Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Rating the raters: Fordham gets a D

Woe is us! Today's topline Journal Sentinel story says Wisconsin schools get a bad grade, a D:
The report being released today by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Washington uses harsh terms in critiquing the standards that are intended to guide instruction in Wisconsin schools.
Aside from a one liner, "Fordham is politically conservative," the story gives no background on the group.

It does mention, however, that Fordham did a similar study in 2000, when Wisconsin got a C-.

Here's what the author of a peer review, Gerald Bracey of UW-Milwaukee, had to say about the 2000 report:
The problem with the evaluations is a simple one: the states’ rankings for quality of standards are inverse to their performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). That is, the same states that have done the best job in the eyes of the Fordham report’s authors in implementing high standards have shown the poorest performance on widely accepted national tests for student achievement, and vice versa. These states have also performed poorly when compared to other nations.
So, the better states did in student achievement on national tests, the worse they were ranked by Fordham. Bracey's conclusion:
The Fordham Foundation has produced system for rating states’ standards, the validity of which is not at all obvious. The procedures for determining the rankings are unclear and, therefore, difficult to replicate. The qualifications of the "experts" whose expertise was used in some unspecified way is questionable. If the system had some immediately obvious merit, these objections would be of no import.

When one looks, however, at the most immediately obvious place for validating the system – the academic performance of the states – one finds absolutely no correlation. States with well received standards score low, states labeled as "irresponsible" because of their "lousy" standards score high. Taking this report seriously could well lead reformers down blind alleys or toward questionable ends.
Emphasis mine, of course.

An Xoff reader who knows how to Google offered a few links, which help to understand where our friends at the Fordham Foundation are coming from:

Milwaukee-based Rethinking Schools (yes, lefties) discussed Fordham on the first anniversary of Sept. 11:
The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a conservative research group populated with former officials of the Reagan and Bush Administrations and headed by Reagan's former assistant education secretary Chester Finn, marked the anniversary by releasing a collection of essays, titled "September 11: What Our Children Need to Know."

The Fordham approach is profoundly anti-intellectual. For Fordham, the Sept. 11 attacks can be explained by "the presence of evil." And evil, like the devil, needs no explanation. In this self-serving, unscholarly approach, "we" get to be the good guys, because, of course, evil only attacks good. This is Popeye versus Bluto, not scholarship - and it certainly does not help our students think clearly about today's world.

The ideological blame game that Finn's foundation promotes has its own ugly political agenda. It seeks to attack teacher unions, ridicule sensitivity to issues of diversity, discrimination, or civil rights, and to intimidate teachers who dare to ask students to reflect critically on any aspect of American life.
Finally, here is how Fordham describes its mission:
We advance the reform of American education by:

--engaging in solid research and provocative analysis;

-- disseminating information and ideas that shape the debate;

-- supporting quality schools and organizations in Dayton, in Ohio, and across the nation;

-- sponsoring charter schools in Ohio and building their academic excellence; and

-- informing policy makers at every level about promising solutions to pressing education problems.
No surprise, then, that their 2000 report pimped for charter schools, as Bracey noted:
The report argues that the dangers of these inadequate standards reach beyond merely the public schools: "Standards-based reform done poorly could do great damage to market-style reform. Consider charter schools. In the 31 states that today have both mediocre-to-inferior academic standards and charter school laws, these new schools are finding themselves being held strictly accountable for reaching standards that are not altogether worth reaching."2

There is little evidence to date, however, that charter schools have been held accountable to academic standards.3 Performance questions surrounding actual operating charter schools have focused primarily on allegations that they have mismanaged money, while ignoring student learning and achievement.
With that background, I'd say the Fordham 2006 report itself is probably a D. It is certainly suspect.

UPDATE: Since great minds think alike, as it often happens, Seth Zlotocha, unbeknownst to me, had already posted a thoughtful comment on the same issue.


At 12:44 PM, Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

I cover Fordham's 2006 report in relation to the most recent NAEP performance reports here.

As you guessed, Xoff, my findings are on par with what Bracey found in 2000.

At 11:13 PM, Blogger George Roberts said...

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