Conservative criticisms of Wisconsin school teachers based upon state reading scores are completely off base and only help to underscore the growing Republican indifference to anyone other than the privileged classes.
Even though Wisconsin is above the national norm, when only 34% of students are reading at or above the level of proficiency, there is some cause for alarm. But the worry should not be over whether the teachers are doing their jobs. On the contrary, the numbers point out that, when all factors are taken into consideration, the teachers are doing the best they can with who and what they have to work with and under adverse circumstances that are the result of many in our nation’s upper classes ignoring the plight of the poor.
In my home state, Maryland, our scores are not that much different from Wisconsin’s. But there is a huge disparity among the school districts. I happen to be ‘fortunate’ enough to live in Howard County, one of the top 5 wealthiest counties in the United States. (Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m just a chauffeur and live above the master’s garage.) Our eighth grade students typically score in the 90th percentile.
But in Baltimore City and certain other urban areas, the students score much, much lower. Same state curriculum guidelines, same teacher pool (Baltimore actually offers higher salaries because they find it is a pretty tough teaching gig) and the same teacher unions. Different demographics, different environments, different levels of crime and safety, different class sizes, different family structures. Different scores.
So, it’s not necessarily about instruction, it’s about social and economic inequality. It’s about school districts where many of the students come from broken, dysfunctional and impoverished homes and others are recent immigrants that have difficulties speaking English versus schools where the students drive Accuras and BMWs and have wealthy parent who help them with homework and maybe even pay for tutors. Which kids do you think would likely score higher? Which teachers have the tougher job? Which kids are more likely be successful in this world and have children of their own with similar promise?
Not that these scores are altogether that accurate nor is standardized testing the right way to go, but scores across the country have gone up. Every state has some version of the High School Assessments, which every Maryland student is required to pass to graduate. Wisconsin has a very similar set of assessments. I’ve taken a few of these sample tests, and though I’m no dunce, I found them very challenging
I’ll bet that most of these critical Tea Party folks, especially Beck, Limbaugh and Palin, would have a hard time passing these tests, if they could at all. Though they might be able to handle the Wisconsin eighth grade reading test OK, I wonder if they could earn a ‘proficient’ on the highs school version. From what I’ve seen and heard, reading is not high on their list of priorities.