August 16, 2006

Eye On Education

T"The Reluctant Test Scores Report"

he President said this in a speech in April 2006: "During National Charter Schools week, we celebrate charter schools' commitment to academic achievement, accountability and innovation." This is the same administration that doesn't have any problem with public funds being used in private and parochial schools, an obvious dismissal of the long-held belief that the Establishment Clause contained in the First Amendment is the constitutional basis for a separation of church and state.

But the current administration has a track record showing disdain for public education in this country. Take former Education Secretary Rod Paige's comparing public school teacher organizations to terrorist groups. Then we have the No Child Left Behind fiasco which is turning education into a gold mine for testing companies.

Well, since we're on the subject of testing, and given that the administration has defined achievement by test results, let's review a recent Department of Education report on how well charter, private and parochial schools did on the National Assessment of Educational Programs reading and math tests.

Isn't it curious that the feds decided to release these results on a Friday afternoon in mid July? And why didn't Margaret Speilling, the new Education Commissioner, hold a press conference to inform the country of these important outcomes? Maybe the hope was that no one would be paying attention. But for once the news media and Internet drew attention to a report that disputes the claim that charter, private and parochial schools are superior to those in the public sector. The bottom line? Analysis of the NAEP test results showed that public school students performed as well or better than their private school counterparts in reading and mathematics with the exception of eighth grade math. However, Christian conservative school students test results were significantly lower than those of public school students on those eighth grade mathematics exams.

I, for one, have never believed that schools should be judged on test results alone. The recent history with the incorrect scoring of the SATs and other test corruptions should give pause to those putting all their eggs in the testing basket. No Child Left Behind has degraded education into a game of 20 questions. There is little or no attention paid to thinking skills, creative reasoning, civics, attitudes towards learning, and social responsibility and competencies. Schools could flunk all of those criteria and be considered successful according to NCLB.

Every year, public school districts in New York State have their test results published in the newspapers. In addition, each district must make its "Report Card" compiled by the state available to the public. Fair enough. If charter schools are going to get public funds for their students which are drawn from the home school district of that student, and voucher fans want those public subsidies for their private and parochial school, how about publicizing their student test results and other data just as public school districts must do?

So to my private, parochial and charter school colleagues, how about contacting the media around the time the public school Report Cards appear in the newspapers and issuing your Report Card that contains, among other things, this information:

- Tests utilized at various grade levels

- Results of those tests

- Dropout rate

- Graduation rate

- Number and description of certified personnel employed

- Number of uncertified personnel employed

- Pupil-Teacher ratio at each grade level (Average Class Size)

- Student Racial/Ethnic Origin

- Achievement results for special education students

- Achievement scores break-down by ethnic groups

- Total school budget

- Per pupil expenditures

- Sources of funding and revenues

- Line item budget details

Finally, let me repeat what I've said through the years regarding this notion that by relaxing federal and state mandates for the private sector, including charter schools, there will be a corresponding response in innovative teaching and learning activities. Well if that's the case, why not relax those same mandates for the public sector? This is really a no-brainer!

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