All public schools WILL fail by 2014

Coventry Courier Letter to the Editor 12/29/06

        Itís inevitable. All of our public schools will fail to reach 100% proficiency by 2014 as mandated by No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Already, ď[f]orty percent of Rhode Islandís 57 high schools are failing to educate all their studentsĒ according to the RI Department of Education as reported in the Projo (12/15/06 Article, ďFailing grade for more high schoolsĒ) The trend will continue. You can count on it.

Will our schools fail because our students are dumb? Are public school teachers not teaching our kids the necessary skills for success? Why is it that every decade or so, politicians and pundits bemoan how our nationís students fail to compete in the world?

First, the testing system is rigged. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the organization responsible for creating the tests used as part of NCLB. While states can use their own versions of assessments, the NAEP established the national proficiency levels. These proficiency levels were created by a panel of judges where teachers made up only 55% of the mix. The other judges included business executives, parents, and other non-teaching educators. These judges were given no standard by which to make their judgments, except their own opinion. In fact, the NAEP levels have been studied by a few different groups, such as the National Academy of Sciences, the Government Accountability Office, and the National Academy of Education. All of these studies came to the conclusion that NEAP levels were fundamentally flawed.

Second, these proficiency levels are difficult for even the best students. For example 2.7% of our students earned Advanced Placement college credit in calculus, yet only 1.5% of them scored accordingly on the NAEP assessment. In addition, our students ranked ninth in the world on the 2001 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, but only 30% of our students were proficient on the NAEP. Sweden (1st place) would have two-thirds of its students below proficiency. Moreover, even if the top international scoring math students (Taiwan) took our test, sixty percent of them would fail to reach the standard. On top of this, a student with an I.Q. of 65 is expected to achieve what the brightest academic students canít attain. (Economic Policy Institute)

Itís not that anyone is advocating that we donít need high standards for all students, but to elevate the bar to unattainable levels will only ensure failure. And, granted, while our students donít rank number one in the world on international tests, we do score well. Most importantly, our nation has the largest economy in the world and has ranked in 1st place in competitiveness for years by the World Economic Forum. We also hold 72 of the top 100 universities in the world. (Webometrics) We donít fail as a nation.

So, when you read about how dismal our future looks due to our supposed failing education system, remember that our schools failed when the Russians launched Sputnik into space. They failed again in the 1980ís with the report Nation at Risk. And now they are failing again. If the past is any indicator, our failing public schools are a good omen to a growing future.

For more information, read the recent report ĎProficiency for Allí Ė An Oxymoron by the Economic Policy Institute.