Foxes and Henhouses

John is an investor.  One day he was approached by Harry with a request to invest in Harry’s business.  The business sounded like it was based on a good idea, so John asked to see the financial records to evaluate Harry’s performance.

Harry provided the records, and John began to read through them.

He found that Harry had set the goals for his business.  Harry had then set the standards for measuring his progress toward meeting his goals.  Harry had devised the tests he used to measure how well he was meeting his standards.  Harry had administered the tests.  And Harry was reporting the results of those tests. 

Not surprisingly, Harry was reporting that he was successfully meeting most of his goals.

John did not invest in Harry’s business. Instead he told Harry that it was poor practice not to have an outside entity perform an independent evaluation of his business.  Serious investors expect data to be both valid and reliable, and self-evaluation and reporting is not considered to be either.

Unfortunately, Harry does have investors.  In fact, every taxpayer in the state of Pennsylvania is investing in Harry’s business, some with money and some with both money and the future of their children.

Because Harry is the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

The Department has set goals for the local public school districts and their students.  It has set the standards which both districts and students must meet to show sufficient progress toward meeting those goals.  It has created the tests the districts must use to measure their progress.  It controls the administration of those tests.  And then, it reports the results of those tests.

Not surprisingly, it has been reporting that districts and students were making excellent progress toward meeting most of the goals.

But a new report from Asora Education Enterprises, a private educational consulting organization, compares the academic achievement levels reported by Pennsylvania with the National Assessment of Educational Progress.  Asora has made similar comparisons for Rhode Island, New Jersey, Oklahoma and California school districts.

In Pennsylvnia, the report indicates that the Pennsylvania Department of Education has set achievement standards at levels significantly lower than those established by the National Assessment, resulting in a reported proficiency rating for local districts which has been inflated at a rate of 80%.  Proficiency is defined as performing at grade level or above.

For example, while Pennsylvania reports that 78% of 4th graders were “proficient” in math in 2007, the National Assessment standard would place only 47% of those students in the proficient category.  In 4th grade reading, the Pennsylvania standard finds 70% to be proficient, while the National Assessment standard identifies only 40% as proficient.  By 11th grade, the National Assessment standard finds that only 30% of 11th graders are proficient in math, and 38% in reading, while Pennsylvania is reporting a 54% math and 65% reading proficiency score for the same children.

In other words, only one-third of Pennsylvania’s 11th grade students would be designated as proficient in reading and math if the evaluations were conducted by someone other than Pennsylvania itself. 

But unlike Harry, whose own success is tied to his performance, the Department of Education has not been held accountable for its conduct.  That needs to change.

It’s time for parents and taxpayers to behave more like John.  There is nothing more serious than the future of our children, and a Department that self-evaluates and self-reports does not deserve our investment any more than Harry does.

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  • When it comes to destructive monopolies providing substandard service, nobody goes further than government schools.