16 June 2011

Are you with me? Yes or no. NAEP results and Scott Fitzgerald's picture

Earlier this week the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released results from the 2010  U.S. history assessment.  It should come as no surprise that students didn't do well considering that a few years ago 63% of American 18-24-year-olds could not locate Iraq on a map.  33% of those polled could not find the United States.

Consider Jay Leno.  There was the bit that Leno used on his Tonight Show called Jaywalking.  The one segment I remember was the one with the walker who was shown a picture of Abraham Lincoln.  Jay Leno asked who was in the picture but the walker didn't know.  Leno showed him a five dollar bill and the walker said "Oh yeah, he's on money."

There are millions of Americans who have no clue about what has happened or is happening in our country or in the world.  There are millions of Americans who have no clue where we are in the world or where to find the rest of the world.  Many of those people are running our country.  In fact, they're currently voting on our two year budget in Wisconsin.  I wonder how many Representatives would pass the Grade 12 assessment.  If anybody asked for my hypothesis, I would explain that based on my observations, I would predict that 10-20% of our state and federal representatives would test basic or above.  Anybody out there with enough clout to find out?  But the real testament of America's position in the world is that of the millions of Americans who know nothing about U.S. history or geography most don't care and don't want to know.  The number one reason they don't want to know is that it's too boring for them.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an internationally standardized assessment that was jointly developed by participating economies and administered to15-year-olds in schools, has revealed that other countries have been far more successful educating their children than the U.S. for years.  So nothing should be too surprising here.  Yet Diane Ravitch, who advocated for our current educational structure during the Bush years, seemed shocked by the NAEP results.  "This is alarming," she said.  Maybe she hasn't been paying attention.

In the NAEP assessment 73% of fourth graders, 69% of eighth graders, and 45% of twelfth graders scored basic or above.  20% of fourth graders, 17% of eighth graders, and 12% of twelfth graders tested proficient or above.  Only 2% of fourth graders, 1% of eighth graders, and 1% of twelfth graders scored at advanced or above.

A couple of examples of questions that proved to be hard to answer for seniors:
One of the central ideas of President George Washington’s foreign policy was that the United States should
  1. play an active role in European affairs
  2. expand its influence throughout the Americas
  3. support democracies and oppose monarchies
  4. avoid permanent alliances with other countries
During the Korean War, United Nations forces made up largely of troops from the United States and South Korea fought against troops from North Korea and
  1. the Soviet Union
  2. Japan
  3. China
  4. Vietnam

The first question was answered correctly by 33.86% of the twelfth graders tested (the correct answer is #4). The second question was answered correctly by 21.92% of students (the correct answer is #3)(see links below if you're interested in trying the test or looking at the results).  As expected, students answered the multiple choice questions with greater ease than they could do with the constructed response.  The multiple choice questions that asked the student to recall a specific bit of information were also answered correctly most often.  Whereas the multiple choice questions that asked for greater exploration and a deeper understanding of events, posed far more difficulty.  Perhaps the most worrisome statistic is how many questions were left blank (only 31.76% of questions were answered by all students) or answered unintelligibly (constructed response rates answered proficiently were extremely low).  No one should be leaving multiple choice questions blank, though.  That just makes no sense - at least take a guess. 

What the results indicate is something that was written about in an article for the Atlantic in 2008 called Is Google Making Us Stoopid? In the article Nicholas Carr wrote that the kind of reading "promoted by the Net ... may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace."  Are we losing our ability to synthesis, deduce, support, and discern?  I don't know but I do know this entry is probably getting too long for most surfers.

More than the internet, television plays a role in the development of our short attention spans.  There should be no doubt about that.  Television has made it increasingly difficult to read books.  What used to be an evening relaxing with a good book is now spent ogling at the soft, blue glow of indoctrination.  We do it all for you.  Just ten minutes.  Just do it.  Slogans that mean nothing.  Yes we can.  That have warped citizens into monetary units called taxpayers.  Propaganda that has morphed people into economic categories of consumers and suppliers.  These are classifications that assuage us into the obscurity of namelessness.  We are no longer individuals.  Instead we are becoming statistics that are only significant as a decimal point but in no real sense as human beings.     

Sample Test
The Nation's Report Card - Test Results
All questions on the assessment

“This is a great victory for the
people of Wisconsin, and for the
2nd Amendment. The right to protect
ourselves by legally carrying
a firearm is long overdue, and I’m
glad we’re joining 48 other states
with this law - finally.”
"It's a question of ethics," explains Johnny Caspar in Miller's Crossing.  It is what seems to be missing in politics today, in addition to a platform that Democrats stand for.  Few ethics exist and while the public flounders with the moral dilemmas, legislators are making laws.  And that's always scary.  However, at least with republicans we know what they're after.

Republicans are for less taxes, tax breaks for big business, less regulation (think derivatives and Rockefeller), more government incentives for businesses, punishment, and guns.  They are against gays, drugs, lesbians, people named Obama, public employees, the clean air act, abortion, child labor laws, paid sick days, a living wage, demanding the wealthy contribute more, nationalized health care, and military budget cuts.

Democrats are for ... and they are against Walker and the anti-collective bargaining law.  When we needed the democrats to unify against extending the tax breaks to the wealthy, they did not.  When we needed them to stand up for the environment, they acquiesce.  When we need higher wages, they give in to corporate sponsors.  When we need regulations on the markets, they caved to republican demands. When we needed the democrats to defend the working people in Wisconsin, where are they?  I'm not so sure.  If they made their objectives clear, I think they'd have more support.  I mean do people who vote for neocons really despise gays or poor folks? 

In a way Wisconsin democrats find themselves in a reasonably safe position.  When the fiasco of Governor Walker's era ends, the democrats can blame the republicans for everything bad and still take credit for anything that is good, just ask Newt about that.

We haven't been in good shape in this country for a while.  And that bodes less well for humanity than anything else.  If the wealthiest country in the world fails in taking care of it's neediest, fails to create a public education sector that is cost effective and equitable, fails to plan for future transportation needs, and fails to provide health care for the entire population, how will human kind ever find a solution to these problems?

Economic, educational, health, and income disparity is growing around the world.  At the same time more countries are divided from within (Afghanistan, Sudan, Spain, Ireland, Korea).  The same patterns are occurring in the US.  The political debate is more polarized than ever.  Republicans are spouting far right wing dogma, while democrats sit on their hands and beg for civility as their own discredit evolution (Pryor) and drop their drawers (Weiner).  It's an absolute disgrace.  Who represents the people?

Over the next few days Wisconsin will have a new budget.  Emp. Walker will have successfully passed his agenda.  And we can all be packin' and stackin' 'em while we get them kids a workin' and poppin' out new ones left and right.
C Thomas Sylke Donation

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