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Detroit: Worst Test Score Ever
December 11, 2009 4:49 PM   Subscribe

The results of the recent National Assessment of Education Progress (NEAP) tests are in. Detroit students posted the worst math scores ever in the history of the test.

"Those scores on the prestigious test are in the same range as would be expected from children who never attended school and simply guessed at the answers," said Robert Bobb, emergency financial manager of Detroit Public Schools, during a press conference Tuesday.

Frank Beckmann of the Detroit News says "the time for excuses is over."

Daniel Howes:
"This is the unraveling of an American city, a haunting parallel to the reckoning that is forcing fundamental change on the Detroit auto industry, its people, unions and communities. The keepers of the city's institutions are desperately fighting to maintain a status quo that is operationally broken, intellectually spent and morally indefensible."
posted by Acromion (68 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Must be all that Nuke that OCP is selling to kids in the streets.
posted by qvantamon at 4:57 PM on December 11, 2009 [6 favorites]


From the article: Just 33 percent of fourth-graders could subtract 75 from 301, whereas 67 percent of students nationwide correctly calculated the answer.

In a sick way, this is making me feel a lot better about some of the questions I missed on my exam today. What a mess this test must have been.
posted by battlebison at 5:04 PM on December 11, 2009


Just 33 percent of fourth-graders could subtract 75 from 301, whereas 67 percent of students nationwide correctly calculated the answer.

Detroit students also interpreted this as everything being fine because it adds up to 100 percent.
posted by qvantamon at 5:09 PM on December 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Just 33 percent of fourth-graders could subtract 75 from 301, whereas 67 percent of students nationwide correctly calculated the answer.

67 percent nationwide is just as much of a tragedy. This means that we are leaving one in three students behind. In a subject like math where each class builds on the previous, these are students who will never catch up - students who will be told they're bad at math until they start telling themselves they're bad at math. This is a big problem.
posted by LSK at 5:11 PM on December 11, 2009 [15 favorites]


Well this is pretty damn sad.
Robert Bobb, emergency financial manager of Detroit Public Schools, during a press conference Tuesday, [said,] "This is a complete indictment of the adult leadership in this district. ... It cannot be attributed to parental shortcomings, real or imagined. It is directly the result of the failure to lead, the failure to manage, failure to establish rigorous academic and strong professional standards."
The reaction I'm imagining to this indictment is similar to the "teaching the test" episodes from Season 4 of The Wire.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:13 PM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yes, Michigan, the feeling's forever!
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:14 PM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hey kids You can;'t even deal drugs right if you don't know math.
posted by Liquidwolf at 5:16 PM on December 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


Apparently Detroit has a long history of this kind of un-American activity.
posted by markhu at 5:27 PM on December 11, 2009


I just can't begin to imagine the situations of those kids. How many get enough to eat, a safe place to sleep, warm coats? How many have any place to do homework, or anyone who can help them?

The sad thing is there are kids like that in every city; it's just that all the more fortunate layers have been stripped away in Detroit.
posted by emjaybee at 5:34 PM on December 11, 2009 [11 favorites]


Bill Maxwell's column from last week's St. Pete Times on the report by Mission: Readiness/Military Leaders for Kids notes that the kids leaving school today are not even able to join the military, due to their lack of basic reading and math preparation.

In fact, with this kind of education, the only kind of labor force these kids are prepared to join is the free kind. (thanks Optimus Chyme for the previous grisly FPP)
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:41 PM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ladies and gentlemen, the future jurors and voters of America.
posted by meadowlark lime at 6:03 PM on December 11, 2009 [12 favorites]


Well at the rate things are going, I'm guessing Detroit is just ahead of the curve.
posted by mullingitover at 6:06 PM on December 11, 2009


Ladies and gentlemen, the future jurors and voters of America.
posted by meadowlark lime at 9:03 PM on December 11 [+] [!]

You know what? Maybe these "future voters" will recognize that they've been shortchanged and will work against the status quo. Maybe they'll vote en masse for drastic reforms. Maybe they'll hear something on the radio about "jury nullification" and decide not to send their kids to prison for smoking pot. Maybe they'll decide that, to recapture the social progress of the 1950s and 1960s in Detroit, they need to agitate for 94% income taxes just like their great-grandparents did in Chicago and Milwaukee and Boston and yes, Detroit. Maybe uneducated people can rise beyond their lot and turn things around.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 6:13 PM on December 11, 2009 [13 favorites]


"Those scores on the prestigious test are in the same range as would be expected from children who never attended school and simply guessed at the answers"

IANAHST but how many of the students are actually throwing down answers at random? What are the incentives to taking the test seriously?
posted by i'm being pummeled very heavily at 6:17 PM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


markhu: "Apparently Detroit has a long history of this kind of un-American activity."

OoOOooh socialism, definitely an un-American activity (unless it's socialized police and military forces, in which case we'll frantically wave our flags. Go 'Merca!)

Nevermind the fact that it was unvarnished capitalism that led manufacturers to move their production facilities out of country, where they wouldn't have to deal with those pesky unions and their arrogant demands for a living wage.
posted by mullingitover at 6:27 PM on December 11, 2009


The young people in detroit are a product of a society that has abandoned them. Government, Schools, and Parents have all decided they are not worth the investment necessary to provide them with an opportunity for success.

In addition, the funding system for education in Michigan is broken...when the difference in funding for students ranges from $7k per year to nearly $15k per year, where is the equity?

And, as easy as it is to look at this and say "I'm glad that isn't my community!"...and feel that it will never be YOUR problem, don't get too secure in that thought..... the concept of "unto the least of these" is ancient wisdom....
posted by HuronBob at 6:27 PM on December 11, 2009


Just 33 percent of fourth-graders could subtract 75 from 301, whereas 67 percent of students nationwide correctly calculated the answer.

Fox News is investigating hat happened to the other 20%.
posted by Mick at 6:29 PM on December 11, 2009 [10 favorites]


In the box I keep labeled "criminal things our society does," full of such things as "letting old folks starve because the stock market ate their savings" and "making people lose everything because they got sick" is "funding education through local property taxes." It is absolute bullshit that a wealthy community gets good schools and a poor community gets horrible schools.
posted by maxwelton at 6:30 PM on December 11, 2009 [24 favorites]


In the box I keep labeled "criminal things our society does," full of such things as "letting old folks starve because the stock market ate their savings" and "making people lose everything because they got sick" is "funding education through local property taxes." It is absolute bullshit that a wealthy community gets good schools and a poor community gets horrible schools.

Michigan actually passed Proposal A in 1994 to reduce disparities by reducing dependance on local property taxes, by, among other steps, increasing sales tax and earmarking the increase for education. Not that it seems to have done an especially good job--there's a decent summary here that talks about how the proposal reduced the disparity in per-pupil funding between districts, but has now reached a point where the disparity will not be reduced further.
posted by not that girl at 6:47 PM on December 11, 2009


OUTRAGE!!!

Sadly, I'm serious.
posted by sunshinesky at 6:51 PM on December 11, 2009


Proposal A didn't work. My local district receives $7k for each students. Districts in affluent suburbs receive up to 15k. How could that possibly be right?

And...let's talk about the great Lottery Lie... "vote in a lottery, we'll use the profits to increase funding to education!!!!" "and we'll reduce general fund $$$'s by the same amount! AND...further suck money from those that can't afford to gamble!!!.....Oh, wait, you didn't hear that, did you???? Did I say that out loud?"
posted by HuronBob at 6:55 PM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


IANAHST but how many of the students are actually throwing down answers at random? What are the incentives to taking the test seriously?

Another observation given the closeness of the answers to random noise what are the odds that the scantron machine was just broken, or that there was a data processing error down the line. I'm seriously wondering if the math error wouldn't turn out to be a math error by one programmer.
posted by humanfont at 7:02 PM on December 11, 2009


Proposal A didn't work. My local district receives $7k for each students. Districts in affluent suburbs receive up to 15k. How could that possibly be right?

Yeah, HuronBob--that thing I linked to talked about how early per-pupil amounts were set based on what the district was getting before Proposal A, so the whole thing was pretty well rigged from the get-go to preserve much of the inequality. Capital funds are still raised locally, which also perpetuates the gaps. The new funding system also makes funding more tightly tied to the student population, so when a district like Detroit--or Lansing, where we live--is losing students, it's pretty catastrophic.

I've been doing a lot of reading and studying on education and poverty, so nothing should surprise me, but when I saw those numbers in the sub-head ("Results show 77% of 8th-graders, 69% of 4th-graders lack basic math skills") I almost cried.
posted by not that girl at 7:02 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


You don't need to be able to add to know you've been fucked over. BTW, can we stop kicking Detroit in the balls now? I think we've pretty much pulverized them by now.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 7:03 PM on December 11, 2009


It is absolute bullshit that a wealthy community gets good schools and a poor community gets horrible schools.

It's not only the property taxes that determine this, though... yes, my school in Newport Beach, CA still has 20 to 1 classrooms in K-3 while most of the districts have done away with it, and that's because of property taxes, but our parents also donate around $300,000/year to fund a full-time tech teacher, an art teacher, new computers for the three computer labs, etc.

Our district includes some very poor areas as well, and those schools get all the advantages of being a basic-aid district, but some of them are still failing. I know the teachers there, they're very dedicated and work really hard. The biggest real difference? I have parents who are well educated and very involved in their child's education. They have parents who, for many reasons, can't be that.

I also have families who aren't so well educated and can't really afford to live in our area, and in some cases speak only Spanish, but they wanted their child(ren) to go to our school, so they made it work. Those are some of the best students I've had.

The problem in my view is that people get stuck on one idea that will 'fix' education and don't realize that there are many, many problems, some of them very complicated.
posted by Huck500 at 7:08 PM on December 11, 2009 [6 favorites]


"Those scores on the prestigious test are in the same range as would be expected from children who never attended school and simply guessed at the answers"

Well, yeah. You get enough students who think that standardized testing is crock of shit dressed up like beef stew and they are going to spend the day making pixel art or just guessing because they good care less.

By and large, tests test the ability and the interest in completing tests, and when I was in school standardized test week was an excuse to race to the bottom.

I wouldn't be surprised if different places in the US have students who need help with math. I'm just not sure relying on testing procedures like this is the way to go about finding out who needs that help.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:13 PM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I love Detroit despite its many failings, and if you think we needed a NEAP test to tell us that (public school) children aren't getting enough of an education, you're nuts. But here's the real issue: how do you fix it? Hint: there's no magic bullet.

Off the top of my head, a partial list of issues that need to be part of the solution:

1) Funding. Property taxes are never going to fix that school system.
2) Association of funding with testing outcome (hint: teaching to the test doesn't really help).
3) A removal of politics from the school systems (or at least, a reduction in its politicization*).
4) Teachers. I'm positive that the teachers in Detroit are doing their damnedest, by and large, but I bet they could still use some help.
5) Parental involvement. I haven't the slightest idea how to fix this.
6) Tools. From books to pencils.

* Yeah, right.
posted by axiom at 7:28 PM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Maybe they'll decide that, to recapture the social progress of the 1950s and 1960s in Detroit, they need to agitate for 94% income taxes just like their great-grandparents did in Chicago and Milwaukee and Boston and yes, Detroit.

Great idea. Because well-to-do people won't, you know, move a few miles to avoid to confiscatory tax rates, and take their money and job creation with them. Can't think of a faster way to kill a city.
posted by spaltavian at 7:28 PM on December 11, 2009


I encourage all y'all to read Clayton Christensen's Disrupting Class if you get the chance.

He makes a number of excellent points in the book, but chief among them is the point that most of the "single bullet" arguments about what's wrong with American education don't actually solve the problems our system faces. Instead, there are a number of challenging, interrelated issues that work in tandem to undermine our ability to consistently educate students successfully.

To whit, the issues in Detroit are much more complex than "lower class" or "not enough money in the school district" or "teacher's fault" or "parent's fault" or "union's fault" or "admin's fault." Its the fault of all of those things, plus an over reliance on standardized testing, mixed signals about NCLB, conflicting education goals, gang related issues, substance use issues, etc. etc.

I don't know how to untangle this Gordian knot (though I think the Alexander the Great method, after a fashion, might help a bit), but I do know that when somebody proclaims "this entire problem is because of [insert single specific cause here]," they are barking up the wrong branch of the wrong tree.
posted by Joey Michaels at 7:33 PM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Or, in other words, what axiom said.
posted by Joey Michaels at 7:33 PM on December 11, 2009


I don't know enough to speak to the situation in Detroit. It may indeed be that funding is a big part of the problem there. I can, however, speak to the situation where I live, in Washington, DC, where we spend more, per pupil, than anywhere else in the country and our test scores are still terrible.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:41 PM on December 11, 2009


Huck500,

I think you are right. Money is only part of the problem. We've been dumping more and more money into our school systems with little result. The problem is with the parents and the environment the kid lives in. I don't care if you have an olympic swimming pool and the best teachers money can buy, you can't just dump a kid into school building for 8 hours a day for 10 years and expect him or her to come out on the other end ready for college. It takes the effort of a supportive family and healthy community to educate our youth.

It is the kind of problem I wish we could just solve with MOAR MONEY, but this is a knee-jerk American solution that is just not going to work.
posted by Acromion at 7:48 PM on December 11, 2009


Joey,

I will probably get flamed to hell for this, but I am partial to Charles Murray's "Real Education." Let's just say I used to be an educational romantic, and I was ready to hate this book. But after I read it, I couldn't really disagree with what he was saying.
posted by Acromion at 8:01 PM on December 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


I have to go back to my old theory that the problem with "kids now-a-days" (jeez...I hate saying that, it makes me feel old! But, then again, I am.) is as much an economic/media/advertising issue as anything!

I grew up in an era where Dads worked and Moms stayed at home.. we all had what we "needed" (note the difference between "needed" and "wanted") and there was at least one parent around the house to make sure that we didn't fuck up royally!

Then came the media, and we needed two cars instead of one, we needed a TV set, we needed more and bigger...and Mom went to work so we could afford it...

Now we're coming home (or not) to an empty house, little supervision, glued to media that doesn't send a very positive message or promote a wonderful life style....

The answer... make it possible/desirable/typical for a family to live on one income.
posted by HuronBob at 8:02 PM on December 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


Apparently Detroit has a long history of this kind of un-American activity.
posted by markhu at 5:27 PM on December 11


Uh-huh. And the ad at the top of your ridiculous, idiotic, racist link?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:43 PM on December 11, 2009


we needed a TV set, we needed more and bigger...and Mom went to work so we could afford it...

Maybe for you. For many people, it's a matter of, "We need health insurance/rent/better quality of food." Even in the glorious good old days, it was quite common in lower-economic families for both parents to work. Not because they wanted toys, but because they needed to. And today, the problem is even worse. Today, it's a matter of survival for many people.

The answer... make it possible/desirable/typical for a family to live on one income.

Yeah. And while you're doing all that, go ahead and fix society so that Mom isn't, by default, the one who stays home 99% percent of the time. Maybe do something about that pesky sexism, or how about magically transform the world so that it rewards all those "pink ghetto" jobs with better pay and benefits.
posted by Salieri at 9:06 PM on December 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


"Ladies and gentlemen, the future jurors and voters of America."

Numeracy, like literacy, helps you be a better citizen, but you can execute your civil duties just as easily without either, and it's elitist to think otherwise.
posted by garlic at 9:30 PM on December 11, 2009


"Ladies and gentlemen, the future jurors and voters of America."

Numeracy, like literacy, helps you be a better citizen, but you can execute your civil duties just as easily without either, and it's elitist to think otherwise.


No way. For justice to be served, this woman deserved jurors who understood basic statistics and probability, notably the concept of independence of random variables.

Detroit is not the only city raising children who fail to understand this -- but the point is that you should understand it in order to serve on that jury.
posted by louigi at 9:52 PM on December 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


"Michigan actually passed Proposal A in 1994 to reduce disparities by reducing dependance on local property taxes, by, among other steps, increasing sales tax and earmarking the increase for education. Not that it seems to have done an especially good job--there's a decent summary here that talks about how the proposal reduced the disparity in per-pupil funding between districts, but has now reached a point where the disparity will not be reduced further."

Prop A was some of the worst law ever introduced. By capping property taxes and attempting to make everything up on sales taxes, Michigan (under Engler) basically introduced one of the most regressive tax regimes in the country.

But the combination of terrible funding, an incredibly dysfunctional school board, a long-term antipathy (somewhat justified) between state government and Detroit government, an even more incredibly dysfunctional city council, the general inequities of race and class, the collapse of the local and state economy, and that most of these problems have existed for the entire lives of these students (if not the lives of their parents), well, I wish this was surprising.

I remember when my brother did his student teaching in east Detroit and just how incredibly hopeless everything seemed there, like that most teachers wouldn't even park their cars in the school lot because during the school day they'd be broken into and vandalized, or that he was working with fourth graders who couldn't learn math because they could barely read…
posted by klangklangston at 10:02 PM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh wow, just read that "Unamerican" link. What utter horseshit.
posted by klangklangston at 10:08 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Reported by a newspaper with staff capable of writing about Lufthansa's "irrisitable deal for adventuresome voyagers" (see Travel Blog near the foot of the page). Maybe there are other areas besides math which need a closer look.
posted by aqsakal at 10:58 PM on December 11, 2009


This has been going on for far longer than Engler. Back in 1981, when I was a sophomore in high school, our school district failed to pass their millage. What the meant, for my school, was that they canceled every elective. So - no band, no sports, no art classes, nothing that wasn't an academic class. And that lasted until the last semester in my senior year. We had no electives. The teachers were pissed, the students were demoralized and humiliated. There's something intrinsically wrong with the people in that state - something in the water, perhaps, but they are all too willing to sacrifice their children for a couple hundred dollars a year. I'm unsurprised by any of this.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:42 PM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Those scores on the prestigious test are in the same range as would be expected from children who never attended school and simply guessed at the answers"

-I made a serious attempt to bomb on my STAR test here in California back in high school. I answered A B C D E D C B A etc. all the way down. I passed.

"In Cleveland, 49 percent of fourth-graders scored below basic, 43 percent in Washington, D.C., and 42 percent in Fresno, Calif. The best was Charlotte, N.C., where only 14 percent scored below basic."

As far as standardized testing goes, aside from the differences between cities like Fresno and Charlotte, if most of the tests show that kids here are lacking more than kids there, does the test really give an accurate picture of what a fourth grader's education looks like?

I remember studying for the SAT, and everyone (teachers, tutors, previous test takers) told me that the key to getting the best score was to know how to take the test. There were strategies for beating the system and getting as many points as possible if you didn't know the correct answer.

I know the SAT is not comparable to a fourth grade standards test. It's just that it seems really really stupid to say "This is a complete indictment of the adult leadership in this district. ... It cannot be attributed to parental shortcomings, real or imagined. It is directly the result of the failure to lead, the failure to manage, failure to establish rigorous academic and strong professional standards." in light of the fact that in eighth grade, I was fourteen. Strong professional standards? In eighth grade? In Detroit? Come on. I was putting gum in my crush's hair in eighth grade.

At any rate, they can go find some heads to roll if they really want to. Still won't solve anything. Besides, all those administrators and school board people once took their own version of a standard test. Look what they did.
posted by bam at 12:06 AM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


*edit* Look what *happened*.
posted by bam at 12:08 AM on December 12, 2009


One more thing: Ok, your last name is Bobb. You have a kid and name him Robert?
posted by klangklangston at 12:18 AM on December 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


Lemme get this straight. Do these tests have any real relevance for these kids? I mean, if you're 14, and a test has 0 influence on your particular future (who cares about the school district at 14?), why are you going to put any effort in your answers?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 12:40 AM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think this was in Outliers (or some similar book) -- that kids in "problem districts" usually start out learning at rate that's comparable to kids in better districts. The problem starts sneaking in during the summer. Kids from more affluent backgrounds tend to retain the knowledge better over the summer vacation. The idea here is that, over the summer, they're more likely to be involved in activities that reinforce their learning. And year after year, summer after summer, this deficit is compounded -- sort of like compound interest in a bank account, where you start earning interest on the interest. So one idea is to switch to year-round schooling -- an idea I loathed as a kid, but appreciate as an adult.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:34 AM on December 12, 2009


Acromion: I will probably get flamed to hell for this, but I am partial to Charles Murray's "Real Education." Let's just say I used to be an educational romantic, and I was ready to hate this book. But after I read it, I couldn't really disagree with what he was saying.

There's actually more common ground between Disrupting Class and Murray's work than might be obvious. Much of "Future School" theory works on the idea that education should be based on treating students as individuals with specific skills and interests.

At one extreme end of the theory if a student is interested in, say, working on car engines, her or his education should be built around this - both because students tend to learn better when they see the immediate need for their skills and because it actually prepares the student to do something practical.

Now, Murray would probably agree with this, but frame it in the most offensive way possible. As the Dude might say, "you're not wrong, Charles Murray, you're just an asshole."
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:21 AM on December 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


"I remember studying for the SAT, and everyone (teachers, tutors, previous test takers) told me that the key to getting the best score was to know how to take the test. There were strategies for beating the system and getting as many points as possible if you didn't know the correct answer."

I used to teach SAT prep, and this is only half true. There are strategies for improving your score, specifically that you should guess if you can eliminate two wrong answers on the multiple choice. But knowing this won't help you much if your basic math and reading skills aren't there.

I'm not a fan of standardized testing, but it's clearly telling us something about the sad state of elementary public education in America.

That said, there's plenty of blame to go around. Me, I'd start by reforming public school hiring by placing more emphasis on subject knowledge rather than education training. If you have an MA in biology from Harvard you aren't qualified to teach public school in America. However, a BA in education from a weaker school will qualify you. To be more blunt, it was no secret when I was in graduate school that the easiest route to a PhD was through the ed school. I don't think my university was alone in this. Further, the fact that new educational fads are pumped out by these places is a feature, not a bug. The ed school professors need to develop new and exciting edu-babble in order to make their tenure look legitimate.
posted by bardic at 3:16 AM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is why locally funded school systems are so deeply wrong and so terribly unfair. The futures of children shouldn't be so tied to the economic fortunes of a particular city.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:01 AM on December 12, 2009


I wish I'd read the rest of the thread before posting that.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:07 AM on December 12, 2009


Me, I'd start by reforming public school hiring by placing more emphasis on subject knowledge rather than education training. If you have an MA in biology from Harvard you aren't qualified to teach public school in America. However, a BA in education from a weaker school will qualify you. To be more blunt, it was no secret when I was in graduate school that the easiest route to a PhD was through the ed school.

Agreed, although I think at least a basic study of educational theory and practice is useful before Ms Harvard grad is unleashed upon the youthful unwashed hordes. This goes as much for the teacher as the student.

Education is well known in Australia also to be the softest of PhDs.
posted by Wolof at 4:43 AM on December 12, 2009


And how much of this indifference to education is cultural? As a society we consistently undervalue education and the importance of being educated. It's a lot of screaming when test scores are low, but every other time the national narrative is that education makes you an out of touch elitist who doesn't understand the great American spirit of equity and enterprise and you're probably a chump to boot.

You can't tell people that education is meaningless and they should work on being good dancers or ball players or rock stars and then wonder at the fact that they don't apply themselves to the very thing you're dismissing. Upper and middle class families stress education because they have the leisure or the capital to enforce the importance of education on their children (and even then it doesn't always work), but if you're working twelve hour days as a single parent to put food on the table you don't have the time to monitor their homework or the money to buy your kid tutoring sessions.

I wish I had an answer for that, but I don't.
posted by winna at 5:01 AM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


bam, clvrmnky, others: OK, a high percentage of kids are failing the test because they think taking the test is bullshit and are answering randomly or intentionally bombing for the hijinx. But perhaps this is itself indicative of the failure of the system to inculcate in them a love of learning, pride in their work, sense of integrity, etc. When I took the stupid standardized tests in school, I always strove to do my best on them, because I usually try to do my best. And garlic, I don't want people who are too cool to care or have no sense of duty or pride in accomplishment phoning in their civic duties.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 5:29 AM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's actually more common ground between Disrupting Class and Murray's work than might be obvious. Much of "Future School" theory works on the idea that education should be based on treating students as individuals with specific skills and interests.

That book sounds interesting - I think I will check it out. It does sound like there are a lot of parallels between the two. Instead of obsessively trying to get kids to acheive high scores on some arbitrary, one-size-fits-all standardized test, why not identify, celebrate, and develop their true talents. We could have the best electricians and auto mechanics in the world if we did that.

Charles Murray is surprisingly non-assholish in tone in Real Education. He points out that one of the cruelest things you can do to a child's self-esteem is to insist that he or she is capable of doing anything they put their minds to. Quite simply, that is not the case. Since by definition, half of children are below average when it comes to academics, it is quite dispiriting to very non-gifted children to set them up to fail over and over. I know, for instance, that I was never very athletic, and that from looking at my family members, I could see where I inherited that characteristic. When I tried out for the basketball team, I didn't make the cut, and no one lost sleep over it. If I had been allowed on the team, no amount coaching would alter my innate suckitude at sports. I would only drag down the team and it would be completely demoralizing to me. Better to focus on what I'm good at.

Part of the problem is that we over-value academic achievement and undervalue vocational training. We have an unrealistic and wasteful educational system that tells students their ultimate goal is to obtain a BA or else they won't be successful in life. Not everyone in society needs or wants to be able to esterify a fatty acid or write 20 page research papers. Vocational education for many students would be far more fruitful. Jobs that require vocational training are very much needed and can be very lucrative, especially since the upfront cost of education is much cheaper. A more humane system would be to identify the students that are capable and desirous of a college education, and steer them on to that track. Students that are not capable of performing on that academic level are told they are just as good as any other, and they would benefit more from identifying their true talents and developing them appropriately.

BTW: This comment is tangential to the original post. I'm not saying this is the main problem with the Detroit school system, whose issues run far deeper than the educational system at large in the US.
posted by Acromion at 6:16 AM on December 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


"If you have an MA in biology from Harvard you aren't qualified to teach public school in America. However, a BA in education from a weaker school will qualify you."

Yeah, though from watching my brother get an ed BA from one of the top programs in the country (you're good at something, EMU!), there actually is a lot of pedagogical skill that's required to teach well. I think an easy comparison would be classes in college, in that there are some classes taught by folks who are really good at teaching that make whatever subject much easier to learn for everyone, whereas there are certainly classes taught by folks who have little to no interest in pedagogy that are torture to make it through.

Regarding Detroit, though, there's also the problem that no good teacher ever has to work there if they don't want to. Anyone halfway competent can get a job somewhere else in the state for more money and far less hassle, so in order to teach there you either have to really love Detroit (likely having grown up there and come back) or really be a fuck-up that can't get hired anywhere else.
posted by klangklangston at 9:53 AM on December 12, 2009


Do these tests have any real relevance for these kids?

Is subtraction relevant enough for you?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:11 AM on December 12, 2009


A third of American 4th graders can't successfully subtract a two digit number from a three digit number? This is probably going to sound GOML but the problem is deeper than Detroit as that's basic math that is well within the capabilities of 4th graders.
posted by Mitheral at 10:16 AM on December 12, 2009


So one idea is to switch to year-round schooling -- an idea I loathed as a kid, but appreciate as an adult.

Mmm, I'm not convinced of the value of that, especially in the case of retention of material over breaks.

Still, though, when I look up the research on the topic, I find this conclusion, among others generally optimistic (MeMail me if you'd like a copy):

"No significant differences in nonacademic outcomes were found between the two school calendars [traditional and year-round]. Interviews with teachers and administrators in six matched schools suggested that changes in organizational arrangements, social climate, and conceptions of curriculum and instruction helped to explain better academic achievement in YRS [year-round schools]."*

*Shields, C. (1999). What Can We Learn From the Data? Toward a Better Understanding of the Effects of Multitrack Year-Round Schooling. Urban Education, 34(2), 125-154.
posted by librarylis at 10:47 AM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I currently work as the Testing Coordinator for my charter school (in addition to teaching 4 English classes). I also used to teach remediation classes to juniors and seniors who hadn't passed the CAHSEE (California High School Exit Exam). The insight I've gained through both of these experiences has helped my teaching SO MUCH.

IANAHST but how many of the students are actually throwing down answers at random? What are the incentives to taking the test seriously?

Essentially, unless there's an immediate effect on the student's life, none. Starting in January and February here in California teachers in classrooms across the state will be told by the administration to really emphasize the importance of the STAR tests given in April/May. The amount of "yeah, right" from the students is totally justified. They get a report in the mail saying they scored X, and it doesn't affect their grade, and that's all they hear of it until next January.

-I made a serious attempt to bomb on my STAR test here in California back in high school. I answered A B C D E D C B A etc. all the way down. I passed.

Just for clarity's sake, you can't really "fail" the STAR tests. It's a norm-referenced test and you get a score based on the percentage of you scored equal or better than (99th percentile, etc). There is a number score attached to it that has been cut up into levels (far below basic, below basic, basic, proficient, and advanced), so I suppose you could "aim" for Far Below Basic, but you'd have to be a lot more active in your effort than just randomly plugging things in. Which, I know, is a sad statement about standardized testing.

Me, I'd start by reforming public school hiring by placing more emphasis on subject knowledge rather than education training.

Our site has hired a number of subject area experts who are coming to us from industry after retiring. They were terrible teachers. The Wise Sage Onstage is usually how these folks approach instruction, which, while it has its place, isn't considered the best for high school. Don't discount the benefits of having a solid understanding of pedagogy. At this point in my career, I feel like I could teach just about anything (at the intro level) given enough lead time to prepare.
posted by mdaugherty82 at 10:51 AM on December 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Seventy-seven percent of Detroit eighth-graders scored below basic, compared to 63 percent in Milwaukee and 62 percent in Washington, D.C.

Milwaukee: "At least were not Detroit"

I've often said, half jokingly, that I was educated despite the Milwaukee Public Schools. It's not even a little bit funny anymore. I was saddened to read that 30% of the students at my old high school are classified as "special education". An average of 20% of students in high schools with 500 or more students. As bad a shape as MPS is in Milwaukee in general seems to be in much better shape than Detroit. Where do we even start fixing this? It's going to take decades to fix these problems and I don't think Detroit has that long.
posted by MikeMc at 10:51 AM on December 12, 2009


Acromion: That book sounds interesting - I think I will check it out. It does sound like there are a lot of parallels between the two. Instead of obsessively trying to get kids to acheive high scores on some arbitrary, one-size-fits-all standardized test, why not identify, celebrate, and develop their true talents. We could have the best electricians and auto mechanics in the world if we did that.

Well, there's a number of problems with that:

1. If you don't educate people in most traditional subjects, you're going to turn out students who may be shockingly ignorant in certain areas - even if you're a great auto mechanic, a serious deficiency in math or history is still not a good thing, and contributes to the general ignorance of society.

2. People's natural proficiencies and interests aren't going to match up, statistically, to the job market. You might get way too many auto mechanics and no electricians, or the other way around. Think of how many students have their strongest proficiency in, say, athletics or art - even if it's what your best at, unless you are extremely good, it isn't a good career path to take.

3. Identifying talents and interests is very difficult, particularly at young ages. How are you going to find out someone has a strong proficiency in something like chemistry without teaching them fairly advanced math and language skills so that they can actually try it? How are you going to compare someone's skill in engineering to their artistic talent? It's not easy and I don't see how you are going to let people try a lot of these fields without giving them a fairly generalized background.

I'm not a huge fan of standardized tests, don't get me wrong, but I do think a generalized education is more valuable than you suggest.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:15 AM on December 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


When I took the stupid standardized tests in school, I always strove to do my best on them, because I usually try to do my best.

There are other things to strive for besides high grades. One thing students might be striving for is to demoralize the school leadership or force a rethinking of education. In those departments, these students are succeeding. Yes, I could be giving them too much credit but obediant test-taking (resulting in cheerful, self-satisfied school administrators), while perhaps slightly beneficial in the short run, is not necessarily a good long-term strategy.
posted by i'm being pummeled very heavily at 3:22 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


[few comments removed - save the lulzy omg comments for metatalk pls]
posted by jessamyn at 9:21 PM on December 12, 2009


Mitrovarr -

Sorry I didn't have the time to do a full treatment of the book, but Murray addresses each one of your very fair criticisms.

I will address your points:

1.) Murray thinks this is VERY VERY important and argues that elementary and high school should strive to educate a student that is culturally competent and literate, so he or she can function in our society. Basic reading and math are teachable to all children, except for some that are mentally challenged. College or vocational training comes after high school, and it is in high school that each student learns the basics needed to survive in our society.
Vocational training comes after high school and it shouldn't be considered a poorer alternative to getting a BA. By the time a student is in high school, educators should be able to help steer the student into further education that will most benefit him or her.

2.) No, they don't always match up, but that is better than asking a student to strive for an expensive BA that has no use to them. Teachers, parents, peers, and guidance counselors can all help steer a student into a program that matches his or her talents with what is available in the market.

3.) This kind of tracking you refer to has been going on for quite some time. All students will have an opportunity to explore math, the arts, the sciences, ect . . . in grade school and high school. Students that fall behind in math, for instance, need not be brow-beaten by it. They can have an opportunity to learn that they might be better at something like art or fixing bikes.
posted by Acromion at 10:57 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hal Mumkin, mdaugherty82 pointed out that you can't really fail the STAR testing and it actually kinda pisses me off now because I had been told it was possible. (wonder why, psh) So I had taken the previous three STAR tests quite seriously. That last test was the last straw I suppose, I had a whole bunch of reasons why I was gonna bomb it (waste of time, never affected my grade, blah blah blah) as though I had better things to do with my time. It wasn't as noble an ambition as forcing educators to rethink their educational methods, it was more of like....I dunno, tossing a really valuable, fragile collectible item packaged in three feet of foam, cardboard and bubble wrap into the backseat of my car. I used to take care of it, but I didn't see the point anymore.
posted by bam at 11:51 AM on December 13, 2009


Oh, and please leave your condescension out of this. Otherwise I'm not gonna take you seriously.
posted by bam at 12:00 PM on December 13, 2009


One thing students might be striving for is to demoralize the school leadership or force a rethinking of education.

They're in 4th grade. We're talking about kids who are around nine years old. I know you want to give them the benefit of the doubt, but that's just going too far. They failed the test because they don't know the math.

It would be nice to see parents coming to that school in outrage, determined to turn this around and work with the schools to do it. I'm really interested to see what the *community* does about this.

I hope that what they DON'T do is to start rationalizing, saying things like, "Maybe the kids tried to fail," "What good are these tests?" and "Why do we need math anyway?"
posted by misha at 8:38 PM on December 13, 2009


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