In a lengthy and rambling blog post that has made the rounds via email, Peter Wood, President of the National Association of Scholars, responds to a National Research Council Framework for K-12 science education. He concludes with a modest proposal:
What if Congress were to set aside all its efforts at curricular reform? Tell the Department of Education: Desist. Tell the states: Keep the Common Core if you like, but there will be no “Race to the Top” bonuses for adopting it. Say goodbye to “No Child Left Behind.” Tell NRC, thanks for the Framework, but we’re not in the market. Instead, Congress would pass and the President sign a bill declaring that in 2020, nine years from now, no student who scores less than “proficient” on the mathematics portion of the National Assessment of Education Progress will be eligible for a federal student grant or loan.
Oh my. Where to begin? Can we begin with an observation that drawing conclusions about individuals is not at all what the NAEP was designed for? No, it was designed (whether you believe well or poorly) to measure national progress over time. It is given to a nationally randomized sample.
Is this nitpicking? Not when the proposal comes from the President of the National Association of Scholars (whatever that is, it seems reasonable for proposals from its president to undergo a modicum of intellectual rigor).
But this isn’t what draws me to write today. No it’s his predictions for the consequences should such a proposal be enacted:
1. The rate of math “proficiency” would zoom, well before 2020.
2. Educrats would do all in their power to dumb down the test and hollow out the meaning of “proficient.”
3. Schools would declare the standard onerous and destructive; and then miraculously make it work.
4. Colleges would find a large new source of students both capable of and eager to study the sciences.
5. The incidence of “dyscalculia” would drop precipitously.
The proposal bears an uncanny resemblance to No Child Left Behind. This demanded 100% proficiency by 2014 or districts, schools and teachers would face substantial consequences. How has this worked out? Let’s break it down.
1. Has the rate of math proficiency zoomed well before 2014? No. It was 26% in 2000 and 34% in 2009. Eight percentage points in 9 years.
2. Have educrats done all in their power to dumb down the tests? No. Whether you like Common Core or not; it’s certainly tough to make the case that CCSS represents a dumbing down of standards. Cheating at the school and district level, though? That’s something different, I’m afraid.
By the way, what is an educrat? Am I an educrat? Is Peter Wood?
3. Have schools declared the standard onerous and destructive? Yes. Have they miraculously made it work? No. Have you paid any attention to No Child Left Behind at all? Seriously. Saying it doesn’t make it so. This should be the lesson of No Child Left Behind.
4. Have colleges found a new source of students eager to study science? Ummm… No.
5. Has the incidence of dyscalculia dropped precipitously? This seems to be an odd preoccupation of Dr. Wood’s. But in his own words:
As if in anticipation of the bad news, stories about “dyscalculia” seem to be getting much more play. …[V]ery few people are altogether bereft of numerical sense. How few? Four to six percent according to dyscalculiaforum.com. “At least five percent,” according to Dr. Brian Butterworth, a cognitive neuropsychologist speaking on NPR’s “Science Friday” earlier this year. “Up to 7% of the population,” says the Science Daily article I quoted. I’ve heard estimates as high as 10 percent.
So high stakes testing over the last ten years has coincided with greater attention to dyscalculia, and Dr. Wood’s prescription for the epidemic is more high stakes testing?
Dr. Wood has less confidence in his final prediction:
6. The racial achievement gap might narrow.
It’s just that easy? Threaten African-American children with not being able to go to college unless they perform on the NAEP? That will close the achievement gap?