There is a long-held political adage that “When you are in a hole, you should stop digging.” Apparently neither Governor Robert Bentley or any of his staff know of this.
After the governor stuck his foot in his mouth last week by saying our public education “sucks,” incurring the wrath of educators and concerned citizens far and wide, he followed up with a video that is a weak attempt at digging out of his hole.
He does acknowledge that his remarks drew a large number of comments and invitations to visit schools. Then he tries to pat himself on the back for upping interest in public schools. Okay, if you want to think so. And again he proves that he has no understanding at all about National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores by continuing to rant and rave about our fourth-grade math scores.
Governor, take a moment and read the following statement, in which the University of Southern California’s Dr. Morgan Polikoff warns us about misusing such scores:
“Be wary of cherry-picked analyses that focus only on certain subjects or grades rather than presenting the complete picture across subjects and grades. This is most often employed by folks with ideological agendas.”
Yet Governor Bentley continues to refer to one grade without giving any context at all. While he loves to say that our fourth-grade math scores went down from 2013 to 2015, he never mentions that of the 50 states, scores also dropped in 36 others, remained the same in four and went up in only nine. Nor does he note that the decline in Alabama was exactly the same as the decline in Massachusetts, the only state in the nation with a perfect school system, according to him.
He never mentions that NAEP is a test taken every two years with random samplings of fourth and eighth graders, about 2,500 students in all. There were 55,476 fourth graders in Alabama in 2014-15. So we tested about 1,250 on them on NAEP. That is 2 percent.
There are 105 members of the Alabama House of Representatives. Two percent of 105 is 2.1. So the governor wants us to believe that we can pick the voting record of any two members and consider that to be representative all 105 members?
The governor says in his video that “numbers do not lie.” But he needs to add that politicians who take numbers out of context do lie by presenting a false picture.
From 1992 to 2015, Alabama’s fourth-grade math scores for all students climbed 23 points. This was a larger increase than the national average. So we have been closing the gap. It is important to note that even in 1992, the gap between scores for white and black students in Alabama was less than the national average. This is still true.
And let the record show that, from 1992 to 2015, fourth-grade math scores in Massachusetts went up one point more than our own. A one- or two-point change in state scores is not statically significant. So we are progressing as quickly as Massachusetts and the gap in Alabama between white and black and poverty and non-poverty students in Alabama continues to better those in the Bay State.
Governor, you also say in your video that we should “face reality.” You are correct. But as a report from the NAEP governing body points out, “Many factors may influence student achievement, including educational policies and practices, available resources, and the demographic characteristics of the student body.”
The reality is that we have passionate, dedicated educators in Alabama who understand far more about the realities of the challenges in today’s classrooms than any politician in Montgomery. Yet these are the very same people we always ignore when coming up with some new way to “fix” education.
Governor, you need to spend less time making speeches and videos and more time in some classrooms.