Christensen: Student performance has nothing to do with policy

OK, so the title of this blog post is a bit of an exaggeration.  I doubt that News & Observer columnist Rob Christensen believes that student performance has nothing to do with debates over K-12 education policy.

But I was taken aback by his latest piece, titled “NC’s kids are doing better than you think.” You’ll see why in a moment.

First, Christensen explains,

But there is evidence that North Carolina’s kids are doing better than you think. In fact, they are doing better than the national average and better than most kids around the world.  How do we know? Science and math tests were given to eighth-graders in every state and in more than 50 countries or international regions such as Canadian provinces in 2011.

If you read material from the John Locke Foundation, you’ll know that we spend a great deal of time writing and talking about North Carolina’s performance in a global context.  In fact, I wrote about the scores referenced above on October 24, also known as the day that the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released the report, U.S. States in a Global Context: Results From the 2011 NAEP-TIMSS Linking Study.  John Hood has written about international comparisons of academic achievement many times over the years, most recently examining student performance and education reform in Poland.

JLF’s awesomeness aside, the troubling part of Christensen’s column comes near the end of it.  He writes,

I don’t offer this information to argue for one education policy or another – for higher pay for teachers, for tax credits for private schools, for charter schools, etc. They are all separate subjects worthy of debate by themselves.

What? These subjects are most certainly not “separate subjects worthy of debate by themselves.”  For example, the countries and jurisdictions that outperform North Carolina spend less on public education than we do.  A number of them have performance pay, vouchers, relatively large class sizes, and strong accountability systems.

So why does Christensen refuse to broach the policy debate in his “informational” column?  It’s not that school choice and teacher pay are separate issues.  It’s that they would force Christensen to entertain policies that are inconsistent with his left-leaning ideology.

Christensen concludes the piece by claiming that “the next time someone says the North Carolina public schools are failing, you should understand that someone is expressing their opinion, not the facts.”  In other words, fact = those who agree with him.  Opinion = those who disagree with him.

The fact is that Christensen’s column is not just “information” presented objectively.  It is an argument that the NCES report refutes claims that North Carolina public schools are failing.  Those who use different student performance measures to argue that “North Carolina public schools are failing” are not merely “expressing their opinion.”  They are making an argument.

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