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December 28, 2002

Bush's Education Strategy a Failure

The keystone of Bush's "compassionate conservativism" was his education policy, a promise to combine more funding with higher achievement through rigorous testing.

Unfortunately, the whole strategy turns out to be a fraud.

Almost as soon as the ink was dry on his education bill last year, Bush began backing off his promises of more education funding, hardly a surprise given his broken campaign promises in so many other areas of policy.

Well, now the broadest study yet shows that his whole approach of student testing is an abject failure. Linking state-run tests to student advancement and teacher pay just encourages "teaching to the test" while undermining education across the board.

The study found that while student scores improved on the specific state tests, they fell on other independent exams such as the SAT and Advanced Placement tests.

after adopting such exams, twice as many states slipped against the national average on the SAT and the ACT as gained on it. The same held true for elementary-school math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an exam overseen by the United States Department of Education.

Trends on Advanced Placement tests were also worse than the national average in 57 percent of those states, while movement in elementary-school reading scores was evenly split.

Worse, in order to raise scores, the study indicates that failing students are encouraged to drop out to remove their bad scores from the pool.
Perhaps most controversial, the study found that once states tie standardized tests to graduation, fewer students tend to get diplomas. After adopting such mandatory exit exams, twice as many states had a graduation rate that fell faster than the national average as those with a rate that fell slower. Not surprisingly, then, dropout rates worsened in 62 percent of the states, relative to the national average, while enrollment of young people in programs offering equivalency diplomas climbed.

The reason for this is not solely that struggling students grow frustrated and ultimately quit, the study concluded. In an echo of the findings of other researchers, the authors asserted that administrators, held responsible for raising tests scores at a school or in an entire district, occasionally pressure failing students to drop out.

(Shades of Pump Up the Volume where Christian Slater exposes school administrators pumping up their testing scores and school aid by dumping failing students.)

As I noted back in June, Bush's education record in Texas was long ago exposed in studies as a fraud. Studies by RAND and others at Boston College have shown that while Texas students improved on the special Texas academic tests, they did not improve particularly or even had falling scores on natonal tests.

The new study, "High-Stakes Testing, Uncertainty, and Student Learning emphasizes not only the failure of testing to improve overall educational performance (and create many negative effects) but notes that which states have created such tests is also significant:

More important for understanding high-stakes testing policy is that high school graduation exams are more likely found in states with higher percentages of African Americans and Hispanics and lower percentages of Caucasians as compared to the nation. Census Bureau population statistics helped to verify this. (Note 35) Seventy-five percent of the states with a higher percentage of African Americans than the nation have high school graduation exams. By 2008 81% of such states will have implemented high school graduation exams...In other words, high school graduation exams affect students from racial minority backgrounds in greater proportions than they do white students.
Beyond the narrow failure of high-stakes testing to deliver even on their promise of broader skills achievement, by encouraging "teaching to the test", they undermine broader teaching of creative and intellectual engagement with the world. The study (written earlier this year before his death) quotes Paul Wellstone, who as always captured the issue well:
Education is, among other things, a process of shaping the moral imagination, character, skills and intellect of our children, of inviting them into the great conversation of our moral, cultural and intellectual life, and of giving them the resources to prepare to fully participate in the life of the nation and of the world.

Today in education there is a threat afoot,...: the threat of high-stakes testing being grossly abused in the name of greater accountability, and almost always to the serious detriment of our children.

What is sad about our politics is that if Bush was caught snorting a bit of cocaine, it would become a raging media firestorm, but a study showing that the centerpiece of his educational policy is a complete failure will merit only a few back page discussions.

See also bushnews.com for more on the fraud of Bush's education policies.

Posted by Nathan at December 28, 2002 08:35 AM

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There was recently a long thread on Brad deLong about education. I got the first post in, which was ignored. DeLong's comments have been colonized by a gang of free-market ideologues, so the whole thread consisted of exaggerating the problem, blaming the unions, blaming the teachers, advocating vouchers, and advocating testing, with a few subtle hints thrown in that certain categories of students are genetically uneducable.

My opening post responded in advance to many of the later posts, but in general it was ignored. (A few people tried to fight the good fight, but my belief is that many of the opponents are not arguing in good faith and were merely using education as a vehicle for ideological convictions to which their attachment was total. Thus it's a waste of time talking to them.)

Posted by: zizka at December 28, 2002 01:21 PM

There is a culture within blog commenting that, I believe, may have derived from some niches of newsgroup argumentation. It's relentless, venemous, anti-intellectual, self-aggrandizing, mutually reinforcing, and right wing. It's also deeply pathetic. The commenters at Jane Galt's site seem the leading avatars. . . .

Posted by: Jeff at December 29, 2002 03:28 PM

Nathan, thanks for documenting all this in a public place, so to speak. We in Texas knew much of the history of Bush's education failures before the 2000 (s)election, and the regrettably defunct organization Texas Truth Rangers (a group of liberal Democrats mostly from Houston) published documentation for distribution at conventions, to newspapers and on my old web site (also now defunct). Very few newspapers picked up the threads of our research (though one in San Antonio was out ahead of us regarding dropout rates). I can't help believing that if parents knew what we knew, they would be horrified, and maybe even vote differently (if they vote at all). But with every issue trumped by rumors of war and fears of terrorism, it's hard to get the message across regarding Bush's lies and failures in education policy. Thanks for your attempt; some of us... especially the professional educators I know... really appreciate all the help we can get.

Posted by: Steve Bates at December 30, 2002 01:11 AM

I think that Bush's "No child left behind" program is a buch of lies . For example if you have a not so smart kid in the same class as your class validictorian the smarter kid isn't learning anything because the not so smart kid is trying to learn the same thing that the smarter kid has been learning for the last 3 years . In my 8th grade math class I am learning things that I was taught in 6th grade, that some people in my class have never even herd of . I particularly think that it is pathetic not only for the student but their 3rd and 4th grade teachers that let the students pass without full knowlege of their times tables . Another thing that upsets me is that last year as a 7th grade student in Massachusetts I was in all honors classes now in 8th grade I was elegable for all honors classes and was then told that there were no longer any honors classes . This year I feel like I haven't learned a thing because all we are doing is review . I feel this should be changed because it could effect the outcome of the future societies, Unless what the country and the world is trying to do is dumb down the children because they don't want the future of the country and the world to effect the changes we are making now .

Posted by: Anna at March 31, 2004 09:16 PM

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