Low NAEP Scores; Ever Higher Taxes Coming?

November 2nd, 2011

By Brian Backstrom

Will New York State’s poor performance on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) tests this year lure policy makers into raising taxes?

With the recent federal release of the dismal and stagnant performance of New York students, many of us are waiting and watching for that nexus to emerge.  Thankfully, we haven’t seen it made – at least not yet – by the usual advocates for tax hikes to fund more education spending, saying that it is really only more public dollars that will equate to better results.   At the time of this writing, there is no mention whatsoever of the state’s dreadful NAEP results on most of the education establishment, higher spending-type websites.

The results of the NAEP show that only 36 percent of New York State’s fourth grade students are proficient in mathematics, down from 40 percent in 2009, and lower than the national average of 40 percent. Eighth grade math results for New York also were lower than the national average. Reading results on the NAEP for New York were comparatively similar for 8th grade.  Only in fourth grade reading did the state manage to eke out a score better than the national average.  (Eighth grade reading results are here.)

At first glance, the lessening achievement gaps between white students and racial minorities is encouraging, showing a narrowing gap in mathematics since the early nineties.  A minute longer look, however, shows that this has more white students doing worse than anyone else doing better.

New York State’s Education Commissioner, John King, described the NAEP results as “disappointing and unacceptable,” while NAEP director David Driscoll said that New York and two other states “stood virtually still” since 2003.

Before More Money, Reform

One of the loudest chants to tax more has been coming from the state teachers union, New York United Teachers (NYSUT) and the New York City teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers.  But does anyone still really believe that higher taxes will bring about better education results? Annual state school aid increases since the 1990s, and especially from 2003 to 2009, did not result in better NAEP scores. That much is clear, and reinforced even more with the release of these latest data.

What should come before any increase in spending is even considered is the institution of stronger outcome-based accountability measures.  Such reforms include, but are not limited to: a strengthening the state teacher-evaluation mandates, a system that was neutered by the courts when the union sued to make teacher performance assessment only part of collective bargaining; removing high-cost mandates on school districts and charter schools, especially those unrelated to actually doing a good job teaching children; controlling outlandish pension costs including by creating a Tier VI system for new employees; and, providing more options and the means by which parents with children in bad schools can enroll them in better public and non-public schools.

Let’s embrace what we already know: there is not a shred of valid data showing that spending hikes on the public education system as currently structured improves results.

If the proponents of taxing more and spending more on education would show even a whiff of the same zeal for accountability-based education reform, the state is likely to avoid the same shopworn lament about low student academic outcomes two, five, and ten years from now.

Brian Backstrom is President of the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability and may be followed on Twitter at @nyedreform.

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