Full disclosure: During the years of the hyperpartisan Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, I’d grown to loathe Democrats, their operatives and media cheerleaders. My turn the channel dismissiveness ended with SB736. Perhaps if the Florida gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Alex Sink hadn’t been so feckless and wishy-washy on education policy, my timeline would be a little different. But no matter.
Within the aforementioned chronology, I couldn’t have brought myself to even consider the point of view from an Associate Fellow from the leftward leaning Campaign for America’s Future. My conservative leanings are still there, but my epiphany has allowed me to understand (pun intended) when you’re right, you’re right. Consider this smackdown of Jeb Bush’s Florida miracle myth by Jeff Byrant:
Hardly ever do Bush and his followers connect this checklist of reforms to actual positive impacts on children — because, in fact, they can’t.
The results of Bush’s program for public schools — what he likes to refer to as “the Florida miracle” — are very thin indeed. The “miracle” claim is derived primarily from the fact that Florida fourth graders, especially black fourth graders, out-gained the national average on the National Association of Education Progress in 2003 and 2005.
Impressive perhaps, until education researcher and testing expert Walter Haney looked into the situation. What Haney uncovered is that NAEP results for Florida fourth graders spiked because the population of fourth graders had been significantly changed.
It turns out that the scores for Florida fourth graders had improved mostly because the state suddenly started flunking large numbers of third graders, so low-achieving third graders were still in third grade when the fourth grade test was given. “With only the higher-achieving students taking the test, the scores jumped,” according to an article in NEA Today.
“What’s more,” the article continues, “the state flunked a much higher proportion of black than white students — no wonder the achievement gap shrank.”
Bearing out Haney’s findings, sure enough, Florida’s results on more recent NAEPs have shown that the gains Bush loves to cite have now stalled. So much for the “miracle.”
With FCAT a dirty word and the state’s school grade formula despised, the Bushies have retreated to the narrow NAEP salient as some sort of gold standard test results “everyone” accepts as holy writ. They still don’t get it. It’s the testing, stupid.
Education reform’s rock stars like Bush, Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan weren’t expecting to experience push-back on their test-based schemes from anyone except easily demonized teachers and their unions. But a combination of parents, administrators and local school boards in three on the nation’s largest states – Texas, New York and Florida – have stalled the juggernaut. The lone, crucial element – test results – with which the three must have to advance their philosophy is being publicly ridiculed and mocked. Without high-stakes tests, they have nothing.