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It used to be that Massachusetts was the state that everybody talked about in education. Experts studied it from around the country. And business and political leaders came a-calling: I know you guys have high business costs, but we have to learn how you improved your educational system so quickly. We’re not a yawn yet, but other states are much more influential in state education debates across the country.
Trip Gabriel in today’s New York Times highlights the work of Jeb Bush in a number of states.
Mr. Bush, for example, has been closely involved in new education bills and laws in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Utah.
And Gabriel further notes the energy in states across the country calling 2011 “one of the most consequential years in memory for changes in the way schools are run.” Governor Bush’s policies in Florida have taken the Sunshine State’s children from near the bottom nationally to well above mid-range on national assessments. The reforms parallel those undertaken in Massachusetts (until recently), advancing strong school accountability, student testing, and charter schools. What Florida did that Massachusetts did not was innovate in the area of digital learning and put into place a serious barrier to social promotion in the third grade in order to ensure that all kids enter the fourth grade with a baseline of reading skills.
What we did that Florida did not was to set the highest academic standards in the country (theirs were mediocre before they adopted the somewhat better than mediocre national standards). And we implemented the best teacher licensure tests in the country–tests that were unique in ensuring subject-matter mastery. Importantly, the Bay State aligned its academic standards and teacher testing with high-stakes MCAS testing to measure student achievement.
Some states are still moving ahead with Massachusetts’ proven reforms. First, Texas takes a page from Massachusetts and advances best-in-nation national standards. Now Ohio takes a page from the Commonwealth in seeking to establish a teacher licensure test that is focused on subject-matter competency (rather than the easier PRAXIS licensure tests). As Stephen Sawchuck of EdWeek‘s Teacher Beat puts it:
What’s NOT gotten a lot less press, however, is that Ohio Gov. Kasich, a Republican, is also proposing that teachers who work in the state’s lowest-performing schools take tests of subject-matter competency, as one of several proposed reform measures. The idea is to make sure that teachers in the lowest-performing schools know their content.
The proposal is in Kasich’s budget proposal. It’s not clear who’s supposed to foot the bill for these tests; the budget doesn’t specify that part.
States have mixed records on licensing tests. Most of them, save Massachusetts, set the passing bar at a pretty low level. On the other hand, it’s interesting to note that this proposal would re-test teachers once they’ve already gotten into classrooms.
It’s great to see the push from both states to draw the real lessons from our historic improvement in educational attainment from 1993 to 2009, rather than the milquetoast, rehashed Marc Tucker theories being passed off by DC insiders as real reform. The national standards, the top-down teacher evaluations, and all the rest are not what got Massachusetts strong gains on the NAEP, TIMSS or SATs.
Florida is winning the race to brand itself as the leader in education reform quite simply because its reforms have worked and they have remained in tact. Its improvement in Hispanic student performance is slightly better than Massachusetts’ own record (it started out with higher Hispanic performance in the early 1990s in great part because of a highly educated Cuban population). Massachusetts could have played a more robust role as the model for other state reformers, but the fact is that, while a belated supporter of charter schools, the Patrick Administration has turned its back on aspects of our 1993 education reform, most notably our accountability system and our nation-leading academic standards, that were crucial to our students’ unprecedented rise in achievement.
Had Governor Patrick pushed forward with our proven blueprint, the nation’s leader in student achievement — Massachusetts — would have been the obvious point of reference for other states. Instead, the administration cast its lot with an untested regimen of federal reforms and given up policy decision-making to interstate consortia and the federal government.
Just one more reason to conclude that the states, not the Gucci Gulchers in DC are where the action is. How is it possible that we have moved from our focus on academic quality to workforce development so quickly?
For anyone who thinks that people in DC are smarter than state leaders in education such as Jeb Bush or the Birmingham-Roosevelt-Weld bipartisan team that crafted Massachusetts’ reforms (or really have any idea what they are doing), I have one simple question: Why doesn’t the DC school system, which is under the jurisdiction of the federal government, look any better than it does?
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The last time we participated in 12th Grade TIMSS, our 12th grade girls scored 426 in advanced math, 31 points lower than our 12th grade boys (457), 58 points lower than German boys (484), 90 points lower than Greek boys (516), 140 points lower than Swiss boys (566), 141 points lower than French boys (567), and 142 points lower than Russian boys (568). Yet at the 8th grade level, TIMSS estimates that the gender differences are not statistically significant. So it’s almost meaningless to compare international scores at the 8th grade level, and it’s suicidal to ignore these very significant differences at the 12th grade level, as this report did.
5/5/2011 12:53 PM EDT
Thanks for those TIMSS references. I did download the report and found the glowing summary to be a bit “optimistic” relative to the actual data, to say the least. When you say Massachusetts did well, it is true, only that Massachusetts did improve by 34 points to 547. The first concern is that this is still 51 points behind Chinese Taipei, 50 points behind Korea, 46 points behind Singapore, 25 points behind Hong Kong, and 22 points behind Japan.
The second concern is that they talked about how much your schools improved without giving comparisons to other states which other national standardized tests tell us already perform significantly higher than Massachusetts at the EIGHT GRADE level.
The third concern is that these are the scores only for 8th graders which ignores what happens to our scores across the country between 8th and 12th grade–scores for our girls drop 100 points while scores for boys in a number of countries (i.e., Norway, Sweden, and Switerland ) increase by almost that much. So while this report shows Massachusetts scoring 78 points higher than Norway, it completely misses what happens by the 12th grade after Norway’s scores increase 100 points and ours (including Massachusetts’) scores drop by almost that much.
Is the story accurate? It didn’t outright lie about anything. But clearly what they left out is far more important than what they said, leaving most casual readers with a false impression about the qualify of your schools. It’s nowhere close to world class, and as pointed out above, it’s a bad state to use for this international comparison.
5/5/2011 12:15 PM EDT
@israeliteknight: http://www.doe.mass.edu/news/news.aspx?id=4457. Try this for 2007 Math TIMSS results including Massachusetts: http://timss.bc.edu/TIMSS2007/PDF/T07_M_IR_Chapter2.pdf. Try this for 2007 Science TIMSS results including Massachusetts: http://timss.bc.edu/TIMSS2007/PDF/T07_S_IR_Chapter2.pdf.
5/4/2011 4:06 PM EDT
NSF did an interesting study on the state of our physics education using scores from 12Th grade TIMSS. What they found is that Americans who take the NSF programs score 52 points higher (475 vs. 423) than the average American student who takes physics. But they also score 106 points lower than Norway at 581, 98 points lower than Sweden at 573, 70 points lower than Russia at 545, 47 points lower than Germany at 522, 19 points lower than Cyprus at 494, 13 points lower than Latvia and Switzerland at 488, and 11 points lower than Greece at 486.
At the 8th grade level, Japan scored 100 points higher than us, Korea scored 105 points higher, and Singapore scored 150 points higher.
The tragic thing is that no Asian nation participated at the 12th grade level so we can only guess at how big the gap gets by that age.
If there is a TIMSS study which shows otherwise (which indicates Mass. Education has some kind of edge over other states) it sure would be nice to see a link to it.
5/3/2011 2:44 PM EDT
To answer my own question, if NAEP scores tell us anything, it’s that taking government money, and particulary federal money, for education, WILL destroy children.
5/1/2011 7:34 AM EDT
NAEP also reports math scores broken down by state and public vs private schools for selected states, with Texas and Massachusetts being two of those selected states. I have a personal interest in the results, because I worked for a company in Marlborough for two years and went to school in Texas for two years and always wondered why people in one country were so vastly and uniformly different from each other.
I also want to refute the slur above about Texas and especially the inference that Scripture is not science. In most states, the difference between public and private schools is bigger than most of the state to state differences. In Massachusetts the difference is only two points (278 vs. 281). But in Texas the difference is a whopping 31 points (270 vs. 301). The reason this is significant is that such a large proportion of texans go to private (religious) schools. So while it might appear from EIGHTH GRADE NAEP math scores that Massachusetts is only two NAEP points (or six SAT points) behind Texas, the reality is that religious schools in Texas are at least 20 NAEP OR 60 SAT points ahead of the top schools in Massachusetts.
Maybe teaching creation is not so bad for students after all?
Or is it something else?
5/1/2011 7:27 AM EDT
Even in iowa, most of those taking the SAT are competing for local schools rather than your elite schools–like Harvard whose graduates include Alberto Gonzalez whose fellow classmates unanimously concluded (in a New York times center splash) that he didn’t have a third grade understanding of the US Constitution.
And even in Iowa, affirmative action is live and well. Lower scoring blacks, Hispanics, and women are over-represented in SAT tests: that is, the proportion taking the tests is greater than their proportion in the Iowa population.
But back to the point about your elite schools. At the 8th grade level in NAEP Math, Whites in Massachusetts score 283, which is 2 points lower than Whites in Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Texas, and DOD schools, 4 points lower than Whites in Alaska and Montana, 5 points lower than Whites in Connecticut, and 20 points lower than Whites in DC. One NAEP math point is roughly equivalent to three SAT math points, so this difference in math skills at the 8th grade level (before the state to state as well as country to country and sex differences begin to accelerate) is in the range of six to 60 SAT math points.
What NAEP math tells me is that any claim that Massachusetts has an edge in education over any other state, and in particular the above states who already score up to 60 SAT math points higher at the 8th grade level, is more hot air than reality.
These 100 to 150 SAT math point differences we see between the students in states with common universities and those in states with elite universities are much more significant than you want to believe. Agreed that there is a correlation with the percent of test takers in SAT, but there is not in NAEP.
NAEP has the 12th grade results for states but refuses to release it.
I wonder why?
4/30/2011 5:55 PM EDT
Some commenters need a course in statistical analysis.
4/30/2011 12:02 PM EDT
Dangerous notion? Why would I believe it’s dangerous, much less merely a notion?
There are many people who have successfully correlated test scores with IQ, and lo and behold, it turns out that test scores like GRE and SAT are better predictors of success than so-called IQ tests, especially those related to Wechsler.
The only thing that might qualify as dangerous is for educators to ignore it–as you might have done in Mass.
4/30/2011 12:48 AM EDT
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4/29/2011 9:07 PM EDT
Re: Isrealiteknight’s comment: From the college board website:
Of the 2009 graduating class in Iowa, 1,105 students took the SAT. Complete results are available on the College Board’s website at www.collegeboard.com.
In other words about 600 Iowa females… Predominantly those applying to elite eastern private schools that require the SAT are being compared to our 20,500 boys representing about 2/3ds of our seniors… I’d bet on the 600 elite students in that competition too.
4/29/2011 9:48 AM EDT
There is a slight correlation between the % of students who take the SAT and SAT scores, but not as big as you think it is. This correlation explains only about ten percent, as there are significant exceptions.
In NAEP MATH at the 8th grade level (the age at which the state to state differences begin to accelerate) there are many states which score significantly higher: wisconsin,Texas, Iowa, Minnesota, etc.
Ironically, Whites in DC score 20 points higher compared to about 5 points to the other higher scoring states.
4/29/2011 2:27 AM EDT
@israeliteknight: Mass. tops the nation on the Nation’s Report Card and has since 2005 in all subjects; in addition we were in the top 6 “countries” on the Trends in math and Science Study. In 2010, Iowa topped the SATs (combined score of 1798) but had a 3% participation rate; Massachusetts scores 1547 with a whopping participation rate of 86%. So you’re comparing a select (likely the very best) group in Iowa with just about everyone who ever thought about college in Massachusetts. An unfair comparison.
@gernn: Gulp. Missing comma.
@BRR371: Yes, we are #1 in student achievement on the NAEP tests, and the post notes that. My point is that we are not a point of reference, we have little influence on other states’ reforms. I think it is a pity because what we did in this state could have strongly informed other states. Instead, we walked away from key portions of our reforms. For us, selfishly, the downside is that our rate of improvement on the NAEPs has slowed and possibly stagnated. I am not satisfied with where we are, so that’s a bad outcome.
@epedrokid3: That cat… Well, the piece is about states copying other states. The cat is clearly a copycat!
27 Massachusetts 512 526 509 1547 86%
4/28/2011 11:58 PM EDT
When broken down by race and sex, boys in Massachusetts score 88 points lower than boys in Iowa in SAT math, And 76 points lower in SAT reading. This is a consistent pattern across all the other standardized tests. It represents an IQ spread of about 8 to.10 points.
I know you are PROUD OF your education system–so you truly owe it to yourself to understand exactly what went wrong.
4/28/2011 11:55 PM EDT
I think you raise some interesting points in this article. You can blame the federal government, but also realize that what works in Florida, Texas, and New Mexico does not necessarily work in Massachusetts. Firstly, we already have a well developed public school system, so more charter schools may not necessarily work as a cost effective method of raising test scores. As a Mass. educated kid myself, I think the MCAS have done more harm than good for teachers and students because the other factor you can look at is um, is, wait a minute why is the picture here of a baby and a cat?? haha! waaa? lol!
4/28/2011 8:00 PM EDT
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When I ride the T with “students” in Boston or Cambridge…. I am amazed that they even attend school.
4/28/2011 7:48 PM EDT
Besides not being asked to comment on how to develop the nations educational system because some political hack from FL has already started working on it, what have we really lost? Look, Patrick may have compromised our system by giving his buddy Obama a chance to send us some money, but let’s face it, we aren’t behind anyone. I have yet to see any information that erases our educational lead over other states, or countries, that was well publicized here (boston.com) and else where (say the Economist, or NYT) last year describing our students scoring with the best academic nations traditionally (for example japan and s. korea).
This article is a waste of space and misinformation, forgive me for laughing that we’re worried about falling behind because Bush was able to get his state from misserable scores, to average. We’re falling behind Texas? A state that still tries to teach Genesis like it’s science? Laughable. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills that anyone would think MA is falling behind the other 49 states!
4/28/2011 4:01 PM EDT
“Just one more reason to conclude that the states, not the Gucci Gulchers in DC are where the action is.”
Of course this is true for just about everything, including education. Though you may want to run sentences like this by the Globe editors before you go ahead and print them.
4/28/2011 2:20 PM EDT
This proves we are not as smart as we think we are.
4/28/2011 1:58 PM EDT
I have been following the Mass. education for a while and cannot agree that it has ever held any leadership position, other than in the minds of residents there. I know you are proud of it, but if your system of education was so good, one of the first question you must ask (which of course you did not address in this article) is why boys in Massachusetts score lower than girls in Iowa in SAT math (and most other standardized tests).
Also, for decades, your girls have scored lower than Blacks in some states.
You clearly lost the formula a long time ago, and it appears that it will be an even longer time before you figure this out.
4/28/2011 1:32 PM EDT
Although not about the story, but still related to Massachusetts education, I for one will never understand this states nepotism when it comes to UMass.
For the amount of money we spend on Health and Human services in this state I for one do not understand how they can so vastly under-fund and constantly cut our states higher education system.
The vast majority of students who attend are from working class backgrounds and are proven to be the ones that live in state after graduation. Yet other states less ‘renowned’ for their public educational systems have got phenomenal public higher education systems.
Personally, I wonder how many private education students choose to stay in Massachusetts after they graduate and how does that ratio compare to UMass graduates?
4/28/2011 11:53 AM EDT
Massachusetts lost its soul for the promise of $250 million over the next 4 years. The Commonwealth’s school aid budget dwarfs the additional $62.5 million per year from the federal government. The Commonwealth’s rigorous standards are the basis for the Commonwealth’s students getting to the top and it took a lot of tax payer money, $90 billion since 1993, to get there. In return for that $250 million which is borrowed since the federal government is running trillion dollar deficits, the Commonwealth is expected to adopt standards that have yet to be proven as rigorous as the proven standards currently employed in the Commonwealth.