Is there anything about the science scores released by the state Dept. of Education yesterday that ought to give Rhode Islanders confidence that state and local governments are capable of improving public education or to give parents confidence that spending money on private school is not a moral obligation if at all feasible? The state’s primary excuse is more of an admission that its foolish behavior is structural, not incidental:
In 2013, Rhode Island adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, developed by a consortium of 26 states and several science-education groups, which ask students to think like a scientist and call for more hands-on, investigative work. But the NECAP is much more focused on subject matter, so the test no longer reflects what students are learning in the classroom.
Some skepticism is justified, inasmuch as science lessons at that level of education ought to be broadly applicable, not narrowly tailored toward a specific test. (Ultimately, we don’t pursue education simply to be able to score well on a test.) But even putting that aside, what could possibly be the rationale for wasting time on tests that students are not expected to be able to pass?
The state’s second excuse edges into a much broader problem that nobody in public education wants to discuss:
[State Education Commissioner Ken] Wagner said there is another reason why students perform worse in high school. Research has shown that it’s much harder to retain good science teachers in high school, particularly in urban districts, because of the challenges posed by urban classrooms and because jobs are much more lucrative in the private sector.
For the benefit of special-interest labor unions, local, state, and federal elected officials and bureaucrats have allowed us to force our education system to handle employees in a way that is wholly inappropriate to an environment requiring teachers of varying skill levels to address the needs of students from early childhood to young adulthood across multiple capabilities and a large variety of subjects. Some districts do have agreements with their unions to allow some pay difference between, say, a kindergarten teacher and high school teacher in possession of highly valuable scientific knowledge, but the cost to taxpayers isn’t part of that equation.
That is, we’re not permitted to adjust payroll; the system won’t allow, say, a district hiring both a kindergarten teacher and a high school science teacher to reduce the salary for the former in order to increase the offer for the latter.
Wagner claims that these science scores “call for urgency,” but if government agents really believed that, they’d admit that urgency would not allow for another lost decade spent denying that public education as it’s developed simply cannot perform the function that we say we want it to perform.