Zombie stats: “dropout rate” as a case in point

Education has a whole host of statistics that are unreliable, that have been unreliable or unnecessary or off-target for years, and that continue to be created, published, and reported on. “Dropout rate” is one of those. It’s been around for more than forty years, crafted in the late 1960s when there was no way to find out what proportion of students graduated from individual schools or school districts. Yet some districts said they counted those who left school without plans to return — dropouts, to use a term that had just recently become the dominant way Americans talked about teenagers who left high school before graduation. And because there was visible concern about dropping out, some tried to measure the phenomenon.

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Can sampling save high-stakes testing?

Over the weekend, the Washington Post‘s Valerie Strauss described one Colorado school district’s proposal to test a sample of children for accountability purposes. Proposals something like this float up occasionally: let’s not test all children in all subjects but a sample. Sometimes the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) sampling plan is used as a model: if sampling is good enough for the gold standard for assessment in the country, why shouldn’t it be used everywhere?

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Three book recommendations et alia

I haven’t gone this long without a blog entry in … hmmn. Don’t know how long, maybe not since 2003. My wife was hospitalized in late August, and until she came home last Wednesday, I have been juggling essential tasks like mad and jettisoning whatever was absolutely unnecessary for the time being.1 She’s much better, thank you, and I am very happy to have her home. This will not be a long or single-topic entry, but there are a few items I do not want to forget.

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  1. Giant kudos to East Valley Primary Care in Tempe and Banner Desert Medical Center for having competent medical professionals and being great on the whole with communication. I know from experience that is far from universal, and it is much appreciated. []

Michael B. Katz

My advisor was Michael Katz, a social historian who taught and wrote about education, social structure, cities, poverty, and public policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, York University, and the University of Pennsylvania from the late 1960s until his death this past week.

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All a-Twitter about David Kirp

In my Twitter timeline yesterday, I saw a number of people I follow either delighted or highly irritated by David Kirp’s fairly general op-ed yesterday, Teaching Is Not a Business. On the irritated front was Rick Hess:

And a few hours later, there was a rebuttal by Neerav Kingsland, who was less irritated but definitely in disagreement.

Here’s the funny thing: Kirp’s op-ed is general, arguing that unspecified reformers wanted schools to be run like businesses, and that impulse interferes with personal connections in education. While Kingsland is correct that the op-ed used romantic rhetoric about schooling, the most remarkable fact about the piece is that it was published at all in the New York Times. There is no hook to current events, nothing particularly sharp about the rhetoric or the claims. With a few sentences changed, this could have appeared five years ago, possibly ten, and it would have fit those times as well as today.

Given the lack of fire in the piece–Kirp didn’t even use the term corporate reform–I am not sure why there was so much energy devoted to either praise or criticism. In many ways it’s like the various op-eds you can find by Jeb Bush or Tom Vander Ark, sloppy in some way and also probably destined to sink beneath the waves no matter what you think of it. There are a lot of things going on in education, and you pick Kirp’s op-ed? I don’t want to micromanage anyone’s time but my own; on the other hand, Kirp didn’t write world-changing rhetoric. And, if you don’t mind my reminding you, there are far more weighty things to upset or worry you: to pick a few, police conduct in Ferguson, the war between Hamas and Israel, ISIS, Argentine’s default, and Russia-Ukraine tensions.