Roper: State education policy is hurting students

By Rob Roper

Rob Roper

Rob Roper is the president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

The latest test scores for Vermont students are here, and they continue an unsettling trend of decline for our student outcomes. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released its fourth and eighth grade reading and math results from 2017, which indicates declines in all categories from 2015. Three of the four categories were noted as “significantly different.”

This downward trend is also present in the latest Smarter Balanced test results, which showed a decline in scores between 2015 and 2016. This test is given to all kids in grades three through eight, plus 11. And again, in all categories except one, scores dropped.

As Bill Mathis of the State Board of Education said, “When you have two different tests showing much the same thing, you have to pay attention to them.”

So, what is causing this decline in public school student outcomes? There are several policies that are suspect.

  • Act 46 (2015) has been hugely disruptive and time intensive for school boards and administrators, taking focus away from students.
  • Increased use of paraeducators for special needs students. (See 2015 study.)
  • The growth of publicly funded/administered Pre-K. Implemented in 2007, the number of Vermont students matriculating through the 4th grade from these “high quality” programs began in 2012-13, has been increasing every year, and test scores have been dropping since.
  • Adoption of “Proficiency Based” graduations standards, which began implementation in 2014

As one concerned parent testified regarding proficiency based learning, “It entails significant changes in how a school operates and how it teaches students, affecting everything from the school educational philosophy and culture to its methods of instruction, testing, grading, honors, reporting, promotion and graduation.”

Maybe it’s one of these things, or maybe it’s a combination of some, or maybe it’s all of them. Maybe this is just too much for school systems to digest at all at once. We don’t know for sure. But what we do know for sure is that the policies coming out of Montpelier are not helping our kids or out teachers.

So, at this point, perhaps lawmakers should take a break from heaping even more disruptive mandates and system changes on our schools and devote their time to figuring out how to clean up the messes they’ve made.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Rob Roper

7 thoughts on “Roper: State education policy is hurting students

  1. I have said this many times, and will cont. to reiterate. As long as schools cont. to pass students that have not met their current (expected) grade level on to the next grade, I am not surprised with the ultimate outcomes. I have observed it, and I have asked questions about how certain students ultimately perform. Need I say more? If anyone can actually prove I am wrong, I would be happy to learn more.

  2. The insanity of the state of Vermont’s education system is that we never assign the demise of the system to a root cause and take corrective action accordingly. We allow people to keep expanding a flawed system without ever addressing the issues in the base system itself.

    If you build a house with no solid foundation in a swamp and it then sinks. Rendering the House inaccessible.

    It the root cause the lack of proper foundation at the beginning or failure to add a second story to protrude above ground level after the sinking?

  3. Have we ever really made an attempt to consolidate administrative costs of our educational system?

    No, I think we always seem to complicate this seemingly simple idea with the fear of loosing local control, which by the way is something we have not had for some time in this state.

    If we want true local control then get state government and the unions out and fund our schools locally, if not then stop pretending we have it and reduce the number of districts from around 60 to one!

    Pretending to have local control when we do not is very disruptive to our students and very expensive for tax payers!

  4. Blah, blah, blah, blah. Good grief! If a student had such declining scores this many years in a row we would have 16 year old third graders.

    This is pathetic and embarrasing to intelligent Vermonters. Why do we put up with such incompetence–and keep bleeding the taxpayers for more dollars for less output? As a 17 year educator, if I ever asked my students, for instance, after being assigned to study for a week and then list the 50 states–and they couldn’t–and gave such lame excuses as heard from Mathis—I would flunk them on the spot–yet Mathis and his cronies get to just concoct more excuses–pathetic!

    • Mr Mathis is a puppet for the big public education monopoly, and why wouldn’t he be? Mathis is second in command (but in control) of the Vermont education board, Mathis creates education policy in Vermont while AT THE VERY SAME TIME he is the PAID managing director of the Colorado based, TEACHERS UNION FUNDED, national education policy center. Mathis does his research a little differently then most, he forms his conclusion (anything that favors union jobs) then he presents only the evidence that backs his conclusion (while ignoring all other evidence). The Vermont education board and many of our appointed and elected officials are nothing but union puppets. Shameful.

  5. Proficiency based learning will not turn ineffective teachers into effective ones. But it will burn out some of the good ones.

  6. While I agree with Mr. Roper, that there are several suspect policies causing this decline in public school student outcomes, his list doesn’t include what is, in my opinion, the elephant in the room.

    It’s School Choice that incentivizes the average person to succeed. Parents and students not only need to perceive that they have choices, that what they are doing is of their own volition, and that they are the source of their own actions and outcomes, prohibiting that choice is counterproductive to the extreme.

    With School Choice we need not care about the failing machinations of the State School Monopoly. As parents exercise their choices, alternative pedagogies become more available. Even the State Monopoly will realize it can no longer impose itself through the policies Mr. Roper accurately identifies. With School Choice, even the Public School Monopoly will improve…..because it will no longer be a monopoly!

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