Sunday, March 19, 2017

Amanda's Art Project vs. Standardized Tests

 I retired from teaching in 2008, after 33 rewarding years in the classroom. I’ve said this before: but I can’t name five kids in all those years that I didn’t like (although I admit some were easier to like than others).

Certainly, I found that great abilities were sometimes masked and did all I could to bring talent to the fore. In days of yore—before standardized testing spread like kudzu across the educational land—one way to bring hidden talent to view was to offer students all kinds of options in their work. You need not worry whether or not they could provide answers to abstruse questions on a mandated test every spring. Rather, you encouraged teens to develop an array of abilities. 

You tried to foster a love of learning that might be carried forward through life.

By 2008, I had been teaching Ancient World History, as required by State of Ohio guidelines formulated to meet growing testing requirements. We were required, in one year, to cover twenty-eight centuries of world history (1000 B.C. to 1750 A.D.), from China to Europe to Aztec and African lands. Students would be tested at year’s end and success would be measured by answers to fifty questions on one test.

I told my principal at the time, I considered this “educational malpractice.” Her hands, too, were increasingly tied and she only grimaced in response.

I worried about the future of education in those days. I worry even more, nine years removed. From what I hear from younger teachers today the pedagogical kudzu has been impossible to stop.

So here’s an example of what I was still able to do—barely—in the last years before I retired from teaching. I had re-read the Iliad a few years before and realized seventh graders might actually enjoy a synopsis of the story, if I could put it together right. I felt some would enjoy the war story. I thought others would like the love story involved. I also believed exposure to great writing might rub off and help my students learn to express themselves with greater facility. I was almost certain the State of Ohio wouldn’t include a question about Homer or the Iliad on any spring test.

I just didn’t care.

It took long hours to put together a reading of more than 6,000 words; but I was happy to put in the time for a good cause. I had recently read Xenophon, too, because that’s what good teachers do. They always seek to broaden their knowledge base.

For that reason, my synopsis started with a quote from Xenophon about the fate of cities that fell to invaders: “It is a law established for all time among all men that when a city is taken in war, the persons and property of its inhabitants belong to the captors.” 


The Iliad opens after ten long years of war and students quickly realized figures in the story acted like people they knew today. Agamemnon was petty. Achilles was a hot-tempered killing machine. Paris is a handsome narcissist, Helen the ancient world equivalent of a Victoria’s Secret model.

At one point, Achilles, face black with rage over unfair treatment at the hands of his king, storms out of a meeting, but not before calling Agamemnon a “wine sack with a dog’s eyes [and]…a deer’s heart.”

From the first, students seemed interested when we dived into the story; and I was sure my plan was working the following day when I heard one boy say in jest that his friend was a “wine sack with a dog’s eyes” while they waited in a cafeteria line for a lunch lady to pass them slices of pepperoni pizza.

When students were reading, I told them not to worry about all the names of Greek and Trojan warriors. I only hoped they might develop a sense of the horrors of war, whether millennia ago or ten thousand miles away in Iraq in 2008. In scene after scene, Homer describes the carnage in vivid detail. The warrior Pedaios meets death:

…the son of Phyleus, the spear-famed, closing upon him
struck him with the sharp spear behind the head at the tendon,
and straight on through the teeth and under the tongue cut the bronze
and he dropped in the dust gripping in his teeth the cold bronze.

I felt scenes like that might stick in teen minds.

To cap the unit I explained that we would soon be putting together a comic play, loosely based on Homer’s story. It was an idea I stole from my good friend and colleague Jeff Sharpless, whose classes were also reading my synopsis. Eventually, Mr. Sharpless and I were able to get fifty students to stay after school to practice for roles in the play, to make props, and work on songs for a “Greek chorus.”

Mr. Sharpless and I both asked students to complete several projects during a school year; and work on the play counted as one. Naturally, not every student likes to perform and Amanda, a quiet but talented young lady asked if she could do an art project based on the Iliad instead. Amanda was a creative thinker, diligent in all her work, and I immediately give permission to go ahead.

I was right—at the end of the year—and the State of Ohio had nothing to say about Homer or the Iliad or the carnage of war, ancient or modern, on the state social studies test. And, in a world where measuring learning according to A, B, C and D tests was taking over, no play could matter, and no art project either.

Still, I would have said nine years ago, and still say today, a project like Amanda’s is what true learning is about.

Here are her water color drawings and descriptions based on the Iliad by Homer. I think you can probably guess her grade: 

Agamemnon must give up Chryseis, asking for someone else’s spoils. Achilles calls him greedy. This makes the king angry, telling Achilles he must lose Briseis.

[Both men had taken beautiful Trojan women as prizes during earlier fighting. Now to placate the gods, the king must give up his prize. He takes Achilles’ woman in a fit of anger. Achilles, the greatest of all warriors, refuses to help in the fight any longer.]

Helen decides to watch the fight. Priam tells her, “I do not blame you. I blame the gods.”

[Priam is Troy’s king. Paris had stolen Helen from Menelaus, Agamemnon’s brother.]

Paris leaps from the ranks of the Trojans, wearing a leopard skin. Menelaus accepts his challenge.

[Paris and Menelaus have agreed that whoever wins the fight can take Helen and the war will end.]

Pendaros shot an arrow from behind his friends’ shields. The arrow brushes Menelaus.

[This shot by a Trojan archer breaks the agreement and a general slaughter begins again.]

Diomedes’ spear pierces Aphrodite’s hand and immortal blood flows. He warns her to leave the battle.

[Gods and goddesses often intervene in the fight; in this case the goddess of love is wounded!]

Odysseus visits Achilles. He offers the warrior a cup of wine and goes over the situation. Achilles will not return to the battle.

Patroklos, dressed in Achilles’ armor, throws a stone at Hector’s chariot driver. The man’s skull caves in.

[Patroklos, Achilles’ dear young friend, tries to save the Greeks as they are driven back by the Trojans. He dresses in Achilles’ armor to bolster Greek spirits.]

Paris releases one of his arrows. The missile strikes Diomedes’ foot, going through to the ground.

Odysseus and Diomedes capture a Trojan named Dolon. They question him and he begs for his life. Diomedes severs Dolon’s head from his shoulders.

Achilles mourns Patroklos. He calls himself “a useless weight upon the ground.”

[Hector kills Patroklos in battle while Achilles sulks. Achilles now vows revenge.]

Andromache [Hector’s wife] tries to convince Hector to stay in Troy. He says he must not flee from the fight. Andromache is heartbroken.

Hector and Achilles meet. Hector loses his nerve and runs around the walls of Troy.

The spear of Achilles was driven into Hector’s neck. The dying man pleads for his body to be given to his father for proper burial. Achilles scorns his wish.

Achilles puts holes in Hector’s feet. He drags the body around in his chariot.

Even after his revenge, Achilles finds no peace. He paces along the beach at night.

[Priam sneaks into the enemy camp in the dark and begs for the return of his son Hector’s corpse; Achilles relents.]

Hector is placed on a towering pyre of logs. He is respectfully burned. This ends the Iliad.


And that is how you could teach, and how a student could still learn, in an era before school reformers strangled true learning in ropes of tests. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Betsy DeVos: The Midas Touch in Education

In all likelihood, Betsy DeVos will soon be confirmed as U. S. Secretary of Education, meaning she’ll be guiding our nation’s public schools. Typical of most candidates for the job, DeVos never taught a day in her long, privileged life. DeVos never attended public schools and never sent her children to public schools, either. 

We have had clueless Secretaries of Education before, but what separates Ms. DeVos from people like Arne Duncan and Bill Bennett, both singularly clueless, and makes her a million times more dangerous, is her love affair with for-profit charter schools. Consider K12 Inc., a typical for-profit online charter school in which DeVos has invested. K12 operates like any business, a giant pharmaceutical company, a strip mining conglomerate, or a cigarette manufacturer. 

So how does K12 approach the task of helping children? Does the company start by hiring the best teachers! No. The company focuses on hiring the best executives. How does K12 manage to hire the best executives? Call it the pedagogical equivalent of the Midas touch. 

K12 pays big. 

In 2016 Nathaniel A. Davis, Executive Chairman of K12, received $6.91 million in compensation. A little digging shows Davis made $5.33 million in 2015. He made $4.25 million in 2014. He made $9.54 million the year before that. Round it off and he piled up a total of $26 million.

Because K12 is a publicly traded company—with a stock price that rises and falls—they are required to publish salaries. Since 2012 top earners include:

Timothy L. Murray $11.67 million (four years of shedding blood, sweat and tears for kids)

Allison B. Cleveland $2.84 million (three)

Harry T. Hawks $2.01 million (two)

Howard D. Polsky $3.83 million (four)

Joseph P. Zorella $2.11 million (two)

James J. Rhyu $9.24 million (four)

Celia M. Stokes $1.82 million (two; why, this poor public servant is barely making minimum wage)

Stuart J. Udell $4,540,698 (all in 2016)

Ron J. Packard $12.09 million (three).

That total for Mr. Packard may seem weak, covering only 2012-2014. Going back to 2009, we find he earned $23 million.

Of course, all good businesses cut costs where they must. British Petroleum, health insurance companies, car dealers, this is what they do. It’s that “business efficiency” we hear critics of regular public schools talk so much about. That means teachers at K12 Inc. sacrifice for the good of the cause. In a study done in 2014 it was shown the average Ohio public school teacher earned $56,855 per year.

The average K12 teacher earned $34,333.

In addition, for-profits have business expenses ordinary public schools do not. To turn a profit a for-profit must advertise. According to an investigative report by USA Today, K12 spent $21.5 million in taxpayer dollars on advertising in the first eight months of 2012 alone. It also helps to donate millions of taxpayer dollars to campaigns of elected officials, who then keep taxpayer dollars flowing in a virtuous circle.

The only fly in the soup is this: Paying megabucks to executives and donating megabucks to politicians doesn’t help children. In the most detailed study done so far on Ohio E-schools, it was estimated that $1 billion in state funding went to on-line schools between 1999 and 2014, including Ohio Virtual Academy, an offshoot of K12.

What did taxpayers get for that pile of cash? On state report cards, grades for charter schools, generally, were poor. 

For E-schools results were grim:

Graduation rates were abysmal. The median statewide four-year graduation rate for high schools was 93.2 percent. Not one of nine statewide E-schools had a graduation rate as high as the lowest school district, Warrensville Heights, at 60.9.

Ohio Connections Academy came in at 55.1.

The Buckeye Online School of Success had success with 45% of all students. 

Greater Ohio Virtual Academy: 43.5.

Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (and classroom for next year for many students since few graduate on time): 38.4.

Ohio Virtual Academy, the school that pays executives millions, the school partly owned by Ms. DeVos: 36.6.

Four other on-line for-profits in Ohio did worse, graduating 33.1, 26.7, 20.6 and 17.3% of all students in four years.

And we saved the best news" for last! According to a Stanford University study of Buckeye State E-schools, students lost the equivalent of 72 days of reading learning yearly, compared to students in regular public schools. In math, it was worse: 180 days of math learning lost annually.

You read that right. 

If you do the math (and for Ohio E-school students this might be difficult) there are:

   180 days of school per year
  -180 days of math learning lost per year
       0 total days of math learning per year in E-schools.

“There’s still some possibility that there’s positive learning,” Margaret E. Raymond, project director at the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, which completed the study, told a stunned reporter last fall,but it’s so statistically significantly different from the average, it is literally as if the kid did not go to school for an entire year.”

So there you go. Turning students into gold hasn’t worked so far and probably never will. 

Ms. DeVos may have a plan to protect children from grizzlies. Sadly, she shows little interest in protecting them from greedy corporate raiders.


To get a good sense of how K12 Inc. works read “Fifteen Months in Virtual Charter Hell.”

Also excellent: “K12 Inc. Tries to Pivot from Virtual School Failures to Profit from ‘Non-Managed’ Schools.”

If you happen to have a masochistic streak, and want to see a list of all the politicians to whom Ms. Devos has donated, check out this link.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Forced to Betray My Mission: What a Real Teacher Fears

If you think high-stakes testing is doing severe damage to U. S. education you are not alone.

I know, when I retired in 2008, after thirty-three years in the classroom, it seemed I might be crazy. High-stakes testing was not improving education. In fact, it appeared to be doing harm.

Eight years later, it seems I wasn’t crazy.

To wrap up 2016 Badass Teachers Association (if you haven’t joined you should) posted the following picture on its Facebook page. It came by way of Ken Previti, an education blogger, himself:

             There were a number of quick comments in support. Cedie Ache, another education blogger, added #6: “The tests make both curricula investors and test-makers RICH, RICH, RICH.”

Then Bobby Lee Reuss weighed in, speaking from the heart—speaking, probably, for millions of educators who work with or have with children every day. He captures, I fear, many of the deepest concerns of front line teachers, principals, psychologists, and counselors, as they try to avoid the yawning pitfalls of “school reform.” Like so many who work with children, Reuss wonders if reforms have been driven by fools at the top. Now he fears the new administration in Washington, D. C. could be even worse. Here’s his (lightly edited) response:
The majority of experienced teachers who actually earned our post-graduate degrees and teaching credentials after having been educated and trained by the Education Departments of real and respected colleges and universities have a justifiably immense trepidation about the nomination of Betsey DeVos and the incoming Trump administration’s orientation and tendencies regarding many aspects of public policy impacting public education. That trepidation is amplified by both his and DeVos’ demonstrated vulnerability to hamartia and hubris in pursuing their goals. 

(I’m going to admit right here, I had to look “hamartia” up. It means “a fatal flaw leading to the downfall of a tragic hero or heroine.”) 
We fear that both DeVos’ and Trump’s approval of the corporatization of education and the proliferation of charter and/or privatized schools will be incalculably detrimental to traditional public school districts and to the education of America’s present and future generations of students. It could be catastrophically much worse than the generally neo-liberal (i.e. moderately conservative/Rockefeller Republican) stances of the previous Administrations.

(Reuss isn’t just knocking Trump and DeVos. Like many of us he lived through the bleak years of Arne Duncan’s time at the U. S. Department of Education, watched No Child Left Behind implemented, and saw it fail, saw Common Core touted by one set of politicians and demonized by another, not one of whom seemed to have a clue.)

This is very personal for me; I regretfully retired after 33 years as a high school Honors/A.P. teacher (British/World and American Lit & Comp) largely because our budget difficulties in California, combined with the demands and requirements of the Bush-era NCLB and the Obama Administration’s subsequent modifications of it, had resulted in the installation of Broad-trained administrators at our D. O. and at our school sites. Our district pimped itself (proudly) for Broad grants and spent money on whiz-bang tech panaceas du jour while “streamlining” instruction via the new standards and application models.
As a consequential part of the resultant blow-back, our librarian and her aide were removed from their positions while our school library itself had all of its books jettisoned as it was converted into a computer lab (the fourth at our school site). The principal at that time made the observation that the elimination of the library was no great loss because “....nobody reads books anymore.” (I had paid for a subscription to The New Yorker and Smithsonian magazine for the library for a number of years so that my students—and the student body at large—would have access to such fine periodicals and their wide-ranging subject matter). Then our Superintendent, the one responsible for establishing and implementing “the new paradigm,” went to work for the Broad Academy and turned the district over to one of his (Broad-influenced) lackeys (who’d been overseeing, among other things, I.T. at the D.O.)
As a veteran teacher in my field, I felt more and more alienated from my job over the past twelve years by federal, state, and local diktats that hemmed and hedged I and my colleagues in to such a degree that we could not give our kids the sort of education (and the experience of exploration, joy, and creativity) in our subjects that had worked so well for previous classes over the decades. Increasingly, I felt like I was being forced into betraying my mission, my field, my subject, the Humanities in general and my students until I could no longer stomach being a cog in the new system (and forcing my kids to accept their roles as cogs in a corporatist-infected and/or privatized perversion of what public education should be.
If President-Elect Trump’s and Betsey DeVos’ agenda and proposals are in sympathy, concord, and support of the corporatists and their allied privateering privatizers seeking to acquire, absorb, and vampirize public school systems, I (and numberless infinities of my fellows) dread the depredations that may further accrue and become established as public policy in whatever is left of public education during both his and her tenure.
Trump’s and DeVos’ agenda and proposals seem bound to produce catastrophic results of greater breadth and magnitude than we have seen yet, perhaps paralleling the shocking consequences that already have been exposed as results of the privatization and out-sourcing of prisons over the past several years.

Like I said, when I retired in 2008 I thought I must be missing something. I could not fathom what we were gaining by all the reforms, by all the billions spent on testing, by all the laws implemented to punish teachers.

It turns out, I’m not alone. Mr. Reuss is not alone.

I missed this story when it first came out, but millions of teachers are deeply concerned. Perhaps you missed it too, since so many of you would have been busy wrapping up the million year-end tasks that mark the lives of all good teachers. In May 2016, USA Today published a story with this headline:

Survey: Nearly Half of Teachers Would Quit now for Higher-Paying Job

Based on work done by the Center for Education Policy, and interviews with more than 3300 teachers, one of the most frightening details came up in the second paragraph, when reporters noted six in ten teachers were losing enthusiasm for their jobs. That response is chilling, I believe; but we can’t blame teachers. Just under half, 49%, said the stress and disappointments of the job “aren’t really worth it.”

Even worse, it’s not just teachers who suffer—as we hammer children with standardized tests. Jahana Hayes, 2016 National Teacher of the Year, expressed concern: “Every day I see students who are increasingly frustrated because they are excellent students who are productive and active in the school community, yet this may not translate in their standardized test scores,” she wrote in her application for the award.

I decided to check the survey results myself. If you think “school reform” has been a disaster, join the crowd.

(It probably should be a mob!)

First, most real educators realize their voices are ignored at the national level, by arrogant experts:

            Secondly, teachers admit they are devoting significant chunks of instructional time to testing—but don’t believe all that time is justified.

            And third, I might add a little of my own research. 

            If you think standardized testing hasn’t helped, test scores from the Program for International Student Assessment, from the Scholastic Aptitude Test, and several other measurements show they have not.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Carl Paladino: Worst School Board Member of the Year

December started well for Carl Paladino. A member of the Buffalo, New York school board, co-chair of Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign in the state, Paladino met with the president-elect and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, just before Christmas. He told reporters afterward that the question of “whether he would be interested and/or willing to serve in the administration in some capacity did come up. By December 21 the presents at the Paladino home were all nicely wrapped and snug under the tree. 

We might even guess there was a “Make America Great Again” hat for Mrs. P. and “Jail Hillary” t-shirts for all the grand kids.

That same day the Buffalo News reported on Paladino’s formal request, during a school board meeting, that once President Trump took office his picture might be placed prominently in every city school.

“Other board members responded to Paladino’s request,” the News continued, “by noting it is at the discretion of principals to decide what they display in their schools. ‘I think this is problematic,’ said board member Theresa Harris-Tigg. ‘Now we are going to mandate, and force something, when it has been their prerogative.’”

“‘Why do we care?’ Paladino responded. ‘Why do we care what their prerogative is?’”

In the end, a compromise was reached, with board members agreeing to put up posters of all former and current U. S. presidents in the schools. Sadly, there was no mention whether or not Paladino would have liked to see Mr. Obama’s picture crossed out.

We don’t know if he was satisfied with the decision. We do know, two days later, he was up to his knees in feces of his own creation. Trouble began brewing when Artvoice, a local weekly, asked city leaders to answer four questions. 

For current purposes only the first two matter:


1. What would you most like to happen in 2017?

2. What would you like to see go away in 2017?

Most city leaders responded in predictable fashion. Sue Marfino, a businesswoman, answered #1: “A return to shopping in communities and at brick & mortar stores.”

Jeff Mucciarelli, co-owner of 31 Club, offered up a wish with which almost everyone in the world might agree: “ISIS removed from this earth.”


Mr. Paladino went for what he later insisted was a humorous approach:

#1: Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Herford. He dies before his trial and is buried in a cow pasture next to Valerie Jarret, who died weeks prior, after being convicted of sedition and treason, when a Jihady cell mate mistook her for being a nice person and decapitated her.

#2: Michelle Obama. I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.

Well, what could be funnier, especially in a school district which serves a majority minority population, than wishing the current First Lady might spend the rest of her days in a cave with a gorilla?

And what kindergartner or fifth grader or high school senior wouldn’t be bent double laughing at images of President Obama having sex with a cow and dying as a result?

(Hey, kids, don’t worry! If Carl Paladino has his way, you might have a chance to salute a portrait of President Trump as you goosestep down the hall on the way to your next social studies class.)

Several local leaders called on Paladino to resign his seat. “These comments harken back to the darkest days of racism in our nation’s history,” said one. By afternoon on December 26 more than 11,000 people had signed an online petition calling for this Trump fan to be removed from office.

Paladino tried but failed to clean the feces off his shoes in a series of bumbling interviews. At one point he explained to the New York Times that he was “not politically correct.” A reporter asked why he wanted to see the first lady live with a gorilla. Paladino paused a long time and then said, “What’s wrong with that?”

Sadly, the clueless Paladino has traveled the racist road before. During an abortive campaign for New York governor in 2009, a trove of his emails came to light. They included a photo of President Obama dressed like a pimp, Michelle Obama as a whore:

Paladino claims to have many black friends.
No doubt they would "appreciate" his sharp sense of humor.

Another email in July 2009 showed a photograph of an airplane landing directly behind a group of black men. The caption read: “Holy Sh*t. run ni**ers, run!”

Oh, what scintillating humor!

As a bonus, in September 2009, Paladino forwarded an email entitled: “Easy Steady Big Fella.... XXXX,” including a graphic photograph of a horse and a woman having sex.

(If you’d like to see other examples of Mr. Paladino’s emails, and you have a strong enough stomach, you can click here.)

Paladino, later claimed in a radio interview that he had done nothing wrong, but only managed to step in his own poop again. “It’s only these retarded liberal people that’ll find it necessary to come out and call me names and not really listen to the issues,” he whined. He couldn’t possibly be racist. He had “many, many friends in the black community” and we might guess even a few horses who were good and loyal friends.

He went on to air a string of grievances against President Obama and claimed his answers and emails were all in good fun. “And yes,” he told the interviewer, “it’s about a little deprecating humor which America lost for a long time. Merry Christmas and tough luck if you don’t like my answer.”

Tough luck, indeed.

In honor of both his racism and his clueless stupidity we nominate Carl Paladino “Worst School Member of the Year.”

Saturday, December 17, 2016

School Reform: Fifteen Years of "Diet Plans" That Couldn't Fail

Imagine you wanted to lose a few pounds. (Most of us do; so this might not be too hard to imagine.) Now picture some svelte fitness guru who promises: “Follow my plan and you cannot go wrong. You will lose all the pounds you want.”

You try the plan for six months and gain seven pounds. You waste $1500 dollars on diet supplements, too.

A second weight-loss guru comes your way. “Follow my plan and you cannot go wrong,” she insists. “You will lose all the pounds you want.”

You do as told again, and put on ten pounds. Even your “fat pants” no longer fit. (Not that I would know from bitter experience!) And you wasted another $1200 on diet shakes and motivational videos.

Eventually, you try a third, fourth and fifth diet plan. Every time, the gurus promise you cannot go wrong.

No one plan works as promised. Not even close.

Well, after fifteen years of school reform that’s exactly where we find ourselves, as a nation, today.

You may not recall, but the push to “fix” U. S. education began in earnest in 2001, in large part due to test results from countries round the world, results from a test that had not existed before 2000, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test.

In the spring of that year, 15-year-olds from 32 nations, mostly first-world countries, took the new test. U. S. students finished 15th in reading, with an average score of 504. In math we finished 18th with an average score of 493. In science, America’s teens came in 14th with a score of 499.

Reporters took a quick glance at results and wrote fevered stories about how the United States was falling behind! Talking heads on cable news saw the scores and decided it might make compelling viewing to blame teachers for everything that had gone wrong. School reformers, safely ensconced in think tanks far from the educational front lines, studied and analyzed and promised—if we would only listen to them—that they knew exactly how to get those PISA scores up! Finally, politicians decided they must be involved. Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001.

So keep those first PISA scores in mind:

Reading: 504
Math: 493
Science: 499

In 2003 the PISA test was administered again. This time, students from 41 countries were involved. In reading, U. S. scores fell to 495. America’s teens dipped in math to 483. Science scores were down, with the average 15-year-old scoring 491. After two years of reform scores were down twenty-seven points.

The politicians and reformers were puzzled; but they never doubted their great plans were sure to work in the end. Just keep listening to us, they reassured millions of real educators who were already worried. In 2006 PISA was given again. Unfortunately, U. S. reading scores were thrown out. In math, however, our kids scored 498; in science they averaged 489. In other words, reform was working! Math scores were up five points! Oh, wait, science scores were down ten.

Overall: down five!

In a vain effort to improve test standardized scores of all kinds, schools across the nation cut back time on “non-essential” learning, like music, art and physical education. Reformers promised all these sacrifices would be worth it in the end!

Like the seventeen-year locusts, only appearing far more often, PISA returned in 2009. Reading results for U. S. teens: 500; math: 487; science: 502. Scores were still down a total of seven points.

Scores for U. S. students still looked bad in 2009!
They would look even worse in years ahead.

With the years flying by—and scores refusing to rise—more and more changes were forced upon administrators, teachers and students. Charter schools spread like kudzu because charter schools couldn’t fail! Teach for America was sure to work because everyone knew smarter teachers would be a thousand times more effective than the nincompoops in the classrooms we already had. Tens of thousands of teachers and administrators were axed under various state laws when test scores didn’t rise, while others earned fat bonuses when scores did soar. (See: Atlanta cheating scandal.By 2012 testing was costing states and the federal government $1.7 billion per year. Surely, by then, reform had to have worked!

Or not.

On the PISA test administered in 2012, U. S. students averaged 498 in reading, 481 in math and 497 in science.

Our teens were now twenty points down.

Twelve years of abject failure still didn’t faze arrogant reformers and politicians. Sure, SAT scores were down too. Sure ACT scores remained flat (that was good news compared to the rest). True, reading and math scores for seniors on the National Assessment for Education Progress hardly budged or fell.

The gurus kept telling everyone how great their plans were. By 2015 No Child Left Behind had morphed into “Race to the Top.” Common Core had come along and after dithering for eight years, Congress phased out NCLB and replaced it with the Every Child Succeeds Act. Finally, we were going to see the end results of a decade-and-a-half of top-down school reform.

For a sixth time the PISA test was administered in 2015.

Now, 15-year-olds from seventy countries and educational systems took the test. How did U. S. students fare?

The envelope please.

In reading U. S. students scored 497. After fifteen years of school reform and tens of billions wasted, reading scores were down seven points.

Fifteen years of listening to blowhard politicians—and U. S. students averaged 470 in math, a depressing 23-point skid.

Science scores averaged 496, still down three points.

The idea of raising PISA scores had been the foundation on which school reform was built; and after fifteen years America’s teens were scoring 33 points worse.