Category Archives: Quote of the Day

What’s at stake with the standards movement?: “[T]he kind of individuals we are developing and the kind of nation we wish to be”

The titular quote is from a new book by William A. Proefriedt, High Expectations: The Cultural Roots of Standards Reform in American Education; the video is from a review of that book in the Teachers College Record.

Proefriedt reminds us that the quest for quick and easy (or quick and dirty) standards and accountability has steamrolled a long tradition in America of striving for mass education that cultivates democratic ideals and full individual development while working against  “individual economic rapaciousness” as a danger to the Republic.  This is a tradition we don’t want to lose.

All the “business model” reformers and champions of “consumer interest” as a tool of reform (and that includes Sec. Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama) would do well to read Proefriedt and heed the wisdom of those he has written about.

See also: William A. Proefriedt, “Reading Emerson.”

Thomas J. Mertz


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Quote of the Day — Promises to Keep


From the 2008 Platform of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin:

Education, Labor, and Economics

Quality public education for all is critical to a healthy democracy and economy. Public funding for private schools diverts resources from and adversely impacts public schools. Increased governmental funding and financial aid is essential for all levels of public education. Nobody should be denied a quality education because of a personal lack of financial resources. The benefits of a quality education always outweigh the costs.

We believe that students have the right to receive their education in a safe, respectful, and nurturing environment, free from harassment or discrimination by teachers, staff, parents, or other students. We support fair and equitable funding for all elements of the curriculum, including art, music and physical education. A strong Wisconsin public education system builds a strong Wisconsin.

Wisconsin‘s current educational funding system has failed. The law allowing a limited qualified economic offer has caused diminishing compensation for teachers. Teacher compensation must keep pace with costs of benefits and inflation. Public school teachers must not be taken for granted. They deserve tremendous respect for their work educating our youth under challenging circumstances.

Revenue caps on school districts and other local governments must be eliminated. State or federal governments must fully fund their mandates (emphasis added).

The Democratic Party now controls the Assembly, the Senate and the Governor’s office in Wisconsin.  Time to keep the promises they made in order to gain that control.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Quote of the Day — Stunning Illogic and False Hope from the New York Times

Click the image for more NCLB cartoons.

Click the image for more NCLB cartoons.

The Bush administration allowed states to phony-up statistics on everything from graduation rates to student achievement to teacher training and state education standards. As a result, the country has yet to reach not only the goals that were clearly laid out in the law but also farsighted education reforms dating to the mid-1990s. (emphasis added)

New York Times, “A New Day for School Reform,” editorial, February 21, 2009.

There may be some truth to the cause and effect on teacher training, but the implied idea that the failures of No Child Left Behind are due to  setting standards (curricular and Adequate Yearly Progress) too low is illogical and reinforces multiple flaws in the NCLB.

Some asides at this point.  I want to be clear that communicating high expectations to students in all contexts while giving them the support they need to meet those expectations is good policy.  Changing state standards and cut scores at best comprises a very, very small part of this concept and at worst leads to shaming and other counterproductive punishments.  Better — not necessarily higher — curricular standards do have a place in reform.

First, standards in practice mean standardized tests and standardized tests are very limited as assessments and even more limited as a means of improving education.  To be fair, there is some language in the stimulus package (the subject of the quoted editorial) that may induce a move away from standardized tests (see below).

Second, and most importantly, the whole notion that lax standards are the biggest problem in education defies logic and the historical record.

In terms of logic, just ask yourself if the way to improve archery scores is to use smaller targets.  If they can’t hit the larger target, how will they hit a smaller target?

As to the history, here is the data for Wisconsin under the current system:

Year # Schools Failed AYP # Districts Failed AYP
2007-8 153 4
2006-7 92 2
2005-6 87 1
2004-5 49 1

This graphic tells us about the history and projected future (more here).

From “The Impact of the Adequate Yearly Progress Requirement of the Federal No Child Left Behind Act on the Great Lakes Region,” a study released by the Great Lakes Center for Educational Research and the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University.

The current standards have resulted in clear trend of increasing failure to meet those standards, a trend that is projected to increase with current standards.

Some quotes from “How Feasible is Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)? Simulations of School AYP “Uniform Averaging” and “Safe Harbor” under the No Child Left Behind Act” by Jaekyung Lee may help clarify.

It does not appear to be feasible for many schools across the nation to meet the current AYP target within its given 12-year timeline. It is not realistic to expect schools to make unreasonably large achievement gains compared with what they did in the past. Many schools are doomed to fail unless drastic actions are taken to modify the course of the NCLB AYP policy or slow its pace. (emphasis added)

When a majority of schools fail, there will not be enough model sites for benchmarking nor enough resources for capacity building and interventions. This situation can raise a challenging question to the policymakers: is it school or policy that is really failing? There is a potential threat to the validity of the NCLB school accountability policy ultimately if such prevailing school failure occurs as an artifact of policy mandates with unrealistically high expectations that were not based on scientific research and empirical evidence. (emphasis added)

An identified problem with NCLB is that standards are unrealistically high, the New York Times’ solution, raise the standards.  Stunning illogic.

This is the kind of “harder is better” mentality reflected in the Pangloss Index and expected from people like the Walton and Bradley Foundation funded  Thomas B. Fordham Institute, not “the paper of record.”

Later in the editorial, the assessment reform potential of the stimulus bill is touted:

States will also be required to improve academic standards as well as the notoriously weak tests now used to measure achievement — replacing, for instance, the pervasive fill-in-the-bubble tests with advanced assessments that better measure writing and thinking.

This seems to be a gross overstatement.  Here are the relevant parts of the stimulus bill:

(A) will enhance the quality of the academic assessments
it administers pursuant to section 1111(b)(3) of the
ESEA (20 U.S.C. 6311(b)(3)) through activities such as
those described in section 6112(a) of such Act (20 U.S.C.
(B) will comply with the requirements of paragraphs
(3)(C)(ix) and (6) of section 1111(b) of the ESEA (20 U.S.C.
6311(b)) and section 612(a)(16) of the IDEA (20 U.S.C.
1412(a)(16)) related to the inclusion of children with disabilities
and limited English proficient students in State
assessments, the development of valid and reliable assessments
for those students, and the provision of accommodations
that enable their participation in State assessments;
(C) will take steps to improve State academic content
standards and student academic achievement standards
consistent with section 6401(e)(1)(9)(A)(ii) of the America

A and C  send us to the two prior acts, with vague “such as” language in A.  Here is the section cited in A:

(1) To enable States (or consortia of States) to collaborate with institutions of higher education, other research institutions, or other organizations to improve the quality, validity, and reliability of State academic assessments beyond the requirements for such assessments described in section 1111(b)(3).

(2) To measure student academic achievement using multiple measures of student academic achievement from multiple sources.

(3) To chart student progress over time.

(4) To evaluate student academic achievement through the development of comprehensive academic assessment instruments, such as performance and technology-based academic assessments.

and the section cited in C:

(ii) identifying and making changes that need to
be made to a State’s secondary school graduation
requirements, academic content standards, academic
achievement standards, and assessments preceding
graduation from secondary school in order to align
the requirements, standards, and assessments with
the knowledge and skills necessary for success in academic
credit-bearing coursework in postsecondary education,
in the 21st century workforce, and in the Armed
Forces without the need for remediation;

I certainly don’t see a requirement to end “fill-in-the-bubble tests” here.  I see some good but weak language opening the door to multiple assessments, some possibility of better assessments in general and buzz words about the “21st century workforce.”  I also have not seen anything in Wisconsin’s plans for the stimulus money that indicates that the WKCE will be gone anytime soon (since the contract requires two-year notice be given, I don’t see that long awaited day being pushed up).

This editorial is unfortunately typical of the confusion on education policy in our media and consequently in our society.  Education policy can be confusing.  This makes the role of the press even more critical and the failures of logic and accuracy like those in the Times editorial more damaging.

Thomas J. Mertz


Filed under Accountability, Best Practices, education, Gimme Some Truth, National News, nclb, No Child Left Behind, Quote of the Day, Uncategorized

Jim Doyle, a Governor for 1984?


“Not getting cut is the new increase in this budget.”

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle speaking to the Wiscosnin Association of School Boards Convention.

1984, David Bowie (click to listen or download)

There were lots of rumors about Doyle seeking a position in the Obama administration.  Since that didn’t happen it appears that he is angling for a gig with the Ministry of Truth, who gave us such slogans as “War is Peace” and “Ignorance is Strength” in George Orwell’s 1984.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Quote of the Day – “A better approach”


A better approach for state leaders is to concentrate on closing the gap between what the state requires school boards to spend and the amount the state allows school boards to collect in revenue.

Wisconsin Sate Journal, editorial January 6, 2009.

The larger point of the editorial — that those considering getting rid of the QEO without providing a means for additionally  revenue are  irresponsible — is correct also.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Quote of the Day — “Most Powerful” Data

“I am not a number,” from The Prisoner.

It’s one reason why the most impressive data we used at the schools I’m most familiar with were the results of interviews with alumnae conducted years after they left us. But even that only helps us if we’re open to hearing what they say. For the possibility—however unlikely—that we may be wrong about this or that has to be uncomfortably confronted—over and over. Sometimes it’s small things and sometimes it’s the big ones. It’s this that I hope good schools do for both their kids and their staff—because this habit of what I call “skepticism” is what democracy rests on. The “data” that are the most powerful are not all the proxy data—like test scores—which we have been inundated with. What we need to be listening to are the real experiences of our students and our graduates, and over time their impact upon the larger world as well.

Deborah Meier, (hat tip, Jim Horn – Schools Matter)

Thomas J. Mertz

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Quote of the day — Not welcome

“We must not continue to welcome into Madison more at-risk populations from elsewhere because we will never have sufficient resources to provide for them.”

Madison Alder Thuy Pham-Remmele

This attitude makes me sick.

We are a wealthy and prosperous city in what by any standard is a wealthy and prosperous nation.  Maybe some can enjoy their wealth and prosperity while turning their back on the less fortunate or in Alder Phan-Remmele’s words, the “at risk.”

I believe that instead we should try to spread that prosperity to the less fortunate.  I am proud that our city and our schools devote resources to the “at risk,” I think both should do more.

And Alder Phan-Remmele, without our attention the “at risk” aren’t going to disappear, they will continue to struggle in cycles of poverty and become more desperate.  Many in Madison, some elsewhere, but in the nation and on the planet we share.  With our attention, with the opportunities and support we can afford to provide some will cease to be at risk and will be productive and contributing and the cycle will be broken.

Unfortunately, less directly and for what appear to be better reasons, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz has voiced similar thoughts.  The Mayor is correct that concentrations of poverty in housing and in schools are not good and that there are real benefits, educational and otherwise in affirmative policies of economic diversity (The Equity Task Force included this in their recommendations, but like many things the Equity Task Force offered, it was never discussed publicly by the Board of Education and has not been enacted).

But once again I say, that Madison is large enough, wealthy enough and diverse enough that we can achieve these benefits without hanging up the “not welcome” sign.  I’ll also add that resources like SAGE and Title I money may not follow poor children to the suburbs (as they don’t in some Madison Schools), and that the loss of the services these provide may undercut the gains of increased economic diversity.

Brenda Konkel has much more.

I also point again to the ideas of the Schools and the Common Good.

Thomas J. Mertz

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