with a few encouraging exceptions … THE TEST SCORES FROM HELL … Clark County kids can’t do the math

Last March, the Clark County School District announced that the federal Department of Education had selected Ron Montoya, principal of Valley High School, “as a recipient of the prestigious 2010 Educational Pioneer Award for his outstanding achievements and dedication to educational excellence. Mr. Montoya was also selected to serve as the keynote speaker for the national TRIO/GEAR UP Day celebration that took place in Las Vegas on February 27, 2010. Valley High School is the only school in the history of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to be designated ‘High Achieving — Exemplary Turnaround.’”

In May, Mr. Montoya was named “Nevada Principal of the Year” by the Secondary School Principals Association of Nevada, and a finalist for the group’s national award. (In the end, someone else won that.)

“He looks to do what works, not what’s necessarily traditional,” Amy Stepinski, dean of curriculum at Valley High, told the Las Vegas Sun as the smaller daily prepared a celebratory profile. “He gives people the authority to do a good job, sets high standards, and we rise to the occasion.”

In fact, at the risk of toning down the enthusiasm a bit, it appears Valley was merely the first CLARK COUNTY campus to earn the federal “turnaround” title, which is based on year-to-year improvement.

Meantime, though much is made of the fact that Mr. Montoya has achieved this in a school which is 60 percent Hispanic, and nearly 50 percent poor — couched, of course, in typical euphemisms about the number of children “qualifying for free and reduced-price meals.”

(We knew about “lunches.” Why “meals”, dare we ask? Another step toward turning the tax-funded schools into 24/7 soup kitchens?)

Of the not-so-subtle racism that implies kids with vowels at the ends of their names are harder to teach, perhaps we may return later. Certainly we all know teachers have an easier time with kids from stable, literate, two-parent homes where the parents routinely read books, newspapers and magazines. But the main point here is that parents of kids at Valley High can hardly be blamed if they now assume their kids are in safe hands, advancing well academically.

Doubly so, for sure, at Cheyenne High School, where Principal Jeff Geihs was named Nevada state Principal of the Year by the same National Association of Secondary School Principals back in 2009.

Meantime, Chaparral High School principal Kevin McPartlin last spring encouraged his kids to go out and picket on the sidewalks against a district plan to shift some administrators to different schools and send others back to classroom teaching in response to dwindling tax receipts, though Mr. McPartlin, a union member, did say “By contract, the union has to protect its membership. Sometimes that means making the best of a bad decision…

“We encourage our students all the time to get more involved, and this seemed like a good opportunity for them to put some of that into practice,” Mr. McPartlin concluded.

Chaparral is one of the school district’s celebrated “empowerment schools,” where the principal is supposedly granted greater autonomy to figure out how to improve academic achievement. Parents who send their kids to Chaparral — or to Cheyenne, a companion “empowerment school” which the federal government declared to have shown “Adequate Yearly Progress” in the 2009-1020 school year — can hardly be blamed if they figure, faced with such congratulatory publicity, that their kids are on track to be admitted to and do well at most any competitive university.

And surely that impression was reinforced in August, when officials at that federal “Department of Education” we’ve been hearing so much about of late (you know, GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle is “too extreme” because she wants to get rid of said Beltway bureaucracy, created by Jimmy Carter in 1979 as a sop to the teacher unions, just as Ronald Reagan promised to do on the campaign trail in 1980) — when said federal DOE announced the Clark County School District as a whole had achieved the 2009-2010 benchmarks of the federal “No Child Left Behind Law” in “92 percent” of academic, attendance, and graduation categories — that the district overall had made “Adequate Yearly Progress.”

“There couldn’t be a better going away present than to make (Adequate Yearly Progress),” beamed retiring District School Superintendent Walt Rulffes, noting that the district as a whole had made adequate yearly progress in three of the past four years, which is “something to be envied by every district in the country.”
Wow. So we just keep sending the kids off to their local tax-funded, government-run Clark County schools, and it’s “Harvard here we come”?

Unfortunately, parents swallowing this would be wrong. Very wrong. All this hokum contributes to a massive fraud, and one of which the leadership of the Clark County School District is well aware — a fraud which, since it involves accepting billions of dollars based on a stipend of $12,000 per student from taxpayers on the express assurance that these characters, with their Masters and doctorates in “Education,” can be trusted to educate all comers, should be a concern to every taxpayer and every local business hoping to hire literate and numerate high school graduates.

If it isn’t actually indictable as the crime of accepting public moneys under false representations.

You see, four years ago, District Superintendent Rulffes grew alarmed at the number of state “Millennium Scholarship” recipients — local high school graduates with “B” or better averages — who turned out to need remedial education in order to handle freshman-level work upon entering UNLV, which is not exactly M.I.T.
So, to his considerable credit, Mr. Rulffes decided to administer “Common Assessment” tests to find out if kids taking middle-school and high-school classes in Clark County public schools were actually learning what they were supposed to be learning.

The test was modeled on tests which are used internationally, to determine how America’s schoolchildren are advancing compared to those in Europe, Japan, and elsewhere, though those involved in creating the local test describe it as featuring “low level questions; find the slope, solve the equation.” It’s a fair test, as we will see shortly by examining the scores in some of our suburban middle schools, where well over 90 percent of kids pass with ease.

Not only that, “sample” versions of the test are posted Online where every district math teacher can access and download them. The “sample” tests are so close to the real thing that if you can correctly answer question number 16 on the sample test (for example), you can rest assured Question 16 on this year’s “live” test will be virtually the same question, only with different numerical values substituted.

There are also videos available on the same Web site, going over each type of question on the exam.

And when virtually the entire educrat bureaucracy squawked that the test was “Unfair! unfair!”, Mr. Rulffes stuck by his guns. They’ve kept testing, and the test had not yet been “dumbed down.”

To create a manageable scope of inquiry, here, because scores on exams and classroom grades in Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry provide groups of large numbers less subject to statistical error, and also because math is far less subject to grading subjectivity than, say, English composition, we asked earlier this summer for and received the cumulative reports on the classroom grades and “common assessment” test scores for every school offering those classes in Clark County in the fall semesters of 2007, 2008, and 2009.

At Valley High School, where we started, 93 percent of the kids taking Algebra I in the first semester, 2007, flunked their common assessment test; 71 percent got an “F” in their course work. In 2008, 93 percent flunked the test; 70 percent flunked the course. In 2009, 93 percent flunked the common assessment test; 63 percent got an “F” in the course.

In Algebra II at Valley, the “flunk” rates on the standardized test from 2007 through 2009 went from 88 percent to 85 percent to 78 percent. The “F” course grades remained similarly stable, going from 47 percent to 51 percent to 50 percent.

This is “high achievement?” A mere 22 percent of Algebra students able to pass a simple standardized test after a full semester in class is an “exemplary turnaround”? What the heck is the federal DOE grading these schools on — how well the kids stack their trays in the cafeteria?

Nor are these statistical aberrations based on low numbers. At Valley, the number of kids taking Algebra I has dropped each year, from 1022 to 766 to 423. But 423 is still too big a number to be impacted by a few goof-offs. The number of kids taking the Algebra II exam at Valley has fluctuated from 228 to 334.

And note the numbers above mean a sizable percentage of kids who couldn’t pass the district-wide test nonetheless received passing classroom grades, opening the obvious question of grade inflation — a large number of kids whose parents were told they “passed the course” couldn’t demonstrate the required math skills on a standardized test, when no one was available to help them with their homework.

But the main point here is that huge majorities of kids taking Algebra I in the eighth grade — not in the seventh grade, when it used to be taught and ought to be taught, if even the brightest kids are going to have a chance to take trig and calculus in high school — are flunking.

No competent teacher can be surprised by such results at the end of a semester. Algebra I, after all, just shows kids a different way to set up the basic math problems they learned to solve in the third through fifth grades. The problems are restated as “solving for X, the unknown.” Within 10 days of the opening of classes in the Fall, any competent adult standing at the front of these classrooms will have recognized that these eighth graders don’t know their multiplication tables; they don’t know simple arithmetic.

What is being revealed here is a massive failure of the entire elementary school system, papered over by “social promotions.” The algebra teachers give up trying to teach algebra, and instead go back to teaching remedial elementary mathematics.

Superintendent Rulffes acknowledges this, asking, “Envision yourself in that situation, Vin. You’d go back and start teaching math and multiplication tables, wouldn’t you?”
In geometry, at least, the course grades at Valley correlated fairly well with the test scores. Those flunking the common assessment test dropped slightly, from 77 percent in 2007 to 56 percent in 2009. Those receiving “F”s in their course grades actually increased a bit during that same period, though, from 54 percent to 57 percent.

Yet parents were being told all last year it was “Yippee, hooray,” Valley High’s principal is winning awards for how well everyone’s been doing.

A DEPRESSING CONSISTENCY

And what of the prestigious “empowerment schools”?

At Chaparral High School, the “flunk” rates for the common assessment tests for Algebra I in 2007, 2008, and 2009 went 95 percent, 96 percent, 96 percent. The course grades gradually worsened over those years, with 62 percent of the kids taking home report cards showing “F”s at Christmastime in 2007, to 68 percent in 2008, to 73 percent in 2009.

These are not statistical aberrations. In each year, hundreds of kids took these tests.

In geometry, the “flunk” rates on the standardized test improved only marginally at Chaparral, from 94 percent to 85 percent over the three years, The course grades went downhill: where “only” 46 percent drew “F”s on their report cards in 2007, that number was up to 63 percent last year. Number of kids taking these tests each year? 620 to 720.

And Chaparral High School kids taking the “common assessment” test in “Applied Algebra II” in 2008 certainly set some kind of a record: 113 of them flunked. One child received a “D.” That was it. None did any better. A failure rate of 99.12 percent. (And they managed to accomplish this astounding feat again the next year — 95 kids took the test; 94 flunked.) Yet the character in charge of this operation thinks his kids have plenty of time to “get involved” by getting their pictures in the paper picketing on the sidewalks against a district decision to shift a few of their overpaid administrators back into the classroom.

Cheyenne High School, with its 2009 “Nevada state Principal of the Year,” supposedly made “Adequate Yearly Progress” in 2009-2010, according to Arne Duncan and his federal parachute team. But the main thing the numbers there show is rampant grade inflation — kids who can’t pass the test taking home misleading “passing” grades.
At Cheyenne, the Algebra I common assessment test scores held steady — from 96 percent flunking in 2007, to 96 percent flunking in 2009.

After two years, the teaching staff still didn’t know they had a problem? They still want to claim the test is “unfair”?

Meantime, however, in the same years, Cheyenne parents were told 63 to 72 percent of the kids PASSED Algebra I. Similarly, while 90 to 97 percent of kids flunked the standardized geometry test each year, students carried home report cards informing parents 64 to 72 percent of kids had PASSED geometry each year.

Take their money, feed them a bunch of bull. What are they going to do about it?

Algebra II? Cheyenne Parents were told passing grades improved from 45 to 66 to 71 percent from 2007 through 2009, but in fact the “flunk” rate on the standardized exam tells a more pathetic story: 98 percent, 97 percent, 94 percent … disaster, fraud and professional malfeasance essentially unchanged over three years.

Test scores like those should result in mass firings somewhere — possibly in the elementary schools that promoted these kids, assuring the middle schools and high schools they’d learned simple arithmetic. Instead, the crisis has been consistently papered over with report-card grades that make things look considerably better.

These are not isolated low spots. Yes, a few schools — Boulder City High School, Coronado — have managed to get their failure rates down below 50 percent. But this is the picture across the vast majority of the district’s high schools. The color-coded “Common Assessment Matrix” comparing classroom grades with the standardized test scores for each school is public information; call and ask for that of your kid’s school today.

Clark High, an “exemplary turnaround” school? There, 86 to 89 percent fail the common assessment in Algebra I; 93 to 97 percent in Algebra II. The course grades? Solid majorities of kids taking these classes at Clark flunk.

In geometry, many schools show closer to 50 percent “pass” rates, possibly because kids get so discouraged after flunking algebra that they manage never to take a more advanced math class, at all.

But again and again we see schools where the report cards indicate 62 to 78 percent of kids are “passing” Algebra I, while (in this case, we’re using “West Prep” as our example) the standardized test shows “flunk” rates of 81 to 98 percent.

A similar dichotomy shows up at Basic High, where parents of Algebra II students were told 70 to 74 percent of kids were routinely passing the course. But the common assessment exam demonstrates 88 to 96 percent of the kids can’t do the work; they flunk when given the standardized test.

The administration says that’s because the exam counts for only 10 percent of the grade — the kids are doing better on their homework and class work, which count for 90 percent of their grades.

But that’s prima facie evidence of cheating and/or fraud, somewhere, even if it doesn’t tell us how many parties are involved, or over how long a period of time. This problem didn’t spring up overnight — it was allowed to fester because parents were given false assurances that the majority of kids were “passing.”

Sure, one or two kids may have a bad cold on “test day.” But these scores are typically averaged across hundreds of kids.

Nor is this only a problem of “majority-Hispanic, majority poor” schools stuck far inside the “expanding donut” of middle-class suburban affluence. Many might expect affluent Green Valley High School to be doing great. And in truth, at least here we see the course grades well correlated with the standardized test scores, indicating “grade inflation” is not widely tolerated, which is to the Henderson school’s credit.

But in Algebra I, the “flunk rate” on the common assessment fell only from 79 percent to 53 percent over the three years at Green Valley, as the number of kids taking home “F”s for the course actually increased slightly, from 48 percent to 51 percent. In geometry, Green Valley did better, with “pass rates” on the test doubling from 32 percent to 66 percent over three years, while kids with passing course grades held steady at about 70 percent.

There’s no shortage of excuses. Many principals and administrators whine that the kids didn’t take the standardized, district-wide test “seriously” when it was first introduced; they “blew it off.” Then, “When we saw the scores were going to be published in the newspaper, we started to take it seriously.”

In fact, there are repeated reports it was the math department staffs who “blew off” the test, and who often continue to do so. All of us who were schoolkids in the government-run schools in the 1950s and 1960s remember being sternly warned that every test, every quiz, the score of every exam would “go on our permanent record” and affect our ability to get into a good college and thus have an economically comfortable life.

(This became such a cliche that it’s widely parodied in such burn-down-the-school comedies as “Rock ‘N Roll High School,” where principal Togar (Mary Woronov) warns that the takeover and threatened arson of Vince Lombardi High will “go on your permanent records.” )

While one or two clowns might try to get every question wrong as an act of rebellion, the scores we’re reporting here reflect the test-taking behavior of thousands of kids. And they’re multiple-choice tests. One thing American schoolchildren are good at is taking multiple choice tests. You may not actually REMEMBER how many feet there are in a mile, but given choices “a) 880 yards, b) 528 feet, c) 5,280 feet, d) 52,800 feet,” it’s not real hard to narrow it down to two choices and score 50 percent.

What’s that? 50 percent isn’t “a passing grade?” In fact, because the federal government forced Clark County to impose a slightly harder, more realistic High School Proficiency Exam as a graduation requirement this year, the state Department of Education has declared that kids can pass this year’s test and get a high school diploma by answering only 42 percent of the questions correct. Forty-two PERCENT. Needless to say, this was not an easy number to obtain from out of the defensive breastworks of the bureaucracy. State testing officials say the “cut score” was chosen so that people wouldn’t be shocked by seeing the “pass rate” fall way below 40 percent of students.

SOME MIDDLE SCHOOLS DOING FINE

Again, it’s not the test. The “control” group here is a sizable group of local middle schools including Rogich, Swainston, Bob Miller, Mannion, Canarelli, Cram, Schofield, and Silvestri Junior High, where both test scores and classroom grades form reasonably well-correlated curves.

Rogich Middle School started out three years ago with 91 percent of kids passing the Algebra I test, and 97 percent of kids carrying home passing grades — the vast majority of those being As and Bs. Valley High School with all its fraudulent federal accolades should dream of such results. But the principal at Rogich clearly decided that wasn’t good enough. For the past two years the passing course grades and test scores at Rogish have run 100 percent across the board. One hundred percent.

At Swainston Middle School, 96 percent of kids pass both on their classroom grades and their standardized tests. Bob Miller Middle School has pulled up their test scores from 72 percent “pass” to 98 percent. At Canarelli, failure rates were always pretty low, but today “flunk” rates above 2 percent on the exam or above 4.08 percent on the report cards are no longer tolerated.

At Webb Middle School, Principal Paula Naegle saw she had a problem when 77 percent of her kids flunked the common assessment test in 2007. In what may well be the sharpest turnaround in the district, she saw 70 percent of her Algebra I students pass the test in 2008, and 96 percent in 2009.

We’ll talk to her later.

How would such scores be possible, if the test were somehow unfair or not representative of what kids are supposed to be learning in their classrooms, or if progress was being made impossible by the inability to maintain discipline, or by truly retarded kids being “mainstreamed” into classrooms, or any other “excuse of the day”?

I certainly hope no one will assert — albeit properly disguising their prejudice behind talk of “homogeneous student bodies” — that this is simply because most of the kids in these middle schools are white. While living in an affluent neighborhood of literate two-parent households does seem to make a difference, the success of Asian and Jewish sub-populations — even when not wealthy — shows racial heritage and skin color don’t and shouldn’t matter much, though we could argue “culture” does.

THE SUPERINTENDENT RESPONDS

I called Walt Rulffes and his deputy superintendent for academics to ask them how the heck they explain the vast failure of their senior high schools — and by inference, almost certainly, the elementary schools feeding those schools — in teaching basic mathematics, with even a considerably improved school like Bonanza High still showing math failure rates of 47 to 75 percent as of the middle of last year.

When he saw “such horribly high remediation rates of these kids going to college,” Rulffes imposed the common assessment test, district-wide, he explains.
“I was shocked,” he says. “It was the darkest day of my professional life when those scores came in. In many cases we were under the impression the kids were learning algebra, but in many cases they (the algebra teachers) were going back and covering the basics.

“I’ve had superintendents tell me you’re crazy to take this on because you’re exposing yourself…

“What was further discouraging was as we moved into it, we found some gains, but not nearly what I thought we would given the concentration of staff development we had in place…

“Keep in mind everyone claimed it was too tough. We debunked that pretty quickly, it’s designed to parallel or replicate the test used for the National Assessment of Educational Proficiency, that’s the test that the country is typically measured on against all different countries. It also means supposedly if the kid does well on that then the kid is ready to go to college.”

But why are some of the schools that are actually doing so poorly get all these accolades?

“For example, you mentioned Valley and Chapparal, those are measurements by the federal government,” which has different standards, putting a lot of emphasis on attendance and graduation rates, Rulffes explains.

The “No Child Left Behind” measurements only look at 11th grade results, chimed in Sue Dallenbach, the school system’s assistant superintendent for assessment, who was also on the speaker phone from Mr. Rulffes’ office. “These courses like Algebra II and geometry are higher level courses. …”

“No they’re not,” I pointed out. “Algebra and geometry are lower level high school math courses; they should be out of the way by the ninth grade. I went to a public school, and I took geometry in the ninth grade, otherwise how are your kids going to get to their higher level math courses in high school — trig, Math 5, Calculus?”
“And the geometry you took was probably more rigorous than what we teach today,” Rulffes agreed.

“We too were left scratching our heads,” Rulffes says. “We saw Valley and Chaparral recognized, so while the federal government has their units of measuring and they’re nice words, I think the proof in the pudding is how well the kids actually do in reading and math…. The high school proficiency exam is not of the same rigor as the one that I’m using for the common assessment. In the middle schools we’re doing better, we’re getting to them sooner.”

Was former Superintendent Carlos Garcia wrong to set a goal of every kid taking algebra by the eighth grade?

“I think the algebra by the eighth grade was kind of a common rhetoric around the country that wasn’t grounded in reality. Our middle school kids now doing better because we’re placing them where they belong. …”

I asked Rulffes if these failure rates don’t indicate a problem at a much earlier level — that the algebra teachers are finding the kids don’t even know their multiplication tables, that in order to bring them up to speed they simply abandon teaching algebra and give the kids make-up work, material they should have learned in the third through fifth grades.

“Envision yourself in that situation, Vin. You’d go back and start teaching math and multiplication tables, wouldn’t you?”

“Years ago we had a fourth grade basic math test that was given and then one in seventh grade, and those went by the wayside,” complains Lauren Kohut-Rost, deputy superintendent of instruction, who was the third person on Rulffes’ end of the phone with me last week.

To find out where the problem starts it would help to do district-wide testing at lower grade levels, Rulffes and Kohut-Rost agree, but unfortunately “There’s a state moratorium on new testing.”

Though many teachers initially complained that the test was unfair, “I don’t believe the test is inaccurate,” says Ms. Kohut-Rost.

But to smile and say “Thank you” when the federals report the district is making “adequate yearly progress,” even when Mr. Rulffes and his associates know the assessment tests prove otherwise — doesn’t that amount to fraud, I asked Mr. Rulffes.

While saying he was “uncomfortable with that word,” Mr. Rulffes did admit: “I think it’s fair to say there is likely a misconception that a student who doesn’t do well on that common assessment test and does get a good grade in math … I’m saying the parent may be under a misconception that a kid is more ready for college math” than they really are…

“Another thing we should tell Vin,” Mr. Rulffes added, “is we’ve been told so many times that because it’s such a low proportion of their final grade — it’s 10 percent — that the kids do just blow it off, that the kids don’t take it serious. … Our biggest hope now is those middle schools.”

“Years ago state of Nevada was involved in the Diploma Project, an organization that came up with a common exam in Algebra I and Geometry,” explains Sue Dallenbach, the head of testing. “However, when you look at the other states that were involved in this, their passage rates also very very poor.”

“Clark County unfortunately is not atypical in this regard,” agrees Ms. Kohut-Rost. “But I do believe our schools have said we’re taking this one on. … There have been high failure rates in these core math courses for more than a decade. This is something they’re trying to figure out why, on a national level.”

MAYBE THE SYSTEM IS THE PROBLEM

Really? High failure rates in core math classes in private New England prep schools, in low-overhead parochial schools, among home-schoolers? I don’t think so. No more than there were high failure rates among anyone who could spare the time away from farming to attend the seventh grade in any American one-room schoolhouse in 1840, 137 years before there was any “federal Department of Education.”

I honor Mr. Rulffes for installing a fairly rigorous exam and sticking with it, closing his ears to all the squawking. At least thanks to those efforts we’ve confirmed and quantified the problem.

But today’s educrats are demanding and receiving billion — billions! — of tax dollars, the biggest pile of treasure devoted to schooling by any culture in the history of the world, all based on their assurances to us that given their advanced degrees in “education” they can do better than some 19th century schoolmarm in a one-room schoolhouse, who would have been fired if she couldn’t teach basic mathematics, and now they say they CAN’T FIGURE OUT WHY 95 PERCENT OF THE KIDS ARE FLUNKING ALGEBRA!

This is a fraud vast and systematic enough to destroy a nation from within.

There are real historical models for H.G. Wells’ vision of the Eloi, pretty flower children unable to read the records left by their ancestors, and thus subject to being herded and slaughtered like cattle. By the time modern explorers reached the Yucatan and Guatemala, the descendents of the Maya living among their ancestors’ ruins were unable to interpret any of the writings on the Mayan stellae; they had reverted to stone-age illiterates; they had even lost most of their ancestors’ ability to build canals and practice irrigated agriculture.

How do civilizations fail? Generally, a hidebound culture loses the flexibility to change with changing circumstances. But a large component can also be the loss of their ancestor’s knowledge — the inability to pass along information built up through centuries of tedious trial and error.

These school test results are not counterintuitive. They merely provide a quantifiable measure of phenomena those of us over 50 notice every day — younger people unable to count change if their computer fails, unable to file things in alphabetical order, not merely misspelling words but writing in a way that indicates they can’t even identify nouns from verbs from adjectives, blank looks when we mention anything from King Canute ordering the tide not to rise to Franklin Roosevelt seizing private citizens’ gold (May 1, 1933), multiple daily clues that these younger folks have learned our language aurally, by hearing it spoken, but not visually, by reading the books that form our shared cultural heritage.

“Are the kids not being asked to memorize their multiplication tables, because it’s seen as drudgery, it’s not fun?” I asked Ms. Kohut-Rost.

“That’s a philosophical debate, do kids learn through drill and repetition. What I’ve seen throughout our district is that the understanding of the drilling of the basic facts is not there,” she replied. “We can’t overlook kids learning their basic facts. They have to know them. … My kids, the elementary teachers they came through made them drill, made sure they knew the basics.”

I called Paula Naegle, principal of Del Webb Middle School, an extremely cheerful person who obviously loves her work. “We did a lot of things,” she says. “The first year we didn’t put as much credence in the test as we probably should have. … The kids didn’t take it as seriously as maybe they should have. But then when we saw the results were going to be published in the newspapers, we said we’d better tell our kids to do a better job and we started to take it more seriously. … We have phenomenal staff here.”

“You have a phenomenal staff because you got rid of the guy who used to be the head of your math department,” I said, “the guy who strutted around because he’d won a bunch of ‘Math Counts’ awards and who tried to tell you the new test was the problem.”

“Well, you seem to have your own information,” Principal Naegle said. “I didn’t get rid of the guy. The guy retired, he resigned. He resigned a couple of years ago.”
“What was the name of this guy,” who’s going to be drawing a taxpayer pension for the rest of his life even though the kids under his tutelage flunked the Algebra I exam at a rate of 77.67 percent?

“I’m not at liberty to comment on staff matters,” Ms. Naegle replied. “He was a great teacher, he had his own philosophy about how to teach, you’d have to talk to that gentleman.”

Whose name she wouldn’t tell me.

Meantime, “How did the district respond when they saw this turnaround? Did they give you a big raise? Name you principal of the year? Drag other folks by the ear to come out and see you to ask how you did it?”

After a long pause, Ms. Naegle said “I’m not a principal of the year. I’m just a hard-working principal like a lot of others … We call home, we rely on parents to make sure the kids do their assignments. Nobody’s trying to be better than another school. … We’re all reaching out to each other to share the best practices that work. …”
Oh, heaven forfend that we instill any sense of competition in academics, anyone trying to be “the best school.” Couldn’t have that.

In fact, Paula Naegle WAS named Principal of the Year for the Southeast Region in 2007, an honor some principals covet because the nominations come from their own teachers.

Though I still think it’s strange she won th award three years ago, back when 77 percent of her kids were flunking the common assessment in algebra. Whereas today, after pulling off the fastest, most stunning turnaround in the district (a 96 percent “pass” rate, two years later) the only answer when I ask if she got a big raise, a big award, whether the district hauls in failing principals to ask her how she does it, was … a long silence.

What’s the solution? In individual schools, obviously, the answer is teachers and principals like Paula Naegle.

For the larger, dysfunctional high schools? Short of dynamite, we won’t see a real turnaround until those administering the worst failing schools are fired en masse, and the structures are put up for bid to those wishing to open private schools, with parents given the choice of where to pay their tuition with vouchers, or else turned over to local parents groups that would form their own “one-school districts,” all their school taxes repealed, at which point they’d be responsible to hire (or re-hire) a few dedicated teachers, free them of all this stifling paperwork, and run the operations by themselves, with no central government interference — the low-cost system that prevailed in this country from the 1600s through about 1925, giving us the most literate and best informed populace in the history of the world.

In my opinion.

10 Comments to “with a few encouraging exceptions … THE TEST SCORES FROM HELL … Clark County kids can’t do the math”

  1. Michael O. Kreps Says:

    Great analysis and commentary on the sad state of our education system. You should get an award for this piece.

    Can we all say school vouchers?

  2. Sean Says:

    When School Vouchers are put into place, will I get a full refund? I choose not to have kids, so I have no stake in the system at all.

  3. liberranter Says:

    Sean, it’s interesting that you bring up the issue of refunds or withholding of contributions to the system, because that’s one of the problems with vouchers: they are just another government subsidy of –and means of control over– the education system, an accounting gimmick meant to deceive taxpayers into thinking that they have “market power” over the system as its “customers.” But that’s not what happens in practice. Many “charter schools” that fail, for whatever reason (low enrollment, substandard performance of students, etc.) wind up reverting back to fully-funded public schools, with no serious penalties against their staffs. Both administrators and teachers of such failed schools are usually reassigned elsewhere to become “part of the problem” for some other unfortunate group of students and their parents. Also, taxpayers like yourself who, as you pointed out, have no stake in the system will still be forced to subsidize it, either through property taxes directly or indirectly as part of the rent you pay. That’s called “theft” or “extortion,” no matter how you stretch the definition of either word.

    The only REAL solution to the problem is to completely eliminate property taxes, shut down the “public’ schools, sell off their physical assets (assuming that there is any market for them; they’re more suited to housing prisoners or government bureaucracies than students), make teachers compete for jobs based on demonstrated merit and performance, and let the forces of the market enable parents to furnish the education they feel most appropriate for their children, using THEIR OWN MONEY. I can tell you from personal experience that it’s MUCH cheaper AND more effective than most people imagine (hint: technology and free-lance tutoring/one-on-one instruction on an as-needed basis), and infinitely more effective. And, Sean, people like yourself without a market need for these schools would not be made to pay one red cent for any of them if you didn’t wish to purchase them – even if one day you do have children of your own.

  4. Mark Taylor Says:

    Hi Vin, Truly and amazing piece. It seems impossible that America can ever compete effectively in the world marketplace with a, for practical purposes, illiterate majority. How doubly maddening and disheartening that the blame for American job loss is laid on the porch of American business. The rich get richer because they can add, subtract, multiply, divide and know you can’t divide by zero. God help us..

  5. Michael O. Kreps Says:

    liberranter

    You make an excellent point on the voucher system. I hadn’t thought of it in that context.

  6. liberranter Says:

    You make an excellent point on the voucher system. I hadn’t thought of it in that context.

    Even more ominously, the voucher system opens the door to state control of private schools. If a private school accepts state vouchers, it also accepts the strings that are attached to it. My grandson currently attends a small rural church school that refuses to accept any vouchers or tuition aid from government sources for that very reason.

  7. Michael O. Kreps Says:

    I would like to see the money refunded to the parents who want to put their kid in a private school. The parent should not have to foot the bill of public education and also have to pay the full freight for the private school.

    I like the idea to either reduce the property tax as you stated or income tax back to the parents who can send the child to the private school of their choice.

  8. Sean Says:

    Michael said:

    “I would like to see the money refunded to the parents who want to put their kid in a private school. The parent should not have to foot the bill of public education and also have to pay the full freight for the private school.”

    And I agree with that, but only if people who don’t have kids also get a refund.

    If you choose to have kids, then you pay for them.

  9. Kevin Says:

    Good points about “free” schooling.
    We who have offspring should pay for them. I can not understand this idea that I should force my neighbors to pay for my choices.
    We hear it all the time when the schools are clamoring for their budgets.
    They may eliminate sports.
    O my God the people cry.
    If you want your offspring to be the star football player,or whatever sport you choose, why not pay for it yourself?
    The team parents can have their own fundraisers.
    Too much of this idea any more.
    I agree with you Sean.
    I would never force you to pay for my offspring’s needs.
    What is wrong with that?
    Yes the vouchers are just way to continue the fraud.
    Shut the whole thing down and let it go back to where Peopl need to take care of them selves. But of course this is not gonna happen.
    Its unfair.
    🙂
    Kevin

  10. Henry Gale Says:

    Hi, Vin –

    I had a question I was hoping you or some other of your blog readers could answer. I am seeking a teaching position in a CCSD high school, and I have grown increasingly concerned about the lack of support in the schools for upholding a reasonably appropriate, reasonably demanding academic standard.

    As an educator, I am concerned when quality teachers I know are (for want of a better word) harrassed by parents, students, or even administrators for upholdingappropriate district standards of academic achievement: in other words, for not inflating grades. Too many talented, dedicated teachers of my acquaintance have been told, in so many words, to “find a way” for students to pass, or to water down their curricula so that students get good grades and parents don’t object. Obviously, I find this situation deplorable — primarily because students are the ones first to be hurt by it.

    Based on your data and knowledge of the CCSD system, Vin, which school(s) would you, in your opinion, identify as those MOST likely to uphold high academic standards…even in the face of parental objections to a student not receiving a higher grade than she or he genuinely earned? Your blog entry suggests that GVHS and Coronado may be two such schools; are there more you would care to mention?

    Thank you,
    HG

Comment:

RSS 2.0" title="Subscribe to this posts comments via RSS 2.0">RSS subscribe