A number of CASE members asked me to share the facts and figures from my general session remarks at the CASE Winter Leadership Conference last month. I drew significant inspiration from the bookIn Praise of American Educatorsby Rick DuFour; he is the educator who made the letters “PLC” a common acronym in school settings.
DuFour talked about how we as educators feel under attack with repeated messages about schools that are “terrible and getting worse because of the uncaring educators who work in them.” He says, and I agree, where is the evidence to support that claim?
- The graduation rate for the high school class of 2012 exceeded 80 percent for the first time in our nation’s history.
- The College Board in a 2014 study found that the number of AP students exceeded 1 million for the first time and that more students earned honor grades in 2013 than attempted the exams in 2003.
- NAEP data show that beyond question test scores in reading and math have improved for almost every group of students over the past two decades.
- In the TIMSS test (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study), American students have improved in mathematics each time the test has been administered since 1995. America is one of 12 countries to improve each year for fourth graders and one of only two to improve scores every test cycle for eighth graders. In the 2011 TIMMS, fourth graders ranked seventh in the world and eighth graders ranked 10th (out of 63 countries).
We also learn each year from the Gallup/PDK poll on public attitudes about public education that when Americans are familiar with their local school, they love the school and the teachers and classified staff who work there. I’d venture that the principal ranks up there too!
So, why does it feel like we are under attack, when our schools are successful on many measures?
- NCLB, the law that congress finally replaced with a better framework for student success, ensured that every school in America would eventually be deemed failing. And failing schools faced punishing sanctions. What kind of message does that send?
- The NAEP results, often referred to as the Nation’s Report Card, is given to representative samples of 9, 13 and 17 year olds every four years. While our students are performing in the top ten in the world according to TIMSS, the Nation’s Report Card trumpets that only 33 percent of fourth graders and 7 percent of eight graders are proficient in math.
- We have all heard about the miserable performance of American students when compared to Finland’s results on the PISA Exam. That is the top-line message.
- Not many reporters or politicians who make that message a drumbeat of failing American schools will tell you the following: The United States has by far the largest number of students living in poverty who are compared on this international test.
When you compare American schools with 10 percent or fewer students on Free and Reduced Lunch, we far outpace Finland, which has a 3 percent poverty rate. Go a little deeper. Compare our schools with less than 25 percent poverty to the world and America ranks first among industrialized countries.
The sad fact is that nearly 20 percent of all the schools in the United States serve student populations with more than 75 percent in poverty.
Bottom line: American schools are doing a remarkable job given the social conditions that are present in our country.