Wednesday, April 07, 2004



First, note that the affluent Kansas City suburb, Shawnee Mission, passed a $184 million bond issue Tuesday with 68 percent of the vote in favor. It’s the second-largest bond issue in Kansas history and comes despite a Nebraska-style spending lid on school operating expenses. No such lid exists on capital expenditures, except, of course, if the voters say ‘’no.’’ This time, they didn’t.

The money will go for replacement grade schools ($54 million for six), athletic facilities ($38 million, including extra gyms for each of the five high schools and a football stadium), and miscellaneous other projects.

Critics, led by investment advisor Joe Kain, had said much of the proposal was for ‘’fluff.’’ Kain was quoted in the Kansas City Star as saying, ‘’I still would like to hear an intelligent argument on how building buildings and auxiliary gyms will help our children learn.’’

Moving on to a second follow-up:

Nebraska’s K-12 education system gained national exposure the other day when a Chicago newspaper article about our lack of a statewide achievement exam was republished on the yahoo.com webpage seen by millions.

Nebraska is the only state without a statewide test, and that stance by our education establishment has been criticized as self-serving and a blatant attempt to avoid accountability.

Nebraska education officials have pooh-poohed objective, standardized tests as the key measurement of student progress. Instead, they’ve set up a wide range of approaches: local tests of locally-devised standards, a statewide writing assessment, and lots of ‘’portfolio assessment,’’ where basically the teacher decides whether or not the child has attained mastery.

It’s the quintessential outcome-based education model: the people paid to teach and administer are accountable only to themselves for whether they’re doing a good job. You set the bar so low kids practically trip on it . . . and pat yourself on the back for ‘’helping’’ kids meet ‘’rigorous standards.’’


Nebraska Education Commissioner Doug Christensen was quoted in the Chicago article as saying, ‘’I don’t give a damn what ‘No Child Left Behind’ says. I think education is far too complex to be reduced to a single score.’’

That test-bashing disdain by the state’s top educrat for the decisions made by Congress and his counterparts in the other 49 states is eyebrow-raising when coupled with the fact that Nebraska’s assessment system is more expensive, more subjective, and much more time-consuming than what everyone else is doing.

The good news is, it makes us less vulnerable to a national takeover, since we don’t ‘’fit in’’ so easily. But that’s scant consolation.

Significantly, Nebraska’s stance makes achievement comparisons among districts and schools within Nebraska impossible, while they are easy to do in the states where the kids all take the same tests. That’s a slammed door to Nebraska taxpayers seeking accountability for their K-12 investments in the form of federal, state and local taxes.

Of course, educrat test-bashers like Christensen counter that standardized tests may be cheaper, more objective and more reliable as a measuring device since they are from an external source rather than an ‘’inside job’’ . . . but have too many problems and dangers to be a good measure of teachers, curricula, textbooks and . . . well . . . of the public-service job being done by the educrat test-bashers themselves.

Oh, yeah?

Comes now a book review from Men’s News Daily about ‘’Kill the Messenger’’ by Richard Phelps (Transaction Publishers, 2003), a book that debunks the myths about standardized testing and exposes why, in places like Nebraska, standardized testing is too threatening to educators to be allowed.

The reviewer said Phelps uses ‘’staggering scholarship’’ to defend standardized testing against several common myths, and to discredit subjective assessment systems such as Nebraska’s.

Phelps, who holds a Ph.D. from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (www.richardphelps.net), reports that testing error is so rare it is ‘’infinitesimal.’’ He said tests are not creating widespread dropping out despite claims to the contrary. And he said cheating is actually easier to prevent with standardized tests than with any of its alternatives, including Nebraska’s heavily subjective ‘’portfolio’’ system.

He said systems like Nebraska’s are vulnerable to manipulation, politicization (favoritism and subjectivity), and grade inflation through appallingly dumbed-down standards. The latter is borne out by the factoids about the Ralston Public Schools that were included in the Chicago article.

On Ralston’s own assessment of its own standards as reported to the state, 76 percent of the students met reading standards and 97 percent met math standards. But the same kids took the national Stanford exam and did much worse: only 58 percent scored above average in reading and 60 percent were above average in math.

Analyze THAT . . . and assess THIS:

Somebody ought to buy that school board . . . and Doug Christensen . . . a copy of Phelps’ book.

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