Lakoff’s Small Victory In Education

It’s the time of year when states are reporting results state tests and whether schools made “adequate yearly progress”. Two quick thoughts:

First, the media often does a lousy job of unpacking these figures so they make sense for the average person. Assuming that a sufficient number of students took the assessments, then whether or not a school made AYP depends on several things notably the test used, what the cut score to be “proficient” is, and what percent of students in a particular school must score proficient in order for the school to make AYP (for instance, in some states its as few as about one in three while in others it’s as much as seven in ten). Then there are the secondary issues. Is a state averaging school scores over several years, using confidence intervals, or are schools combining scores across grade levels? These variances are all allowable under the law and central to understanding how the AYP figures are arrived at in different states.

Second, how the media talks about these things matters, too. This story from today’s Wash. Post is instructive. According to the Post, offering parents public school choice or tutoring constitutes “penalties.” They don’t arrive at that verbiage by accident, Virginia and many other states, too, refer to “sanctions” and “penalties” for schools and it’s the common way the issue is framed. The media is merely, albeit uncritically, passing along a cue. But, it’s a cue rooted in the dubious assumption that the schools exist as an institution of their own right rather than one intended to serve students and parents.

In fact, Eduwonk doesn’t care much for the supplemental services provisions as they’re currently employed; too often they’re a throwback to ineffective pull-out programs rather than a coherent instructional program raising serious questions about the wisdom of financing them through Title I. Yet participating parents don’t view supplemental tutoring or a broader choice of public schools as a “penalty” or “sanction,” at least not in the common usage of those terms. And, like the provisions or not, surely there is more neutral language to describe these provisions outside of the editorial page.

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