Tuesday, December 07, 2004


At times, parents of kids in public schools, and the taxpayers who fund them, feel like they’re under attack. Lately, it’s been kind of like Pearl Harbor: educational quality is being submarined by a lot of factors that most parents, taxpayers and even legislators don’t understand. Consequently, the education news is often bad, confusing, or just plain wrong.

Case in point: the bogus ‘’improvement’’ in Nebraska public-school test scores released with great fanfare Monday by the State Education Department. All the scores really mean is that some school districts are doing a better job than others of aligning their mediocre curriculum to the state’s mediocre learning standards. Some also have learned better than others how to train their kids to score points with the highly subjective and basically useless writing assessment evaluators so that they’ll ‘’look good on paper.’’

But let’s do a reality check:

-- Turns out Nebraska’s average teacher pay actually dropped one slot, from 41st in the nation to 42nd, instead of the reported meteoric rise to 36th, for the highly embarrassing reason that the National Education Association did the math wrong.

-- For a hint on how that enormous teachers’ union could possibly do a simple piece of math wrong, consider that the Program for International Student Assessment is releasing a report today that shows that 15-year-olds in the United States rank 21st out of 29 industrialized countries in the application of math skills to everyday life. The test, conducted by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, indicated that American math teachers are significantly underprepared and underdeveloped, and the type of math that they are teaching is too analytical and theoretical, without sufficient work in computation and practical applications. So, for example, when the NEA left out the fact that the Nebraska average teacher pay figures included extra income from coaching and sponsoring clubs and so forth, that was an error that wouldn’t have been made by people with some experience in elementary statistics. Look again at the big boner by the teachers’ union in the first item, above. Ya think?

-- Similarly, the Brown Center for Education Policy just issued its annual report, ‘’How Well Are American Students Learning?’’ on www.brookings.edu/gs/brown/brown_hp.htm Conclusion: the math questions on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the national test states have to give at least some of their students to get federal education funds, are “extraordinarily easy.’’ Questions had very little to do with fractions, decimals and percentages, but were simplistic exercises with whole numbers for the most part. Researchers found that the average level of difficulty on the test given to 4th graders was 3rd-grade level, with some questions on the 1st-grade level, and yet only 36% of the 4th graders could master them. It was even worse for the 8th graders. The report also says that in a scientific survey of 252 math teachers nationwide, only 22% were math majors in college, and only 41% had math teaching certificates.

We need to declare war on the status quo, or our country will look back on what’s happening in our schools now as a ‘’day of infamy.’’ Let’s look hard at getting rid of education degrees and teachers’ colleges altogether, and instead put content-ready teachers in charge of content-rich curriculum. And let’s work hard at building our private education system in the next few years ‘til the public schools are rebuilt.

Remember Pearl Harbor: and let’s not let our schools get sunk.

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