Fagen misses the point, yet again

Interesting: ADJECTIVE

  • Arousing curiosity or interest; holding or catching the attention: ‘an interesting debate. It will be very interesting to see what they come up with.’

Some examples of things that arouse curiosity or interest: the Kardashians, The Bermuda Triangle, “Tattoo Nightmares,” and “The Real Housewives of New Jersey”.

Funny. Interesting does NOT mean: favorable, successful, admirable, beneficial, worthy, research-based, proven, or advantageous.

Yet, interesting is the word Liz Fagen chooses to use when describing the reforms in DCSD. It’s also the word chosen for a politically motivated and biased report used illegally by DCSD for campaigning for school board members.

When writing to parents about the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) Fagen declares,  “If you look at Douglas County Schools [sic] scores against the rest of the country, we’ve done some really interesting things and may be performing better than Finland in some of our high schools . . . “ (emphasis added).

Wait! What? “May be” performing better?

How are parents supposed to interpret Fagen’s comment? That she doesn’t know how to read the PISA report? That she is hiding something?  That the report is really just such a mystery that it’s anyone’s guess?

When in reality, it is not a mystery.  The two DCSD schools participating in PISA in 2012–Highlands Ranch HS and Ponderosa HS–both scored higher than Finland in mathematics literacy, and HRHS scored higher than Finland in reading. Both scored equal to Finland in science.

However, dichotomously, Fagen and the BoE have referenced the PISA studies as a reason that reform is needed. A report,  Douglas County: Building a Better Education Model, written by Ben DeGrow of The Independence Institute (after the 2012 PISA tests) cites the following quote–“the nation’s students rank 32nd in math and 23rd in science among developed countries.”

Which is it?  Douglas County schools rank among the highest performing nations’ schools, or, Douglas County schools rank far below when compared with other nations and therefore immediate and drastic reforms must be made?

It is unfortunate for our students that Fagen, the DCSD BoE, and Ben DeGrow have missed the most important lessons from the PISA study:

  • that systems with “more accountability arrangements” have diminished student performance;

  • that competition between schools is harmful to student performance;

  • that systems with high teacher morale have higher performing students;

  • and, our favorite, that systems with unionized teachers and collaboration between the school system and their union increase student performance.

Below are more in-depth quotes about these factors (click here to watch a five minute video summarizing the lessons we can learn from PISA):

  • “Across OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development)  countries on average, schools with more autonomy over curricula and assessments tend to perform better than schools with less autonomy when they are part of school systems with more accountability arrangements and greater teacher-principal collaboration in school management” (Lessons from PISA, 2012 for the United States, page 8).

  • “Around three-quarters of students in the United States attend schools that compete with at least one other school for enrollment (similar to the OECD average) yet there is no evident cross-country relationship between the degree of competition among schools and student performance” (page 8).

  • “However, once the socio-economic status and demographic background of the schools and students are taken into account, only in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Macao-China and Montenegro do schools that compete for students tend to perform better on average” (page 40).

  • “Schools and countries where students work in a climate characterized by expectations of high performance and the readiness to invest effort, good teacher-student relations and high teacher morale tend to achieve better results on average . . . “ (page 33). (emphasis added)

  • “PISA’s top-performing countries show us that the way forward is by elevating the teaching profession; by identifying, supporting, and advancing effective teaching. High-performing countries have strong unions. They also support teachers and engage them in the reform process. In Finland, Singapore, and other nations, collaboration with teacher unions has been a keystone in their successful efforts to improve student achievement – along with vigorous policies to recruit, retain and support their teachers” (Looking beyond simply scores: Observations about PISA).

Why, then, do the DCSD BoE and their superintendent continue to ignore the lessons that can be learned from other top-performing countries and instead implement unproven top-down reforms that are quickly destroying our once thriving school district?