culture disdain and disrespect our educators and our school system, as demonstrated by 9:27? Or do we try to become a culture that supports education and educators, and that tries to motivate our students to succeed?

  53. It isn't my spelling. It's my unwillingness to appease people like you that makes me unwilling to have to double check for typos when I'm in a hurry and just want to write a quick comment in between other daily tasks.

    I don't know if you have ever read Ambtose's Undaunted Courage about Louis and Clark. Louis was undoubtedly a brilliant man, able to learn quickly on a variety of subjects. But he had almost no idea how to spell except to guess using phonics.

    Your interest in pointing out spelling errors tell us much more about you than my spelling errors say about my spelling or my education. By the way, I have some hand eye coordination issues from childhood that makes typing difficult for me. So excuuuuuuuuuuse me.

  54. Caroline,

    9:27 here.

    I'll stick with the results from the PISA scores. I believe that test is the best test of real world knowledge and is the most uniformly and reliably applied across a broad range of students, not just the elite.

    Again, on the PISA, American students place at or the bottom of G20 countries.

    Sure, an elite group of children from affluent and well educated families continue to succeed at the international level in many disciplines. But the vaste majority of highschool graduates seem to be functioning at a middle school level.

    I'm not entirely blaming teachers. A few years ago, I would have fought tooth and nail for teachers. However, having met a number of highschool teachers, I've been surprised at the extent to which they are hiding behind the union. They seem to be exhausted and jaded by the political climate and the endless stream of illiterate immigrant kids in their classroom. There seems to be a small growth industry of people who have suddenly decided to capitalize on state mandated programs to teach the learning disabled. Not that I'm against teaching the learning disabled, but I really wonder about the exorbitant costs of the recent mandates.

    That kind of teaching is very different from the engaged, change the world teacher that my grandmother was.

    The problems of our schools are so much bigger than the teachers.

    It's true that as a society we tend to bash teachers. However, it appears to me that the Teacher's Union and the School Board are doing their own teacher bashing right now exactly against teachers who were willing to take on these most challenged schools.

    Where is the accountability of our lawmakers and bureaucrats?

    Do you ever hear them say, "Hey, maybe we should cut back on immigration for a few years while we bring this generation up."


    Every decision seems bent on bringing in more hard to teach kids.

    I fault our lawmakers and the board for this. It's a politial expedient for them. And I also fault the Teachers' Union for not speaking out about this.

    And yes, teachers are the Teachers' Union, so, like it our not, in aggregate, teachers are responsible for what is happening to our schools.

  55. And just for any spell checkers out there, I'll fix my own typos:

    politial -> political

    just to save you the agony.

  56. Caroline,

    I wouldn't say our educators are bad. They do their best and do well in what they are supposed to do. With what we are expecting, I think a lot of public schools are very good.

    However, the problem is that the standard is set too low.

    Among the six examples you used, the first two are pointless. You don't take the kids from one country to have them tested in another country. The culture is different, language is different (Swiss speak French, German, Italian, but you want to test them in English?), and curriculum is different. What do you think American kids would do if you give them a test in Japanese?

    3 and 4 are from 95 and 96, 15 years ago. I won't even bother to look into them.

    5 and 6 are purely subjective. I may even agree with #6, with a qualifier. I believe the kids are doing well given the expectations of the system. Unfortunately, the expectations are pretty low.

    We haven't even touched the issue of second language. Most kids in other countries are required to take second language from elementary school. US has benefited from being the dominant economy, which won't be the case anymore in 20 to 30 years. Even in your rosy picture, American kids are already behind in language skills.

    My point is, if you don't think we need to change the expectations, then the system is doing OK. However, it is a global economy and everyone will be on equal ground in the competition for future jobs.

  57. 11:20 AM:

    10:53 here.

    I don't agree with you about the value of teaching a second language. It is true that if we could focus on teaching one or two second languages across the board, we might have some success with teaching them.

    However, the current patchwork of immersion programs, to which access in unfairly provided, draw funds and good students away from GE programs.

    No one in the international economy is going to care if you speak Mandarin, unless of course you want your kids to be jumping out the window at the Foxconn plant. (the maker of the iPhone.)

    And Foxconn would be very unlikely to hire a non-Asian, regardless of their Mandarin speaking ability.

    Americans need to refocus on our core creative strengths. We need to teach a broad academic curriculum which should include the mastery of language, and excellence in the maths and sciences.

    We need our government to refocus on longterm fundametal research and IP protection to safeguard and grow our economy.

    At the moment, we're no danger of excelling in math, that's for sure.

    2003 PISA scores in Math:

    22. Hungary
    23. Spain
    24. United States
    25. Italy
    26. Portugal

    Yep, we're right in there behind Spain and Hungary!

    As to the mathematically elite, China has won the International Math Olympiad 9 times, since 1992.

    In 2009, the rankings were:
    1. China
    2. Japan
    3. Russia
    4. Korea

    In 2008, the rankings were:
    1. China
    2. Russia
    3. USA
    4. Korea

    In 2007, the rankings were:
    1. Russia
    2. China
    3. Korea
    5. USA

    Again, we're off the mark in so many ways with our schools in San Francisco.

    Language immersion will help a few mostly Spanish, Mandarin and Cantonese speaking students. But unless their parents can afford private school, the rest will be left, quite literally, in the cold.

    The situation is shameful and smacks of the worst kind of partisan politics.

    Unlike one of the other bloggers on this thread, I am not at all a Republican or a tea partier. However, it is shocking and foolish to see the Democrats in this city and state so blatantly and foolishly fan the flames of American tax-payer disenfranchised rage.

  58. 1:27,

    Actually we are talking about the same thing mostly. My point is, US kids are behind _despite_ having no second language.

    I do defer you on the importance of the language but that's a different subject. Right now, my focus is on the (lack of) high expectations.

  59. Hmm, maybe the U.S. education-bashers are right, at least when it comes to the posters on the Republicans' new "America Speaking Out" website:

    "A 'teacher' told my child in class that dolphins were mammals and not fish! And the same thing about whales! We need TRADITIONAL VALUES in all areas of education. If it swims in the water, it is a FISH. Period! End of Story."

  60. Top this, South Korea!

    Another contributor had parody in mind (we hope): "English is are official langauge. Anybody who ain't speak it the RIGHT way should kicked out."

    "we need to reframe the discussion" about the BP oil spill to counteract the "environmental whackos" worried about wildlife. Republicans, this person proposed, should argue that "BP is creating a new race of faster dolphins. These fish are unable to compete against the fish of other countries, but now their increased lubrication will allow them to fly through the water. Faster fish = good."

  61. OK Caroline and 1:48.

    1:27 here.

    Very interesting discussion and thanks for your comments.

    It's heart breaking about the dolphins and all the sea creatures in the Gulf.

    Thanks for making me laugh about a rather grim situation.

  62. "Unlike one of the other bloggers on this thread, I am not at all a Republican or a tea partier."

    I'm sooooo relieved your not a Republican. Thanks for letting us know. Would you like to join out club?

  63. 4:28, I wasn't trying to be snarky or unpolite to anybody, regardless of their party affiliations.

    If anything, this dialogue illustrates the need for bipartisan problem solving and a search for common ground.

    Like the guys that were on that burning drilling platform, our time for bickering and partisan politics is running out.

  64. Do understand that liberals are the intolerant ones? They don't want to have anything to do with conservatives. They seek no middle ground. They think, for example, that if you want to unphold the rule of law in regard to illegal immigration you're a racist. The situation has reversed since the civil rights era when it was the conservatives who were intolerant. You can't make a conservative comment on this blog without invoking the wrath of the Left. How long have you lived in San Francisco 7:23? I will hand it to you for saying the unthinkable... a little nonpartisan cooperation is needed.

  65. "How long have you lived in San Francisco 7:23? I will hand it to you for saying the unthinkable... a little nonpartisan cooperation is needed."

    About ten years. And before that, Vancouver (Canada), which is also quite liberal.

    But my family are descended from Puritans . . . Vermont Democrats, small c Connecticut Republicans and Scots Presbyterians. So maybe that tells you a little of where I'm coming from.

    I hope we figure things out. I'm sad and scared for our country.

  66. Hey, just found this post on craigslist:


  67. Yes, the liberals prefer to have armed drug smugging gangs invading the border and creating havoc rather than allowing police officers asking for papers only after stopping individuals for other reasons. Is there a possibility for racial profiling? Yes, as always. What's the big deal. Everyone should have to have ID.