No Budget - Lots Of Mandates

Jim Broadway at State School News Service points out that just because there's no budget yet doesn't mean that the legislature can't pass mandates:

"While no budget was passed this year, the mountain of school mandates kept growing: There are new requirements for: a Veterans Day "moment of silence" (HB 972); instruction on teen dating violence (HB 973); instruction on disability history (HB 1035); instruction on the deportation of Mexican-Americans during the Great Depression (SB 1557); instruction about cancer (SB 1665); and instruction about the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor (SB 1675). Only about 900 hours of instruction are available during a school year."
Read the full post below.

Can't pass budget but can pass mandates

By Jim Broadway, Publisher, State School News Service
We received a flood of feedback last
week after reporting to SSNS subscribers some highlights of Taxpayer
Action Board (TAB) findings on how the state can save money through
consolidations and terminating "hold-harmless" funding. Some comments
were unfit for a family-friendly publication such as this. Let's just
observe that most respondents took a dim view of the TAB
recommendations.
One TAB finding school boards and
administrators might appreciate, however, was that "one of the largest
contributors to inefficiency is the overuse of unfunded and partially
funded mandates from the state. [See TAB final report,
Page 80.] While many of those mandates may serve useful purposes,
today's budget and economic realities do not allow" such burdens, the
TAB asserted.
First question: Today's budget? What
budget is that? As you know, no state budget has been signed into law
for FY 2010. As you may not know, technical flaws have now combined
with political games to solidify gridlock at the Capitol. Gov. Pat
Quinn and legislative leaders are scheduled to meet today in efforts to
break the gridlock. Don't hold your breath. Resolution seems distant.
But back to the mandates issue,
the TAB didn't mention any specific ones but recommended that all
mandates "contain a sunset provision" so that any that "move away from
their original purpose" could be "automatically retired" and those that
remain useful "would have to be reinstated by the legislature." While
no budget was passed this year, the mountain of school mandates kept
growing:
There are new requirements for: a
Veterans Day "moment of silence" (HB 972); instruction on teen dating
violence (HB 973); instruction on disability history (HB 1035);
instruction on the deportation of Mexican-Americans during the Great
Depression (SB 1557); instruction about cancer (SB 1665); and
instruction about the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor (SB 1675).
Only about 900 hours of instruction
are available during a school year. Every year, our legislators consume
a few more, often for reasons that seem to relate to local (not
statewide) circumstances, or even to their own personal interests.
(Legislators of Polish descent pushed for "Pulaski Day," for example;
those of Irish descent demanded instruction on the "Great Potato
Famine.")
No one would deny the value of most of
the instructional snippets mandated, but should legislators be setting
the curriculum? Given the "accountability" now imposed on schools, they
might at least suggest mandates that will be covered in the high-stakes
tests.
Next generation most likely to ...?
In their unending effort to document
the "fact" that public schools are failing, national pundits like to
use statistics. Recently, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert set the
education blogs abuzz with the following assertion:
"It’s about whether we’re serious
about remaining a great nation. We don’t act like it. Here’s a
staggering statistic: According to the Education Trust, the U.S. is the
only industrialized country in which young people are less likely than
their parents to graduate from high school."
That would be a "staggering statistic"
if it were also a valid statistic. First, the Education Trust never
made such a flat assertion. The observation arose from an examination
of demographic changes in the U.S., specifically the increase of
Hispanic Americans as a share of the total population. Describing how
this applies requires some sensitivity. One should not indulge in
stereotyping.
With that caveat, the stereotype of
Hispanic Americans - and an extrapolation from the quality of their
representation in the Illinois General Assembly - indicates that they
are passionate of purpose, industrious and justifiably proud of their
heritage. But in the aggregate, graduation from high school is not a
high enough priority for them. There are reasons, but nonetheless it is
a statistical fact.
So as Hispanics rise as a percentage
of the total population, their currently high dropout rate inflates the
national dropout rate. Herbert's assertion says nothing about the
nation as a whole. He might just as well have said "young people are
more likely to be Hispanic than their parents."
This is clarification?In response to Herbert's musings, an education blogger asked: "I would
love to blog the rebuttal to that myth, and I do understand it, but I'm
not totally sure how to restate it in the clearest possible manner....
Can anyone help?" That led to a 10-point explanation from an official
at the W. M. Keck Statistical Literacy Project. [Complicated, but worth the effort.]
10 steps to help analyze the source of the ambiguity in this statement:
1. Review Gerald's [Gerald Bracey's] 32 Principles of Data Interpretation.
2. Review Gerald's principle #10:
“When comparing rates or scores over time, make sure the groups remain
comparable as the years go by.”
3. Note the use of cohort language (parent/child) to describe a non-cohort study (immigration and emigration).
4. Create impossible comparison that
make the ambiguity in "parents" more obvious: Young people are more
likely to be Hispanic than were their "parents."
5. Restate the comparison to
eliminate the error and indicate this non-cohort comparison: “In the
US, young people are less likely to graduate from high school today
than they were 30 years ago.” Or, “In the US, high school graduates are
less prevalent among today's young people than among young people 30
years ago.”
While more accurate, these comparisons might not highlight the influence of changes in the groups.
6. Review Gerald's principle #12: “Watch for Simpson's paradox.” Generalize this to read, "Watch for confounders."
7. Treat the change in groups (immigrants) as a confounder.
8. Show how this confounder could provide an alternate explanation for the observed association:

“Children of immigrants are more prevalent today than they were 30
years ago.” And, “Children of immigrants are less likely to graduate
from high school than are children of non-immigrants.”

To uphold this alternate explanation, one would need to verify the truth of these claims.
9. Alternatively, identify the association that applies to just the members of the cohort:
“Children of non-immigrants are more
likely to complete high school than were their parents.” And “High
school grads are more prevalent among children of non-immigrants than
among their parents.”
Again, one would need data to support these claims that control for the influence of recent immigration.
10. Finally, acknowledge the
possibility that at some point the original statement could be true
within a cohort. But, there must be data that upholds that claim.
So, SSNS readers, that's it. As one
blogger noted, "Data can be a tough sport." We are confronted daily by
misuse of data to convince us of things that are not true. The exercise
above - and Bracey's 32 principles - can help us separate the pepper
from the fly doo-doo. This will be especially important as the election
campaigns for 2010 begin. That's just around the corner, by the way.
Finally, we care what you think. Click here to comment to SSNS.
Remember, while we will respond to what you say - and we appreciate and
are guided by input from readers - we are only the messenger. Some
readers recently have expressed themselves in ways that suggest we can
solve the problem. We cannot do that. We just scribble for a living.

Your policymakers may also care what
you think. And they are the ones who, presumably, can solve the
problem. You are advised to direct your calls-to-action toward them
(copying an email to us if you wish). Click here for information that will help you comment to them.

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