Is Hard Work Good Enough?

While No Child Left Behind is sometimes criticized for being too tough and inflexible, its requirements do raise the question: do we expect enough from schools, or do we make excuses?

Here’s what one PTA president said recently:

“The long and short of it is that teachers are working long and hard to get kids to learn what they need to learn to survive. Everybody is doing the best they can.”

Perhaps everyone is doing the best they can. But what would happen if you continually failed to perform your job at an acceptable level? Would your boss say “That’s OK; you’re doing the best that you can.” Or would you be looking for new employment?

This quote comes from an article in the KC Star about No Child Left Behind. The paper finds that districts can find a lot of wiggle room in meeting the accountability standards required by the law.

“[The use of confidence intervals] is similar to the margin of error commonly seen in poll results. For the purposes of No Child Left Behind, this calculation adjusts for statistical variations based upon the size of the student groups being tested.

Under safe harbor, schools and districts are credited for making significant annual improvement in the percentage of students meeting state expectations, even if they fall short of their target scores.”

How important are these statistical … adjustments?

The Star’s analysis found that in nearly one of every four instances, Missouri student groups met the law’s mandates through use of confidence intervals, safe harbor, or a combination of the two.

In Kansas, that figure was about one in eight.”

There’s another curiosity in this article, when a school superintendent “defended taking improvement into account, arguing that a school making steady progress is better than one with high marks that has reached a plateau.”

Really? If you are a parent stuck with a bad school, are you much satisfied with the fact that your child’s school is on a path to making the grade …. someday? Or would you rather have the ability to send your child to a school that is doing well TODAY, even if it hasn’t improved on its performance in a while?

Reading further in the article, we find another person, this time a school employee, who buys the “but we’re working hard” standard of excellence: “Teachers are working hard, she said, to improve instruction and provide support for lagging students. If we weren’t doing that,” she said, “I might feel differently (about the confidence interval), but I don’t.”

If you buy a product or a service as a consumer, do you consider the price and value of what you are considering? Or do you instead think of the amount of effort that the company’s employees put into it?

Why should schools be any different?

Now, we’re knowledgeable enough about statistical analysis to appreciate the value of confidence intervals in scholarly research and opinion polling. But its use, when combined with the “we’re trying hard” rationale, is troubling.

Source: Methods can hide lagging scores, Kansas City Star, January 21

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