Saturday, April 17, 2021 | 2 a.m.
The motivation behind my columns for the Las Vegas Sun is usually driven by the nonsense and fabrications written in editorials and columns from other publications critical of public education. Their parroting of fraudulent studies and misrepresentation of data create misconceptions that harm all students.
The nonsense includes the benefits of choice and competition in education. Their biggest lie is the continued promotion of charter school success based on standardized test scores.
The most important attributes of school quality are difficult to quantify. Qualitative differences between schools usually involve the creation and maintenance of a safe, cordial and productive learning environment, which is difficult to measure. Standardized test scores do not reflect differences in the quality of schools.
Test score results for a particular school or district reflect the academic aptitude of the student body. Test-taking ability of individual students is apparent in early elementary school and remains consistent throughout an academic career after third grade. This ability is not largely affected by curriculum, instruction or school environment.
The most effective education model is a cooperative, not competitive one. There are no magic curriculums or secret instructional methods that raise test scores. The major differences in school environments are the demographics of the student population and levels of acceptable behavior.
Promoting competition between schools creates the false perception that educational factors are responsible for improved academic performance as measured by test scores. By far, the most important factor in determining test score outcomes is the test-taking ability of the student population. Competition between schools exists only in the recruitment and retention of higher achieving students.
The ability to control the composition of the student population is a key to school achievement as measured by test scores. Many times, charter schools have inferior curriculums, instruction and facilities but have higher test scores simply because they have a student population of better test-takers. They sponge off other area public schools for athletic and extracurricular programs.
Most charter schools are for-profit entities subsidized by state tax dollars that seek to attract a more lucrative student body. Control of admissions enables charters to avoid students that are more difficult and expensive to educate. They seek to enroll high-achieving students. Overall, there is a lower percentage of special education students and English-language learners enrolled in charter schools. This is also true for magnet, theme and private schools. More stringent selectivity requirements for admissions lead to better school test scores at all levels of education.
When there is open enrollment in the early grades, there are many blatant examples in charter school systems of the attrition of lower-achieving students in later grade levels. The numbers of students are drastically reduced and only the better test-takers remain.
There is no evidence that enhanced curriculums or instructional methods improve test scores. The two most effective ways to improve school test scores, other than changing the demographics of student populations, are specific test preparation and cheating.
Test prep will improve scores within a limited range of potential and push students on the brink of proficiency to that level. This is more of a political exercise than an educational one. Raising test scores on state or federal standardized tests does little to improve academic outcomes for individual students. An exception is preparation for the ACT and SAT college entrance exams in high school.
For middle- and lower-income parents, charter schools provide a private school environment without the tuition. It is difficult to assume that most parents are fooled into thinking their children are receiving a better education. Their main motivation is ensuring that classrooms are filled with other students possessing similar academic and behavioral traits.
There is no interest in expressing an objective reality of education from a conservative faction that wants to dismantle public education. Simple minds at some publications spread mostly misinformation about education. They do, unfortunately, understand that their incessant and erroneous criticism becomes reality for some and inflames a negative view of public education.
Public education was created to provide an equitable education for children from families of all income levels. As with many public entities, the system is somewhat inefficient but is guided by mostly sincere intents and efforts of educators to better the lives of children. Charter schools provide a sorting mechanism within that system, not more effective instruction.
Greg Wieman is a retired educator with a doctorate in educational leadership from Eastern Michigan University. He can be contacted at [email protected]