It’s Curriculum, Too, Stupid: Poverty Doesn’t Explain All Educational Woes Part III

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math struggle pic

To recap Part I and Part II, we learned that reading scores on the NAEP tests have not improved significantly in 40 years and that any gains have been mainly due to raising the scores of the lowest percentile groups and minority subgroups.  We learned that 17-year-olds made no statistical gains whatsoever.  We learned that Whites have not seen a significant rise in scores and that Catholic school students outperform even the White subgroup of public schools.  We learned that poverty rates do not and cannot explain the lack of proficiency in the United States in math and reading; not entirely and not primarily.

Next, I am going to present the Long Term NAEP results for math in the same format as I did in Part II for reading.

Math Results

overall math trend 2012

Reminder:  Clicking on the charts and graph will bring up a window where these items can be viewed in more detail.

These are similar trends as observed in the reading scores except that the scores in math started out higher and finished higher. Notably, the higher scores at the 9- and 13-year-old level do not carry over into the scores of 17-year-olds, just as they did not in reading.

scoregains 17 math

As with reading, by the time 17-year-olds take the math test, only the lowest percentiles experience significant gains, and this is what the study chooses to highlight.  However, the 9 and 13-year-olds realized higher gains in math at all percentiles than observed for reading.  That is good but only speaking in relative terms.

black white math gap 9

black white math gap 13

black white math gap 17

As with the reading scores, the Hispanic score gap, though not shown, mirrors the trends observed in the Black gap trend.  And, as with the reading scores, any math gains realized at the 17-year-old level were negligible in Whites and only 18 points in Blacks.  Most of the gains across all age groups were made by Blacks and Hispanics. The one positive difference was that 9 and 13-year-old Whites improved their scores more in math than they did in reading.

catholic public gap 9 math

catholic public gap 13 math

catholic public gap 17 math

When looking at the same data for reading, I compared the public vs. Catholic school scores to those delineated for each age group based on what grade the students were at in school.  This data was not put into table format in the NCES report, but a search of the online database indicates the following:

math grade level

Whereas the upper grade scores were lower than the Catholic school scores in the reading analysis, the upper grade math scores of all students (which includes Catholic students) is roughly equivalent to the Catholic school scores for 9- and 13-year-olds.  The lower grade scores for math, like in the reading analysis, are roughly the same as what the Black subgroup scored in the 9 and 17-year-old studies, though Blacks still scored 10 points below the lower grade (7th grade) 13-year-olds.

These differences suggest to me that even relatively well-to-do white people cannot overcome Whole Language deficits, but being white greatly improves your chance of performing well (relative to other groups) in math at the younger ages.  But as with the reading scores, being white will not help much to improve the math scores of 17-year-olds.  Yet those Catholic school students, who also tend to be educated in more traditional ways, outscore public school students at 17 years old by 20 points and White students by 13 points.  I suggest that any perceived “successes” in math at the lower grades has evolved because parents at the lower grades are putting in much more physical time working with their children to overcome the deficits in instruction and mastery at these age groups.  Even so, this extra parent involvement does not mitigate the long term damage as demonstrated by lackluster 17-year-old scores.

This can’t just be poverty.  It has to be instruction, curriculum, or some other outside influence or a combination of these factors.  Catholic schools prepare students to achieve higher scores on these tests even while spending 32% less than public schools per student.

The following table is four years out-of-date, but still shows the relative cost of public school compared to Catholic and other private schools.

cost per pupil comparison

The most recent cost data for Catholic schools is below.

per pupil cost catholic

After considering the total number of students enrolled in elementary and secondary Catholic schools, the average cost per pupil in 2012 is $7,263 compared to $10,652 in public schools.

The following shows how well religious and independent school students perform on another test, the SAT, compared to their public school counterparts.

sat results 2011

Religious-schooled students perform 82 points higher in critical reading, 27 points higher in math, and 45 points higher in writing than public-schooled students while spending less money. Those students in expensive independent schools score even higher, but their 70% higher costs only translate into 15% – 20% higher scores while religious schools score between 5% -18% higher.  As you will recall, Catholic schools spend 30% less than public schools. The stripped down take-away is that however Catholic schools are teaching, both public schools and the expensive private schools should take a look at their education model.    I also think that it becomes clear where money helps most above and beyond what is potentially curriculum – Math.  The independent schools have a 45 point advantage over even the religious schools.  This is likely due to expensive private tutoring on top of expensive instruction, because the critical reading and writing scores were not raised as significantly in the independently-schooled students.  Obviously money matters in education.  Bottom line, though, is that public schools will never have the resources of independent schools, so why not teach like Catholic schools while making the most of the 30% more funding public schools enjoy.

Now back to the NAEP data.  I must admit the math results for public schools are somewhat confusing.  There were a lot of gains in scores of the poorer minority groups since the 70s just as there were in the White subgroup at the 9 and 13-year-old levels even if the gains did not move the majority towards proficiency in either math or reading.  It has been my belief that the progressive education system works best for those in higher socio-economic classes, so why the gains in what is presumably the lower socio-economic groups?  It is possible that the progressive math curriculum has worked to move minorities over a crucial threshold, but then stalls, moving fewer students of all subgroups towards proficiency.

Whatever the reasons behind the incongruity between what is observed at the lower grades versus what is observed at the upper grades and even in college, it is obvious that we need to take a serious look at our math and reading curriculum (and probably science as well).  I can say with a high degree of confidence that if the progressive curriculum is designed to make children think more critically, to the extent that it is being used in schools, it is not working very well meeting that objective.

Take the following questions released from the NAEP math test given to 17-year-olds in 2012:

simple algebra 2

Only one-third of 17-year-olds answered this question correctly.  Let that sink in.  Now consider that over half of the students chose the wrong answer “C”.  Given the convoluted second suggested solution, I guess I can understand why students taught this way might make this mistake.  Why not just teach kids how to solve for A?  The correct answer MUST satisfy this truth:  some number “A” divided by 40 equals 120, and that same number “A” divided by 80 must equal the number the student chooses as the answer; which on this test, the majority of students incorrectly chose as 240.   There is no good way to check the reasonableness of the answer unless you know how to solve for A, and clearly the ½ trick backfired.  Heck, whoever is preparing these kids to take a standardized test is not even doing a good job teaching to the test.

Here is another example of poor analytical skills.

rectange angles question

Side note:  Let me assure the reader that I DID NOT choose answer D as this screen capture suggests.  I chose the correct answer E, but for whatever reason, the NCES site will not recognize the correct answer E no matter how many times it is chosen.  Try it.

This is another one of those questions that should not be missed if students are checking their work.  I understand why almost 20% chose answer “C” because they were thinking triangles (that was even my very first thought), but I was also taught to look at all the answers even if I think I know the correct one right away.   And in doing so, I realized my hasty mental conclusion was not for a rectangle which has  four 90 degree angles; four times 90 is 360 NOT 180.  Granted, more of the students answered this one correctly than the previous question, but still, it is really easy and takes more common sense than it does math ability.

This next question blows my mind.

percentage question

The progressive math curriculums I’ve seen all stress rounding to determine reasonableness. While I think the curriculum teaches rounding in a dangerous way, this particular problem practically screams for rounding to be employed.  56% is about 50% which is the same as one-half (that is some of the most basic math taught in 4th grade).  So, half of 20 is close to 56% of 20.  Half of 20 is 10 (at least 2nd grade math).  Therefore, the ONLY answer that can satisfy this criteria is A.  The other answers are not even tricky, they are just outrageously wrong.  Only about ¾ of the students got it right and almost 20% said that 56% of 20 is GREATER than 20.  OMG!!!  Shouldn’t this have been a question that almost every student answered correctly?

The next question is another that you would expect every beginning Algebra student to understand.

simple algebra 1 question

The students did not even have to solve for “n” in this question if they forgot how.  All they had to do was plug the multiple choice answers for “n” into the equation and see which one satisfied the limitations of the equation.

The next question is the only relatively difficult sample question in my opinion.  Nonetheless, it is probably more difficult for an adult who has not had Geometry in over 30 years than a student who has recently completed a Geometry course.

rectangle area question

rectangle area answer

I teased the formulas needed to solve this problem from my memory.  To be fair, I do use the ½ base x height formula to compute land areas of triangular shaped parcels as part of my job, but I did have to remember a2 + b2 = c2.  Drill and skill at its finest!  Astonishingly, only 25% of students, most of them fresh out of Geometry (only 7% of students had NOT taken Geometry), answered this correctly.  As far as Geometry questions go, this is not even a particularly difficult one except that it was not multiple choice.  The solution actually required students to know how to compute an answer on their own.  It was also the sample question on which the students performed the most poorly.  This is not surprising given how today’s education philosophy puts so little value on practice and so much on group work and “theory”.

I want to add one final comparison that I think truly highlights the problems with our education system.  Surprisingly, or maybe not, Asian Americans are not highlighted as a subgroup in the reports put out by the NCES.  The data is there, just like it is for Blacks and Hispanics and Whites, but it is just…ignored.  Let’s take a look at how Asian Americans perform.  Reading first.

9-year-olds

asian scores read 9

13-year-olds

asian scores read 13

17-year-olds

asian scores read 17

Next, Math

9-year-olds

asian math scores 9

13-year-olds

asian math scores 13

17-year-olds

asian math scores 17

Asian Americans have higher scores at every age group in both reading and math.  I do not believe that Asian Americans are inherently smarter than every other sub-group, rather the Asian American family makes education a priority.  They also put less stress on the effort and more on the achievement.  They value practice and mastery.  They do not abide failure and they tend to limit their children’s extracurricular activities.  In short, they are the perfect match for an education curriculum that expects mastery to occur at home and for parents to be the means to this end.

But even if I have over simplified the Asian American dynamic, if it was all about ethnicity or even wealth (Asian Americans have one of the highest income levels as a subgroup), we could expect Asian Americans to perform as well as Asians in other countries on the PISA tests, but that has not happened.  They DO score higher than every other American subgroup on the international test, but they still score below other Asian nations, as can be seen in the following charts.

asian pisa 2012

all pisa 2012 chart

In conclusion, in light of the number of years educators and curriculum have had to raise test scores, the amount of money spent on education, and the number of years we have tread water in the status quo,  very little progress has been made based on the NAEP Long Term test scores.  While this alone might not be cause for concern,  though I can hardly imagine why not, when these results are considered in light of students’ performance on international tests and their diminished preparedness for college, there is no mystery as to why parents, politicians, professors, and even many educators have reached the end of their patience.  Anti-education reformers can waste all their time trying to convince the public that things are fine with anemic NAEP score gains and by pointing to poverty and high stakes testing, but they run the real risk of destroying the very institution they are trying to protect through their arrogance and condescension.  If that sounds harsh, I am sorry, but I will not buy into the argument that U.S. education is fine outside of the inner-cities and could be miraculously cured if we throw more money at it.  If that is to be your rhetoric, your position, your crutch, then we have very little to discuss and I pity the children being forced to learn in these institutions, especially disadvantaged children.

It’s Curriculum, too, Stupid: Poverty Doesn’t Explain All Educational Woes Part II

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alphabet soup help

To recap Part 1, the Long Term Trend NAEP scores for Reading show no gains in the scores of 17-year-olds and nominal gains for 9- and 13-year-olds.  The Main NAEP scores show that more than half the country is not proficient in Reading or Math. Poverty statistics from the Census do not explain why the lack of proficiency outstrips the poverty rate by over 40% if, in fact, poverty is the main reason students do not perform up to expectations.

Hopefully the reader is reading Part I and Part II together, because the background of the NAEP tests is explained in detail in Part !.  If not, understand that the Long Term NAEP tests are those that have been given to students in the United States since the 70s, and they are designed to track progress over time since the tests are kept relatively the same.

Reading Scores Continued

When we left off, we saw that reading scores had not improved very much in 40 years, especially in 17-year-olds. Reminder:  Clicking on the picture will open up a new box with an easier to read graph or chart.

reading trend 2012 LTT

Next, the 17-year-old scores are disseminated by percentiles.

17 year old scores LTT disseminated 2012

This graph points to an even more disturbing trend in 17-year-old test scores; which is that the scores of students in the highest percentiles – 75th and 90th – have actually decreased to a level below that of the first test given back in 1971.  But note how the red highlighted text box only points out the gains made in the scores of the lowest percentile groups; the 10th and 25th percentiles.   This is the same myopic view I personally observed in my daughter’s public school: As long as the bottom is being brought up, and your child is average or above average, public education is considered successful.  This does not bode well for the students who have historically been the most likely to attend college and to be leaders in science, math, government and business. I am not suggesting that you must go to college to be successful.  There are a plethora of success stories that blow that generalization out of the water, but we are not talking about the outliers here.  We are talking about an education system that should push every student to achieve to their highest ability not some watered-down average.

Presented next are data sets for the scores of Whites and Blacks.  Note:  I use Whites and Blacks because the tests refer to these subgroups as such.

black white reading gap 9

The score gap for Whites and Hispanics was similar at this age level.

black white reading gap 13

The score gap for Whites and Hispanics was similar at this age level.

black white reading gap 17

The score gap for Whites and Hispanics was similar at this age level.

These data sets indicate that the gap between White and Black scores has narrowed significantly for all age groups.  But what the red data bullets do not address is that this has been achieved primarily by raising the scores of Blacks (and Hispanics) NOT Whites.  Whites’ scores rose 7%, 3%, and 1% compared to Black scores rising by 21%, 11%, and 13%.   Curiously, the scores of Blacks, between 1988 and 1992, fell significantly before rising again, but that is a mystery to address another time.

Presented next is a comparison of Catholic school student and public school student scores against the scores of different grade subgroups within each age group.  I will also refer the Catholic school scores back to the scores of Whites already presented.

catholic public gap 9 read

results by grade 9 read

I will also do this for the other two age groups, but before moving on, I want to make several points.

I suspected, before looking at this data, that children in lower grades would score lower than their same-aged counterparts in higher grades.  This, in fact, did occur.  It is interesting to note that the number of children in 3rd grade at 9 years old has increased significantly since the 1970s; from 24% to 37%.  This trend is the same in the other age groups.

Given that 9-year-olds have increased reading scores despite the fact that more of them being tested have had a year less of reading instruction, one would (or could) expect that the reading scores would increase even more in later years.  We will explore in the next two comparisons whether that actually happened.

But why did I include the Catholic school comparison?  I wanted to analyze if the score gap between Catholic schools, which traditionally employ a more “classical” curriculum, and public schools would be erased if the children in the lower grades were eliminated (even though I presume that Catholic schools have a similar percentage of children in the lower grades for each age group as indicated for the entire data set).  Why might this be important?  Because if the scores were the same, or if the scores for all schools were higher than the Catholic school scores, then the conclusion that curriculum makes a significant difference might require a more critical look-see.

However, the Catholic school scores, which were not disseminated for differences in grade level, were still higher than those of all school students at the expected grade level for the age being tested.  And remember, the national NAEP scores include the scores of the Catholic school students.  In fact, these same Catholic school students, just 261 of them in 2012, would appear to have actually raised the national score by a full point for 9-year-olds.  As the reader will note, the overall reading score for 9-year-olds is 221 but the disseminated data puts the public school score alone at just 220.  Looking back at the score of White students in the previously presented graphs, which was 229 and also includes the higher scores of the White Catholic students, the public school scores still fall short of the Catholic school scores.

catholic public gap 13 read

results by grade 13 read

The score gap between Catholic schools and public schools widened from 11 to 16 points when comparing the testing of 9- and 13-year-olds.  Moreover, the gap between the highest grade tested (8th grade) and the average Catholic school score increased from 2 points to 7 points.  Another interesting observation is that those children in the 8th grade at 13 years old have only increased their scores by 5 points since the 70s while the kids at the lower grade (7th grade) have increased their score by 21 points.  Again, this points to a system that brings up the bottom but fails to do the same for all students.

Given what I saw taking place in my daughter’s public school, the increasing percentage of older kids in lower grades is likely a result of parents purposefully holding their children back from entering Kindergarten.  I saw this a lot.  It was one of my biggest pet peeves, but my suspicion is that the trend is driven in large part by parents realizing that their children are not developmentally prepared to do the work expected of them in Kindergarten, not to mention First and Second grade, especially if they lie near the younger end of the age range set by individual states.  Cynically, I suspect a lot of the motivation is parents trying to position their children for success, not only in academics, but in sports later on down the line (sigh).

In any event, none of this gerrymandering points to an inherent deficiency in the children, but rather, is in part a response to the advanced difficulty of the curriculum for elementary school students being perceived as expanding too far, too fast.  While our kids are doing some very impressive things at the elementary school level (e.g., writing journals in Kindergarten), it comes at the price of actually learning to proficiency the skills needed to achieve at higher levels in later grades.  I compare it to cramming for an appearance on Jeopardy.  Yes, it is dramatic in the same way that parlor tricks can be dramatic, but does the amount of knowledge game show contestants cram into their brains result in long term gains that will help contestants be more successful in their careers or in their lives?  Personally, I would like someone to explain to me why we decided that forcing more information on elementary school students without mastery of any of it was the way to achieve greater success in education.

Back to our regularly scheduled blog post.

catholic public gap 17 read

results by grade 17 read

By age 17, the score gap between Catholic and public schools increased from 16 to 23 points and the gap between the scores of 11th graders in all schools and the average 17-year-old in Catholic school widened to 16 points; remember it was 7 points in the 13-year-old age group.

The trend of same grade score changes is even more pronounced in the 17-year-old group.  The 11th graders barely nudged their score from 291 in the 70s to 293 in 2012.  The 12th graders actually saw their scores fall from 303 in the 70s to 291 in 2012.  In the meantime, 10th graders saw their scores rise almost 30 points from 238 to 266.  Again, it shows how our schools heap more on early at the expense of retention for the long term.  In my own school district, I see two competing camps in this dance of trying to raise the scores of highschoolers.  First, they adopt more academic requirements for the elementary school students thinking there will be long term benefits, but at the same time they withhold monetary resources that could improve elementary facilities.  Instead, they spend the facilities improvement money in the high school and middle school (but mainly the high school).

This is why real people who control local taxes NEED to be educated about education.  They have to stop listening to anti-reformers tell them everything is O.K. with education, especially at the elementary and middle school levels.  Because the result of that rhetoric is that the average tax payer sees the 17-year-old scores and mistakenly thinks the problem is there in high school and that that is where the problem can be fixed and the money should be spent.

Some in the poverty camp have argued that if you took out the scores of lower income students, which make up a larger portion of the testing base today (i.e., Blacks and Hispanics), the average scores of students would be shown to have improved more than indicated by the current average.  However, it should be noted that the average scores of Whites in each age group is almost exactly the same as the average score of the higher grade students while the Black students’ average scores are about the same as the average scores of those children in the lower grades.  This suggests to me that being poor (assuming that the Black subgroup contains more poor students than the White subgroup) puts children about a year behind their peers.  Further, I redirect the reader to the tables that show the actual paltry gains that Whites have made in reading in 40 years.   Further, if you compare the Whites only scores (which also include the whites at Catholic schools) to Catholic school scores alone, Catholic schools still outperform public schools.

My personal belief is that Whole Language is the primary reason that children do not continue to make gains in reading after their initial “impressive” start.   In an education environment that devalues – no, RIDICULES – learning by rote when it comes to math, Whole Language teaches reading in a way that is equivalent to flash cards (i.e., sight words).  Sadly, in this case, memorizing a bunch of sight words does not prepare students to decipher the more complex words needed to increase vocabulary and develop excellent writing skills.  I have devoted several blog posts that address my disappointment in Whole Language, so I will not revisit that in depth here, but if you are not familiar with Whole Language, I would suggest you do some research.    Also, the NAEP surveys indicate that those students who say they read for fun almost every day score significantly higher than their peers, especially in the lower age groups.  So, make sure your kids CAN read and ARE reading.  I suggest it be excellent, challenging literature; not just the picture books that Whole Language uses to teach kids to guess words they do not know.

In Part III, we will look at the Math results.

Aside

It’s Curriculum, Too, Stupid: Poverty Doesn’t Explain All Educational Woes Part I

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cursive

The current mantra of the anti-education reformers is poverty… poverty…poverty!  I recently commented on a blog post which was taking to task a Chicago teacher for suggesting that poverty isn’t going away, thus focusing too much on poverty can potentially undermine the educational success of children who actually live in poverty.  This, of course, is an unpopular viewpoint with the anti-education reformers.  So, in an otherwise safe forum for fed-up teachers to lament about the Common Core, high-stakes testing, charter schools, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, uninvolved or too involved parents, politicians, and, of course, POVERTY, this teacher was attacked as being lazy (he had not read a book by the blog author) and an administrator wannabe (code for traitor).

While the teacher in question was calling for a more nuanced discussion that would acknowledge that the problems in education are NOT one-dimensional, the hue and cry from the poverty crowd was read the book…read the book…read the book!  The teacher was wisely suggesting that poverty is out of the control of the teacher, so teachers should work to serve their students using the weapons in their arsenal; you know, focus on something over which you actually have control.  The opposition, on the other hand, suggested he must not be a very good teacher (snark, snark, snark) because he had not…well…read the book.  These condescending educators refuse to admit that their hostility toward any opinion different than theirs squashes legitimate, healthy debate; debate that could otherwise move the conversation forward and affect change in a positive way.  It also alienates people like me.  I’ve chosen to give up on public school for now.  Possibly forever.

Having grown up with the educational deck stacked against me – a family with a history of alcohol and prescription drug abuse, a mother with mental health issues, and living in low income conditions – I know firsthand how important having high expectations of ALL students is for their success.  Giving kids who come from poor and dysfunctional homes a pass, or having low expectations of them, is the absolute worst thing a teacher can do to those children.  Children understand patronization and pity as well as adults even if they don’t know how to verbalize it.  So, it was very refreshing to hear a teacher really going to bat for the at risk kids he was teaching and suggesting that teachers had tools to help them other than simply lobbying government to eliminate poverty.  Our country started on this downward slide when its citizens learned how effective – in the short term – and easier it is to lament and lobby rather than roll up their sleeves and work hard.  Sadly, Education leaders have followed the lead of Wall Street.

My personal theory is that current reading and math curriculum has a significant impact on how well children are learning for long term success regardless of income.  Of course, poor curriculum negatively impacts low income children in a disproportionate way, especially if the objective is to raise their scores not just from their depressed levels in 1970 but to be equal to those scores of children in higher socio-economic groups today.

No one is denying that there is a link between poverty and standardized test scores within the United States (and within other countries), but that does not mean that poverty causes low test scores, at least not directly.  Anti-reformers will not acknowledge that poverty levels do NOT explain the differences in testing scores between countries taking the same international benchmarking tests or why we have not significantly improved test scores within our own country even for privileged Whites after having spent so much money on education.

To put an even finer point on the matter, my theory is that the current curriculum used in many schools requires too much parent involvement outside of school, does not stress mastery, relies excessively on “group” work, and does not employ enough teacher directed instruction (O.K., those last two are just different sides of the same coin, but you get the picture).  The end result is that all children are being shortchanged, especially those that do not receive help at home.  I believe that the curriculum used in most public schools is only imitating success.  If not for those parents who are spending several or more hours each night helping with homework, drilling on math facts, editing writing assignments, paying for outside tutoring, and the list goes on, I suspect scores would not have improved at all and might have even declined.

I know firsthand how much extra effort parents are putting into their children’s education.  And it is not just because they know how important education is, though that is certainly a factor, but because they are being told by schools that it is part of their job.  Parents who do not or cannot help after school are considered “part of the problem” with education.  I think parents are between a rock and a hard place.  To rebel is to undermine their child’s future.  To go along is to spend all your limited free time teaching at home.  Many, many parents are disturbed by this trend.  They understand not just how poorly our students are performing on international tests (embarrassing) but also how dismally unprepared our high school graduates are for college.  Even if we do not all agree on the reasons or the solutions, we understand that there is, in fact, a problem.

I have decided to look at my curriculum theory in light of what I observe through a close inspection of testing, specifically NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores. These NAEP scores are the ones that anti-reformers like to focus on to suggest that public education in the United States is fine if you don’t consider the kids living in poverty.  They conclude this because they focus on the fact that NAEP scores have been increasing steadily since the 70s.  Of course, if you try and point to certain negative trends from these same tests, then the talking points change.  Testing is bad and does not prove anything.  As a matter of fact, many educators suggest that testing, in general, has no informative value whatsoever and is detrimental to learning because teachers are forced to teach to the test (this phrase deserves a blog post all its own).  If there is one thing that the anti-reformers would be willing to let usurp the POVERTY alibi for poor student performance, it is the TESTING defense.

The truth is that NAEP scores for Math and Reading (the subjects most highlighted in this debate) have increased…for 9- and 13-year-olds.  The other truth is that they have barely budged for 17-year-olds in over 30 years.   This does not make sense when considering how much more money is spent on education today compared to the 1970s, how many more advanced and honor subjects are taught at the high school level, and how much more time, energy and money parents put into the education of their  elementary and middle school children.  My peers – children of the 70s – had no experience with their parents providing the crazy level of educational assistance they are expected to give to their own children today.

While the data from 17-year-old scores jives with what we are hearing from college professors (e.g., kids arriving at college not being able to succeed at basic math and with horrible or nonexistent writing skills), it does not explain how gains in the scores of 9- and 13-year-olds do not translate into increased scores of 17-year-olds or even an optimization in their college readiness.  So, it really is important to look at the trends closely.

Before looking at actual test data, however, it is important to know that there are two NAEP studies conducted.  One is the Main NAEP and the other is the Long Term Trend NAEP.  The professionals at the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) tell us we should not compare Main NAEP scores year-to-year because the tests change (about every ten years), yet they go and break their own rule by seeming to do just that in their most recent (2013) report card…just sayin’.

The Long Term Trend NAEP for all three age groups tested (9, 13 and 17 years), the most recent of which was conducted in 2012, is designed to keep the tests the same as they were 30 years ago so that they presumably are measuring apples to apples.  Another difference between the two tests is that the Long Term NAEP students are chosen by age rather than by grade level; the latter being how the Main NAEP participants are chosen.  NCES says that some of the same questions that are on the Long Term tests today were there in the first tests.  A third difference is that the Main NAEP delineates scores with proficiency levels while the Long Term NAEP does not.

Long Term Trend Results

Following are some of the important and/or interesting data sets from the 2012 Long Term Trend study.  But first, graphs showing total recent participants and the current and historic percentage rates of test takers by ethnicity, grade level in school, and public versus private school are presented.total participants 2012

It surprises me how few students actually “count” in the Long Term Trend study.  I assume that the numbers are low, because in order to be included on the Long Term study, participation at the schools must reach a threshold participation rate of 70%.  This is purportedly to keep schools from only administering the test to those they think will perform the best. I suggest that 70% still leaves plenty of room for schools to cull the poorest performing students from the sample. Is it possible that the picture is even worse than the data shows?  Just a thought.

race tables

This data is relevant to the extent that it can aid in explaining how each group can raise or lower their scores individually by more or less than the entire group changes its score together and what potential effect individual groups have on the whole group in general.

reading trend 2012 LTT

So, what say you, reader?  Do the anti-reformers have a valid point that education is a success because of what we see in the graph above?  Are you significantly impressed with the test score gains in the last 40 years?  Are you blown over by the scores, themselves, which are out of a possible total score of 500 points?  Is the largest score increase (9-year-old reading) of 13 points, or 6%, adequate?  Is this educational triumph reflected in the scores of 17-year-olds, scores that are statistically the same as they were 41 years ago?  Is any of this adequate given that over the ensuing years the amount per pupil spent on education has increased over 130% and PTOs and local educational foundations are kicking in even more cash that was not there in years past?  These are all very good questions for the American public to ask themselves and those in charge.

FYI, the overall scores for 2012 include scores from Catholic schools and previous years’ scores include those from private schools that met the minimum participation rate in those testing years.  This is kind of important for later.

So, what do these numbers really mean outside of their being printed on a page?  Well, let’s take a look at reading scores on the Main NAEP in 2013 translated into proficiency rates and plotted on a map of the United States.  Then we will move back to the Long Term Trend study.

state performance reading 2013

Only thirty-four percent of students performed at or above Proficient in reading in 2013 at both grades 4 and 8, with the percentages in the states ranging from 17 to 48 percent. Fifteen states/jurisdictions had higher percentages at or above Proficient than the nation at both grades 4 and 8, and 14 had lower percentages at both grades. (The Nation’s Report Card)

So, while the numbers have been increasing, the numbers say we are not proficient as a nation in reading.  It is similar for math.  Only forty-one percent are considered proficient at grade 4 and thirty-four percent at grade 8.  Woo-Hoo!  Yippee!  Meanwhile, poverty rates in this country are not explaining these educational outcomes.

poverty rates

Yes, poverty rates have increased for children over the past 30 to 40 years from approximately 15% in 1970 to 21.8% in 2012, but poverty has increased for everyone else, too, except for the elderly.  The latter are the ones who have really improved their position by digging out of 25% poverty in 1970 to 9.1% in 2012.  Wow.  Maybe the elderly would consider sharing some of their gains with the children.

Anyway, poverty does not explain why only 34% of students are proficient in reading.  This is not compared to other nations, mind you, but is based on our own internal test that we have been giving for the past 30 to 40 years.  According to the poverty chart, 78.2% of children are NOT living in poverty yet 66% of students (the majority of whom are NOT living in poverty) are NOT proficient in reading.  Even if every single child living in poverty is in the group not performing at proficiency level, that still leaves 44.2% performing below proficiency for some reason OTHER THAN poverty; same for math.

I suppose I could have just ended this blog post here as I think it punches sufficient holes in the “It’s Poverty, Stupid” slogan, but I want to delve further in Part II.

Note:  If you click on the pictures, you can enlarge and get a clearer view.  Also, here is a link to the NCES site where the NAEP reports can be viewed or downloaded.

Are High School Students Prepared for College?

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college readiness

Below are a number of links to articles on the growing trend of high school students in the U.S. being unprepared for basic college courses, even those who took high school AP courses, those that received As and Bs in high school, and those that are not from economically challenged areas.

http://bridgemi.com/2012/05/mich-scores-poorly-on-college-prep/

http://www.aaeteachers.org/index.php/blog/1194-american-students-underperforming-on-international-tests-

http://www.americanprogress.org/events/2013/05/06/62403/what-can-u-s-schools-learn-from-other-countries/

http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/high-school-notes/2012/08/22/high-school-students-not-prepared-for-college-career

http://www.writeshop.com/blog/students-are-ill-prepared-for-college-level-writing/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/18/students-lacking-college-_n_1606201.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/08/nyregion/08regents.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/educate/casestudies/writingskills.pdf

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/sep/24/high-school-grads-reading-skills-hit-new-low-most-/?page=1

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-11-07/opinion/act-ct-edit-1107-20131107_1_college-readiness-figures-college-success-illinois-students

Your thoughts?

HATE

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Photo: Credit to San Diego Union Tribune

I hate partisan politics. I hate words like libtards and wingnuts. I hate that people refuse to embrace common sense or ethics if doing so puts them out of alignment with their party’s hot-button talking points. If you are going to hate, I suggest that these practices are good things to hate. But not people. Never people.

And what about contempt? Well, contempt is perhaps worse than hate. Hate is like steam. It builds up and explodes. It can be used up, spent, exhausted. Sure, sometime hate has some pretty ugly consequences, but other times it wears itself out.  Contempt, on the other hand, is a cancer. It grows. It feeds. It destroys everything in its path. And like cancer, if not treated aggressively, it becomes so big that it crowds out the vital organs. Cancers are stupid this way. They kill their host.

Although I have historically been an eternal optimist when it comes to my steadfast belief that people will ultimately do the right thing in the collective, my faith arrow keeps edging toward E. We could be very close to a revolution in this country. Am I being overly dramatic?

Fifty percent of the population believes that we should take care of and protect the poor, the sick, the unemployed, the fatherless, the widowed, the uneducated, the gays and lesbians, the minorities, women, and the environment. They believe that we should have the right to control out bodies and our bedrooms. They believe that protecting everyone sometimes means that regulations must be placed on dangerous things – like guns. Many in this 50% believe that there should be no restrictions on the amount spent in trying to reach this goal. Many times they do not mind that individual liberties and rights are infringed upon.  They often see only the ideal and care little for the sustainability of achieving this ideal. When it comes to how to pay for everything, their motto can be, “Tomorrow is another day.” They are children in their thinking much of the time. This is not always a bad thing. We can learn a lot from children and how they view the world and treat each other before they become corrupted by power and greed. Still, there has to be some admission that these ideals have to be paid for in addition to an understanding that the “anything goes” philosophy does not necessarily equate with “enlightenment”. Sometimes it is just careless, juvenile and irresponsible.

The other fifty percent believes that we should take care of and protect business, free enterprise, our right to bear arms, and unborn children. They insist on personal fiscal responsibility. They want to cut taxes, limit or eliminate welfare, have a small government, have a strong military and believe we should operate government based on Judeo-Christian values. Many in this 50% believe that it is not the job of government to take care of those people and things the other 50% think are fundamental rights and civic obligations, and to the extent those rights and obligations are worthwhile, they believe they should be addressed by the Church, families, private donations, the conscience of big business, and the generosity of the wealthy. Yet this 50% often has no problem doling out cash and tax breaks to those in power and they have very little capacity to see the hypocrisy of corporate and crony welfare. Their idea of small government is often blind when it comes to government encroaching on individual rights such as birth control, marriage, and sex and enormous budget items like the military. They refuse to see that turning a blind eye to social instability and inequality, regardless of its origins, incurs a huge monetary and social cost probably equal to the cost of every Means Tested program currently run by the federal government. While it is not wrong to want to pay for what you spend without having to go further into debt, they often can be petty, stingy and even heartless.

What absolutely astounds me is that most of the individuals in these two groups have more in common than they realize and are playing right into the hands of the most corrupt and ethically challenged people in our society. Most of us have little money or power when compared to the uber-wealthy who control both business and a good portion of our government. The increasing disparity between the haves and the have-nots is mindboggling. Yet people in the same financial boat point to those on the other side of the political aisle as if they are a “them” instead of an “us”. I direct the reader to the following two sources here and here to offer a little insight into where we are and where we might be headed. These are not necessarily the best sources, and they certainly do not represent the totality of evidence out there for wealth inequality in the U.S., but I daresay they will be enlightening and perhaps surprise some of you. (Make sure you watch the video in the second link.)

We have plenty of examples throughout history regarding what extreme disparities in wealth and/or power will do. It can bring down societies. It often changes the world. And not always for the good. Those that survive these upheavals are not necessarily the wealthy and powerful or even the people who started the revolution in the first place. There are many unintended consequences. While I am no expert on, say, the French and Russian Revolutions, I do see some commonalities and cautionary lessons.

In France, the ruling monarchy and their cohorts lived according to obscene excess and corruption while much of their population was starving. They went into astronomical debt supporting two wars: The Seven Years’ War and The American Revolution. They kept a large army and navy that was costly to maintain. Their tax policies were unfair and overburdened the poor and middle (or non-royalty) class. When the dire state of financial affairs was presented to the nobles, they still refused to pay taxes. They also refused to acknowledge the progressive shifts in society and held even more firmly to their traditions. There was a large, angry, yet easily manipulated peasant class that was strategically used by the discontented bourgeois for their own agenda. Any of that sound familiar? It should.

Russia, at the turn of the 20th Century, had a weak tsar, an economy weakened by war, extreme political divisiveness, and food shortages. The tsar ordered a disastrous suppression of striking industrial workers. After much pressure, he created the Duma, which became increasingly controlled by radical parties, primarily because the tsar kept dissolving it in favor of new elections to replace its members which he didn’t agree with or had a hard time controlling. The people revolted yet again; first in February and then in December. The December Revolution, led by the Bolsheviks, resulted in the tyrannical regimes of Lenin and Stalin. The Bolsheviks had a “vision” for the country and they were not going to allow the fact that this vision did not have widespread support to stop them. Any of that sound familiar? It should.

For those in the 50% who feel an obligation to level the playing field, very little encouragement or convincing is needed, but those on the other side who are deadset against it should understand that some level of wealth sharing is the glue that binds a successful society together. Even if you feel no moral obligation to provide for and protect the poor, the widowed, the uneducated, the environment and yes, even the lazy, then surely self-preservation should be a consideration. I know there are those in this country that want to call it communism or socialism, but is an oligarchy better? I suggest we do not have to be any of these things to be a successful democracy that protects and lifts up it citizenry while encouraging hard work, self-respect and sustainability. This I know, total obstructionism, zero compromise, and hateful rhetoric are not the tools to reach this goal.

What Does This Say About Everyday Math?

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The following is a spreadsheet I created to analyze MEAP proficiencies in math in the Ann Arbor public school district and Lakeshore public schools (the district in which I live). Both districts use Everyday Math.

ann arbor meap results

You will need to click on the image to enlarge. I apologize for the poor graphics. I’m sure I could make it more eye-friendly, but I just don’t have time.

Nothing Happens Until Something Moves – A Lesson For Anti-Education Reformers

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I read a blog post the day before yesterday on Diane Ravitch’s site about how Einstein said:

“I believe in standardizing automobiles. I do not believe in standardizing human beings. Standardization is a great peril which threatens American culture. . . . Such men [as Henry Ford} do not always realize that the adoration which they receive is not a tribute to their personality but to their power or their pocketbook.”

This is a spliced quote used to bolster the position that standardized tests are bad.  Einstein’s quote, however, was in response to a question about Zionism vs. Jewish assimilation.  The entire quote is reproduced below.

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You can read the whole article here.

What troubles me about referring to Einstein’s quote in the context of being anti-education reform and anti-Common Core is that it is neither a good analogy nor honest, since the quote had nothing to do with education.  The author should have pointed this out and then said something to the effect that this same philosophy could apply to our current education system.  Instead, the author leads the reader to believe that the quote, itself, was aimed at education as it exists today.  It is the same as Christians who pick a verse from the bible to support a spurious religious belief or Atheists who do the same to try and tear down the idea that God or any god exists.  Einstein, himself, I am convinced, would never have succumbed to or even been tempted to use this tactic.  He starts off the article by explaining how his Theory of Relativity had been misused by many through attempts to apply it to all sorts of philosophies that had nothing to do with the theory itself.

Einstein was a complicated man.  If you read his early musings compared to his late musings, they can sometimes seem contradictory; the same can probably be said for many of us.  Humans are constantly evolving in their knowledge, experiences, wisdom and even their prejudices.  However, everyone loves a good story and Einstein is a good story.  He was not enamored with mainstream education and rebelled against it both in mind and application.  According to some reports, he was not a particularly “good” student in his early years, though his later grades would appear to contradict this myth.  Even so, he trained to be a high school physics and math teacher and was a college professor later in life.  So, we have to consider that part of Einstein’s problem with education was possibly (likely) driven by his own “failings” or “disillusionment” with his education.  Einstein appears to have had a personality that would have preferred studying only those subjects that interested him.

We like to think of Einstein as this meek, unassuming individual who was entirely bereft of conceit or arrogance despite his genius.  But Einstein was human.  In the article linked to earlier, he explains to the interviewer that he feels comfortable talking to him because of their shared Jewish heritage.  The interviewer politely responds that he is not Jewish either on his mother’s or his father’s side.  Instead of Einstein doing the equivalent of “oops, my bad”, he attempts to take a convoluted path of thought that suggested we are all a melting pot and since he, Einstein, was comfortable talking to the interviewer, then the interviewer, logically, must have something in his psychic that was “Jewish”.  I love Einstein, but this was trying to save face.  He clearly did not like being wrong, including his preconceived notion that the interviewer was Jewish.

When Einstein argues that “students” could benefit from being sent off to work in a lighthouse or on a ship where they are free to think all day, he is basing this educational philosophy from the viewpoint of a uniquely brilliant and focused mind that worked best from that framework.  Yes, some students could benefit from that educational platform.  But Einstein was the Michael Jordan of physics and math.  We cannot all be Michael Jordans or Albert Einsteins.  What works best for the masses is to provide a solid foundation in the basic academic skills so that we can gravitate toward those things that we are good at and/or those areas in which we have a specific interest.  An educational system that allows for the development of more specialized skills and interests, especially at the higher grade levels, would be even better.  That is why I love the concept of magnet schools, schools within schools, charter schools and homeschooling.  I think Einstein would have liked those ideas, too.  These alternatives celebrate and honor the individual.

And it should not be underplayed that some people like to be proficient in all branches of academia.  They never truly develop an affinity for just one specialized subject.  They just like learning.  The more the better.  These information sponges are the proverbial Jack-of-All-Trades.  That is good, too.  We need people who can move laterally in society and do it well.  This helps to alleviate boredom and it also allows people with vast knowledge to impact more individuals than just within their “specialty”.

We are not all going to have the time and resources to ponder the wonders of the universe from our beach cottages like Einstein.  So, it is important that we be equipped, as well as possible, for whatever life throws at us.  I will always appreciate Mozart, Beethoven, DaVinci, Tesla, Newton, Hawking, Aristotle, Socrates, and Einstein (to name a few), but they are not the norm and we should not attempt to educate children in a manner that suggests we can produce such outcomes by trying to emulate some Utopian educational system that we assume these great minds learned by or “wished” they had.

Standardization, in educational terms, does not mean creating cookie cutter individuals.  These tests are designed to assess how well the basic knowledge we are trying to impart to children is being absorbed and retained.  How does an individual absorb and retain new ideas and skills in public education?  It is through the teachers and the curriculum.  Therefore, the standardized tests, when taken in the aggregate, help to paint a picture of how well teachers and the curriculum are doing their jobs.  When the data is disaggregated, you can perhaps get a better idea of how individuals are performing; students, teachers and schools.  There is nothing inherently evil in that process and I can think of no better way to assess the efficacy of any educational system.  Just because you like your teachers and your school does not mean you are ready to take on the real world.  Therefore, happy schools are not necessarily effective schools.

If anti-reformers want to quote Einstein, perhaps they would consider this one:

“Nothing happens until something moves.”

PISA Scores Revisited; Was Mark Twain Right?

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Remember that quote made famous by Mark Twain?

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

This was a quote used to suggest that the United States’ low PISA scores were being abused to push an education reform agenda because the US has much higher poverty rates than other countries in the PISA study and this falsely skews the US results downward.

Well, I took a second look at the PISA scores and the poverty rates I posted yesterday here; especially the poverty rates.  I tried to verify several of the poverty rates from the link I was given and could not.  The US Census does not have the poverty rate for the US anywhere near 21.7% even going back to 2009.  See here where it is 14.3% in 2009.  The only way that one could get to anything close to 21.7% is to use the child poverty rate which can be found here for 2009.

The problem is that I do not believe that the data provided for the other countries is for child poverty alone, but is a national poverty rate; even if the figures could be verified.  I found different data outlined below and linked here which is published by the United Nations and compares countries for their “Human Poverty Index”.  The HPI is a rate that takes into consideration not only income levels but longevity and education.

The revised table using the HPI data is shown below.

Country Human Poverty Index PISA Score
Denmark 7.70% 495
Finland 7.90% 536
Norway 6.60% 503
Belgium 12.20% 506
Switzerland 10.60% 501
Czech Republic 11.20% 478
France 11.00% 496
Netherlands 7.40% 508
Germany 10.10% 497
Australia 12.00% 515
Greece 12.50% 483
Hungary 13.20% 494
Austria 11.00% 471
Canada 11.20% 524
Japan 11.60% 520
Poland 12.80% 500
Portugal* 15.60% 489
Ireland 15.90% 496
Italy 29.80% 486
United Kingdom 14.60% 494
New Zealand** 15.00% 521
United States 15.20% 500

*Portugal did not have data in this study.  Therefore, I used the data that was in the original table. However, information available from government websites and media suggests that Portugal might have poverty rates as high as 36%.  In 2005, it was 18%.

**New Zealand was not in the study either.  The poverty rate used in the table is from here.

If this new data is put into a graph, the following results.

human poverty index

This new data still does not seem to show much correlation between poverty and PISA scores.  In fact, when you look at where most of the HPIs fall (between 10% and 15%), the PISA scores range from  a low of approximately 470 up to a high of approximately 522.

Even if one uses the straight poverty rates (50% of median income) published in the HPI data, the following graph results.

poverty index new

*I used 15% for New Zealand, which is the rate carried through from original data as there is no data for NZ on HPI tables and I used 18% for Portugal as that seems to correlate with what Portugal was reporting for itself around the time the PISA scores in 2009 were released.

Not only is the relation between poverty and PISA scores not “clear”, it is not even evident.  In fact, there are some countries that are clearly exceeding expectations if one EXPECTS lower scores with higher poverty rates:  Japan, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

As always, I welcome your comments.

PISA Score and Poverty, What Does the Graph Say to You?

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The data below is being used in an educational argument.  I have plotted the data on an Excel graph.  I make no comments.  But I welcome any comments on what the data says to you and why.

Country Poverty Rate PISA Score
Denmark 2.4% 495
Finland 3.4% 536
Norway 3.6% 503
Belgium 6.7% 506
Switzerland 6.8% 501
Czech Republic 7.2% 478
France 7.3% 496
Netherlands 9.0% 508
Germany 10.9% 497
Australia 11.6% 515
Greece 12.4% 483
Hungary 13.1% 494
Austria 13.3% 471
Canada 13.6% 524
Japan 14.3% 520
Poland 14.5% 500
Portugal 15.6% 489
Ireland 15.7% 496
Italy 15.7% 486
United Kingdom 16.2% 494
New Zealand 16.3% 521
United States 21.7% 500

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According to the National Center for Education Statistics:

“The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international assessment that measures 15-year-old students’ reading, mathematics, and science literacy. PISA also includes measures of general or cross-curricular competencies, such as problem solving. PISA emphasizes functional skills that students have acquired as they near the end of compulsory schooling.

PISA is coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries and is conducted in the United States by NCES”

**Some countries in the PISA study are not included because they apparently do not report their poverty rate.  Who knows if poverty in one country is the same as another anyway, but I have only reproduced what was supplied to me at this link.

Paula Deen, the N-Word, and Modern Day Slavery

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I don’t know if Paula Deen is a racist.  Here is what I DO know.  She was fired from her job and lost all of her endorsement deals because she admitted (told the truth) in a deposition that she used the N-word many years in the past.

This deposition reads like the questions were compiled by a tabloid magazine editor.

“What are the names of your son’s past girlfriends?”

“What are their addresses?”

“Was your ex-husband an alcoholic?”

“Did he ever hit you?”

“Why did you divorce your ex-husband?”

“What are the addresses of all the places you’ve lived since you popped out of your mother’s womb?”

“How much money did Paula Deen Enterprises net last year?”

You have to get halfway through before there are any real questions to speak of.  From my reading, what is obvious is that Miss Deen is a very busy woman who lost a daily, hands- on knowledge, which she likely once had, of the operations at both her and her brother’s restaurant; especially her brother’s restaurant.  She hired people to manage things.  Not all of those people got along.  Some of them, including her brother, appear to be ignorant, petty, fallible people.  Some, namely Ms. Deen’s brother, and to some extent, Miss Deen herself, do not understand that you cannot be a “real” person in the workplace.  If you are a coarse, loud-mouthed, good-ole-boy, you had better check it at the door.  This should not be news or rocket science.  Unfortunately, I’ve worked for a number of these types of people in my lifetime. I did not sue them.  Most of us do not.

It is equally obvious that Miss Deen is loyal to her brother and does not want to believe that he is a “bad” person.  He might NOT be a bad person.  But she is just as likely to have overlooked some of his foibles which she should not have if she wanted to be a savvy business woman.  If half of what the attorney deposing Miss Deen is saying about her brother is true, then Miss Deen’s brother is none too bright and is a boorish buffoon to boot.  Most of us would not choose him as a close friend. The reality is, however, that we do not get to choose our family.  And let’s face it, many of us have blinders on where our family is concerned.

If you have read the deposition, you also have learned that Miss Deen, herself, has a crude sense of humor regarding sex.  I have one older female friend that has this same sense of humor.  She sends me emails that she also sends to other people; some of them she has forwarded from others.  I assume there are a lot of old ladies out there that like to joke about sex.  While it is uncomfortable for me, it does not define my friend’s entire character; it speaks more to the era in which she was born and raised.

When Miss Deen says “of course” in response to a question about whether she has used the N-word, that should not shock anyone.  If so, I suggest it is “fake” shock to make a point.  Miss Deen is almost 70-years-old and grew up in an area and time where that word was heard and/or uttered on a regular basis.  I know.  I spent the first 16 years of my life there (1965-1981).  I have family and friends that live there still.   As a child, we used to call each other (white children) the N-word.  We didn’t know any better.  Once you do, you STOP!!!!!  And that ought to be the end of that.  If you are not going to allow people to change and if you are not willing to accept their apologies, then you are going to create more conflict.  And quite frankly, if you are one of those people in the lynch mob, you don’t really care about the process of moving away from bigotry, you are just interested in being angry and punishing.  I have seen victims of violent crimes more forgiving of the criminals than many are of Miss Deen.

As I said, I still have family that lives in the south.  I have heard them say many cringe-worthy things.  But I love them nonetheless.  Does that make me somehow guilty by association?  But let’s be real.  I have lived most of my life in the northern U.S.  I left my small hometown in the north for a LONG, LONG time because I heard the N-word way too often for my taste in addition to the same disrespect aimed at women in general, regardless of skin color.  This is the NORTH.  So this is not just a southern problem.  Northerners are much sneakier in their racism.

Regardless – North, South, East or West – most of us are not forced to have our least proud moments excised from our lives and crudely stitched together and put back out there as who we ARE.  Read the Paula Deen deposition, all 149 pages, like I did.  Then come back and let’s talk about how Miss Dean deserves what she got.

I shudder to imagine what someone could ask me in a deposition where I would be forced to tell the truth (because I am an honest person) and have it all put out there in the media.   I haven’t done anything unlawful, but I’ve sure made my share of stupid mistakes and said some pretty ignorant things.  I was young once.  But if I was forced to be deposed because of something my family said or did and then crucified for telling the truth, I would be ready to go to war.

Here is another thing.  Having read the deposition in its entirety, I am mad as heck at the media pundits, bloggers, and people who comment about this situation because either they haven’t read the deposition or they have and are trying to slant it to make it look worse.  Shame on them.

For example, from Jezebel:

Paula Deen’s Dream Dinner Party Waiters: Black Slaves in White Jackets

When Deen was asked if she used the N-word, she replied: “Yes, of course.” Then she was asked why in the world she would say something about wanting to hire black cater waiters to pretend to be “slaves” at an old-school Southern wedding. She responded by saying that she got the idea when she was at an event with black cater waiters, and is also just generally a racist.

“The whole entire waiter staff was middle-aged black men, and they had on beautiful white jackets with a black bow tie. I mean, it was really impressive. That restaurant represented a certain era in America… after the Civil War, during the Civil War, before the Civil War… It was not only black men, it was black women… I would say they were slaves.”

Here is the unedited manuscript.  If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, start at page 125 and go to page 134.  You decide if there was intent to make Miss Deen appear more bigoted by the way her answers were spliced together above as well as the headline.

I don’t know about you, but I’m really curious about where this restaurant is that Miss Dean thought was so unique and awesome with its black waiters in white sports coats and black pants.  Because if the fact that she found it charming is enough to get her sent to the front of the unemployment line, the restaurant itself should be closed and the owners sued for some sort of discrimination.  For that matter, Hooters should be closed down for discrimination and for their marginalization of women.  But women are fair game for exploitation through demeaning portrayals of antiquated stereotypes.   If the fact that Miss Dean used the N-word in private should get her livelihood taken away, then the fact that Rush Limbaugh is a serial name-caller should get him kicked off the air for eternity (one can dream).  And why did Karen Finney get to call Republicans crazy crackers and then get her own show on MSNBC?  These are not frivolous questions.  We have to ask ourselves in all honesty why we are willing to put up with the ones but not the others.

I am not trying to excuse the blatant racism that is on display in this country.  I will even agree that much of it comes from the south (the overt kind) which has been especially highlighted since we elected a black president – twice.  I don’t know what the answer is to mending this rift between the north and the south which has been there since the end of the civil war, but I doubt it is going to be accomplished by persecuting an elderly white woman.  You can make people scared to speak their mind, but you cannot change what is in their hearts by threatening them.

There is still slavery in this country.  And that slavery is political correctness; even to the point of retroactive political correctness.  If you use speech to intimidate in an effort to keep a group of people from a job, a home, an education, the ballot box or any of the basic necessities or rights to life or if you use speech to harass, then it is speech that is not protected in my opinion.  But if it is speech that merely offends, even grossly offends, then it is part of being an American, even if what we hear is distasteful.  We have the option to make our distaste known via our pocketbooks, letters to the editor, and calls and emails to our representatives in government, etc.  I suppose that, on some level, The Food Network, WalMart and Target have exercised this right, but I think they were VERY hasty and were likely “forced” (were slaves) into that position because so many people (the media) over-reacted or purposely slanted the situation.  Jumping on every insult and infraction as if it is DEFCON 1 will only lead to more and worse Xenophobia.  Further, what The Food Network, etal. did was to take away the general public’s ability to react appropriately on its own to Miss Deen’s deposition.  All this brouhaha might make for a good headline, bump up ratings for a while and sell a few more newspapers, but it does nothing positive in terms of building bridges and healing wounds.

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