I was watching a terrific TED talk by Sebastian Wernicke called Lies, damned lies, and statistics and it brought my mind to two education issues.  One national and one local. 

The first issue has to do with the negative treatment of teacher unions by various entities from Tony Bennett to the White House as if the teacher unions are keeping students from learning.  In the recent issue of NEA Today there is a striking article from Diane Ravitch (a huge figure in the world of education and a former Education staffer for George H. W. Bush).  In the article, When the Conventional Wisdom on Unions and Teacher Firings is Wrong there is a great observation that the states with the strongest teacher unions happen to have the best national test scores.  If teacher unions prevent the firing of bad teachers then this statistic would seem to be counter to the argument.  In the end, Diane Ravitch points out once again that 80 years of research has proven that socioeconomics is the best predictor of educational success or failure.

The second issue has to with the ISTEP score release that causes me to grind my teeth every year.  When you teach in a district with three different junior high schools the natural reaction is to compare the scores and declare a winner.  While we are in the same district the comparison is apples to oranges.  The state of Indiana Education website is a great place for those of us that love research and statistics.  A simple comparision starts with two proven factors that influence educational test scores,  ethnicity and economics.   The below information comes from the 2009-2010 school profiles from each of our junior high schools: School Profile – 2009 2010 – FJH, School Profile – 2009 2010 – HSEJH, and School Profile – 2009 2010 – Riverside JH.

2009-2010 Schools Profile

  Ethnicity White Ethnicity Black Ethnicity Multi Ethnicity Asian Ethnicity Hispanic Lunch Paid Lunch Reduced Lunch Free
HSEJH 85 7 4 3 1 92 3 5
FJH 71 12 7 6 4 83 6 10
Riverside 85 5 3 4 3 87 6 7


The following is the ISTEP scores from the spring:

Spring 2010 ISTEP – 8th Grade

  Pass English % Pass Math % Pass Both %












Declaring a winner based on ISTEP scores seems to be easy.  However, is the comparison valid?  A look at the school profiles provides some insight to the answer.  Beyond the couple days of discomfort that the ISTEP release causes for my school it is minor compared to the public flogging of good teachers who dedicate themselves to teaching in the toughest schools.  It amazes me that even though the socioeconomic link is indisputable; it is shoved under the table for educational pundits.  It is no different than blaming the coach for me not being able to dunk.  My coach could do everything possible to teach me good fundamentals, improving my conditioning, and building up my self esteem.  The reality is that I’m still too short and no amount of coaching will change that fact.  I’m not saying that kids living in poverty are a lost cause, it is just that until a child feels safe, has enough to eat, and has a parent (and hopefully two) that invest in a child’s learning the situation will not change despite the flogging of schools.