Monday, February 28, 2005


Nebraska Education Commissioner Doug Christensen got blasted in The World-Herald over the weekend for pushing through the state’s unique assessment system. Our state’s highest-ranking education official crafted a system that basically allows Nebraska schools to evaluate themselves instead of submitting to objective, outside assessments of educational quality.

Where I come from, they call that “studying your navel.”

But a lot of people have gone along with it because they didn’t want a nationalized or state-standardized exam system, which would mirror communist countries and so forth. Instead, we have no real accountability to the public. And consequently we continue to have raging grade inflation where masses of our students have close to a 4.0 average, and yet our state performance on standardized college admissions tests exposes our soft underbelly, for on those objective measurements, our kids are doing “C” work.

I say the problem is that we’ve let a bureaucrat tell us how we’re going to evaluate the job our public schools are doing. But no private-sector person would structure an accountability system that way. We SHOULD be comparing public-school performance to the job that’s being done in the private sector. There’s where the action is: a higher quality education for kids of all demographic groups.

Now, I can see where Christensen was coming from. Christensen didn’t want to bank entirely on standardized tests, because there’s more to evaluating learning than a test score. Everybody agrees with that.

But school superintendents such as Westside’s Ken Bird and John Mackiel of OPS say that the state’s complex system of multiple assessments to meet state and federal government education regulations is too expensive and cumbersome, for what it’s worth. And of course, they’re right.

Here’s the solution: scrap the system Christensen devised. It’s just plain too bureaucratic and downright meaningless.

Instead, prepare a newspaper supplement for every newspaper in the state, in which a set of easy-to-obtain data -- standardized test scores, spending per pupil, dropout rate, percentage of learning-disabled kids, percentage of kids in poverty, etc. -- are published.

The secret is, that same data should be published for public AND private schools in the state, plus lump the homeschoolers together as if in one district.

As soon as the public sees how much better the private schools and homeschools are doing on SAT and ACT scores and the other indicators, they’ll cry for the public schools to dump their lousy curriculum and align themselves with what WORKS, not what the bureaucrats LIKE.

That may be our best chance to get an apples-to-apples comparison of the job our public schools are doing. And boy, would it be a ton easier, cheaper and better.


Regarding the country school in Morrill County that made a mistake on its IRS forms and was scrambling to pay $9,000 in back taxes: Go Big Ed received a call from a good source who said there is more to this story than just the accounting glitch. While everything in the story is true, it might be wise to wait a while and let it play out before you commit to sending any money to help this country school. The vast majority of Nebraska's Class I schools are really good and well-run, and do an amazingly good job. Let’s just hope this situation works out for the best of all concerned, especially the eight students enrolled.

That story, by the way, was picked up by
www.northplattebulletin.com Note that online and print publishers are always welcome to run GoBigEd stories, as long as there’s a byline and attribution to this blog.

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