Governor Rick Snyder’s campaign web page featured a section on his plan for Michigan public schools. On that page he pointed out that Michigan schools are ranked 42nd in the nation. A footnote revealed that his information came from the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) Report Card on American Education 15th edition. Recently ALEC released the 16th edition which ranked Michigan 49th. The Governor used this data as proof that Michigan’s schools are “broken.” Despite being a self-proclaimed “nerd,” the Governor seems to have failed to do his homework on ALEC and their Report Card on American Education. ALEC’s “Report Card” falls short for many reasons.
BAD DATA ANALYSIS
In ALEC’s 15th edition, their composite score was a combination of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 4th and 8th grade reading and math test scores as well as scores on the ACT/SAT test. Michigan was the only state in the 15th edition that tested all its students on the ACT. Most states only test their college bound students. The implementation of the program to test everyone caused Michigan’s composite ranking to fall from 33rd to the aforementioned 42nd in one year. In the 16th edition, their composite score is a combination of only the NAEP tests and progress made on the NAEP tests and only includes students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. This allowed a state like Florida to go from 37th to 3rd in one year! This shows a lack of consistency in their ranking system. When you look at all students, Florida is only slightly better than Michigan on NAEP scores despite the 46 place difference in ranking. Despite Michigan’s plummet from 31st to 49th over a four-year period, ALEC gave Michigan the 8th best rating for school reform! Are the reforms they are advocating for having an inverse impact on student performance in Michigan?
Perhaps the one thing the new report gets right is that poverty is often the central issue in poor performing schools. However, the study seems to suggest that the educational system is failing students of poverty, and therefore they will remain in poverty. In 1930 the national high school graduation rate was around 20%. The current rate is around 70%. Using ALEC’s premise, the U.S. should have only a small percentage of students living in poverty. However, for the first time since that era we are approaching a 25% child poverty rate in the United States. The ALEC report identifies Finland as the highest scoring country in Math and Science. Their child poverty rate is one of the lowest in the world, around 7%. It appears that preventing students from growing up in poverty to begin with would be the most effective strategy for increasing school performance.
POLITICIZED REPORT BY NON-EDUCATORS
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is the sponsor of the study. This is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation that identifies itself as “nonpartisan.” Of the 23 board members and officers, all 23 are republicans. The three authors of the study work for conservative public policy research organizations and all have educational backgrounds in political science. Additionally, ALEC has been partially funded by Koch family foundations. The Koch brothers have become the most divisive name in politics. It is obvious that this report was written by people with an agenda to advance.
American schools are in the top 15% in the world on math and science testing. American students also receive a well-rounded education that goes beyond the core curriculum. Students from higher scoring countries come to college here because they know how to think logically, yet they lack the ability to think creatively. America has proven that it is not just intelligence but ingenuity that drives an economy. We are a nation of creative thinkers, and that cannot be accurately measured on a test. Our schools are not “broken.” We do have room for improvement, and the vast majority of educators are vigilantly working to make sure that happens. Vilifying our teachers and spreading inaccuracies will only hurt our students and scare away quality people from the profession.