The Public’s Attitudes Towards Public Schools

As educators its important to keep an eye on public attitudes toward our public schools.”The 39th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools” by Lowell C. Rose and Alec M. Gallup; provides us with a treasure trove of data on public perceptions that, in general, leave me very optimistic about our future as an educational system, and as a nation.

When asked to grade the schools in the community 45% of the public gave the schools A’s & B’s. Fifty-three percent of those with children in public schools gave their community schools A’s and B’s.


When the question focused even closer to home, “What grade would you give the school your oldest child attends?” the numbers climbed significantly, with 67% of parents giving the school an A or B.


When asked to rate the public schools in the nation as a whole, only 16% assigned the schools A’s or B’s.


While there are many ways to interpret this data, it seems that the more the public knows about it’s schools, the more they approve of them.

The public’s attitude toward the current emphasis on standardized tests is also encouraging. When asked if the increased emphasis on testing has helped, hurt, or made no difference in the performance of the local public school; 70% responded that it “hurt” or “made no difference”.


Finally, when asked if the current emphasis on results is encouraging teachers to teach to the tests is a “good thing” or a “bad thing”, 79% of the public responded “a bad thing”.


The fact that the more the public knows about the public schools, the higher they grade them; coupled with the growing dissatisfaction with the emphasis on high stakes testing is creating a national environment that is ready for change. Will our political leaders step up to the plate? What changes does the public support?

We’ll look at the data in my next post.


Performance Goals vs Learning Goals: Are We Learning or Looking Good?

This from the Leading Blog “Which Should You Have? Performance Goals versus Learning Goals” based on research from Carol Dweck.

“Performance goals are about “winning positive judgments of your competence and avoiding negative ones. In other words, when students pursue performance goals they’re concerned with their level of intelligence: They want to look smart (to themselves or others) and avoid looking dumb.” A person usually does this by playing it safe.

Learning goals are ones that are about increasing your competence.

“It reflects a desire to learn new skills, master new tasks, or understand new things…”

In order to do develop new competencies students often go through a phase of confusion, failure, and discomfort. Think about what it feels like to learn a new video game, learn to juggle, or speak another language. Being a beginner requires us to quiet our egos and a willingness to look like a beginner, often in front of others.

Both goals she noted are common and can fuel achievement.

“The tasks that are best for learning are often challenging ones that involve displaying ignorance and risking periods of confusion and errors. The tasks that are best for looking smart are often ones that students are already good at and won’t really learn as much from doing.”

I’ve watched a number of people join my Aikido class and quit soon thereafter because they want to learn it quickly. They don’t like being beginners.

Interesting that our schools have structured themselves to emphasize and reward levels of achievement not “degrees of learning”. NCLB has further encouraged the focus on achievement. As the Leading Blog says:

“..most people would opt for performance goals. Who wants to take a chance of being criticized for looking dumb? Are we learning or looking good?”

Interesting that so many schools that call themselves “Learning Communities” are structured to encourage performance and achievement goals.

Sadly, it is rare to find an educator who will allow themselves to “look dumb” in front of other educators or their own students. When we hide the difficulties involved in learning from our children, or decide that we should stick to things we know, and stay away from things that are unfamiliar so we don’t look bad; we become role models for playing it safe and provide a poor example for young learners.

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Misleading Data Hides NCLB Scandal

As I read through “Achieving State and National Literacy Goals, a Long Uphill Road” a study by the Rand Corporation, mild confusion gave way to outrage. The data cited in the report is 2003 state assessment data collected in response to NCLB’s accountability requirements. There are huge public relations incentives to schools, districts, and states to provide positive accountability data to the Feds, first to stay off the list of schools and districts in need of improvement and second to maintain public support for public schools. Is anyone surprised that the data being reported citing impressive achievement gains is not accurate and gives the public a false impression of what is going on in our schools?

Let’s look at one example of how the public is being misled. In 2003, Texas reported that 85 percent of its 4th grade students had achieved proficiency in reading as measured by its state assessment. If I lived in Texas, I’d be feeling pretty good about an 85 percent proficiency rate. In fact, it was third highest in the nation.

Wyoming, however, reported that only 44 percent of its 4th grade students had achieved proficiency as reflected by their state assessment. If I had children in school in Wyoming, I’d be upset. Most of the general public, and parents in particular, see that Texas has almost twice as many 4th grade students reading proficiently. By far, Texas is more successful. The question must be asked, “What is wrong with our schools in Wyoming?” “What is Texas doing that we should all be doing?”

Now, add another data source, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading proficiency results, and the entire façade of accountability comes crashing down. Texas, reporting 85 percent of its elementary students proficient in reading, shows only 28 percent of its students proficient as measured by the NAEPs. Wyoming, which administered the same NAEP exam to its students, reports more than 35 percent achieving proficient in reading. When both states use the same exam to measure reading proficiency Wyoming outperforms Texas.


“ Achieving State and National Literacy Goals, a Long Uphill Road” goes out of its way to downplay the disparity between state assessments and The National Assessment of Educational Progress. However, with the passage of NCLB, NAEPs role will be expanded and every state will be required to participate. NAEP, the more challenging standard of literacy, will be used to validate state assessment results in reading and mathematics.

The Texas-Wyoming example shows that state assessments and their resulting proficiency results are not accurate reflections of what kids can do from state to state. In fact, in many cases the results are inflated because state assessments vary in their definition of “proficiency” and their rigor in measuring it. When a common measure (NAEP) is used with the states, it exposes the “sham” that is being perpetrated on the public through the use of non-standardized, state assessment proficiency data. Here are a few more examples of the misleading proficiency rates:


The gaps between state assessments and NAEP assessments calls into question the entire process of certifying which states, districts, and schools are meeting NCLB standards and which are not. How can states be held accountable if there is no standard method of measuring? I might be on an NCLB list of under-performing schools in Wyoming that are actually outperforming schools that are considered meeting NCLB standards in Texas. NCLB has turned into a competition to provide positive and impressive data; data that hides the reality of the state of learning in our schools.

If the scandal of overblown and misleading reading proficiency data isn’t enough; there is even a larger scandal, for, whether measured by state standards or NAEPs, the state of reading proficiency in this country is mind-boggling.

“First, in several (seven) states fewer than half the students meet the state proficiency standards, and in no state do even half the students meet the NAEP national literacy standard of proficiency.” Achieving State and National Reading Goals a Long Uphill Road – Rand




“Overall, the data show that our nation faces a tremendous challenge to raise the literacy skills of our nation’s adolescents. It is clear that simply mandating standards and assessments is not going to guarantee success. Unless we, as a nation, are prepared to focus attention and resources on this issue, our schools are likely to continue producing students who lack skills and are ill-prepared to deal with the demands of post-secondary education and the workplace. Policymaker, schools, and teachers need to step up and accept the “orphaned responsibility” of teaching students to read to learn. The cost of inattention is very high, both in personal and economic terms.” – Achieving State and National Reading Goals a Long Uphill Road – Rand

It’s time we pulled back the curtain on the sham that masquerades as accountability in the results being reported by NCLB. The public is getting a false picture of what is going on in our schools. NAEP proficiency rates point out that fully half the elementary students in this country are not meeting reading proficiency standards. Even worse, the data for subgroups such as African-American, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged, special needs, and non-English speaking, are 20-27% below the already appalling proficiency rates for the general population.

It will take a miracle for most states to meet the NCLB requirement for 100% proficiency by 2014, even using their own state assessments. If we use the more rigorous NAEP assessments as the measure of proficiency, the situation seems even worse.

The public deserves better, our schools deserve better and, there is no question that our children deserve better.

NCLB has failed us.


More statistics and the entire Rand report at the edtechjourneys wiki.