Lies, Darned Lies And Statistics

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Over the last few years, chambers of commerce have taken a more active role in public education. Some of their efforts have been applauded, while others seem to indicate an organization in search of a mission. It begs the question: what is a chamber of commerce? The American Chamber of Commerce Executives defined a chamber of commerce as “an organization of businesses seeking to further their collective interests, while advancing their community, region, state or nation.” 

That seems simple enough. Then they added, “While most chambers work closely with government, they are not part of government, although many consider the process of appropriately influencing elected/appointed officials to be one of their most important functions.”

So, in essence, they are a lobbying organization that functions to further their collective interests, presumably business interests. That sounds a lot like our organization, Professional Educators of Tennessee, with the one exception: we only advocate on behalf of public education.  

In 2007, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released the report: Leaders and Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on Education Effectiveness. In this report Tennessee received an “F” for “Academic Achievement of Low Income and Minority Students,” “Truth in Advertising about Student Proficiency,” and “Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness.” Policymakers in Tennessee have called for specific education reforms ever since. We have touted this now seven year old report for the reason to enact reforms of every nature in our public education system, yet nobody has ever once questioned why we are following this specific report to change our state education system.  

Looking the categories that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce considered, they are all areas our state should analyze regularly: academic achievement, academic achievement of low-income and minority students, return on investment, truth in advertising about student proficiency, rigor of standards, postsecondary and workforce readiness, 21st century teaching force, flexibility in management and policy, and data quality. However, was this report the right measuring tool for Tennessee? By the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s own admission, they did not conduct new research. Instead they reported that they “organized and analyzed existing evidence to inform and promote reform efforts across the nation.”  

Therein lies the rub. The entire paper was a marketing piece by a business interest group to promote specific educational reforms. Certainly many changes in Tennessee were and are still needed. However, policymakers must ask themselves if the changes we have made were right for our children and if reforms were enacted for the right reasons.

Another consideration is that some researchers may purposely distort the statistics. As Mark Twain wrote, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” One must wonder which of these the US Chamber of Commerce relied on. Our data quality also was awarded a “B” in the 2007 report. It is not clear how we can score so high on data quality, and yet score an F in “Truth in Advertising” regarding student proficiency. If the data is there, doesn’t that tell the story?  

Why is the “Truth in Advertising” score discussed more often than the “Academic Achievement of Low-Income and Minority Students” score? Certainly the academic achievement of our most marginalized children has a higher significance than some formula utilized to determine the accuracy of our definition of “proficient.” And in calling our cut scores into question, were they calling state leaders liars? If so, which ones? Why didn’t they specifically name responsible parties at that time?

Additionally, grading on postsecondary and workforce readiness was tied to on-time high school graduation and college entrance rates. This area had already been addressed in the Tennessee Diploma Project in 2009, prior to the Federal Race to the Top grant being awarded to Tennessee. People going into college today may well be less prepared than those of an earlier generation, or acceptance rates may be higher in other states. Let’s also temper these scores with the fact that not every graduate desires to go to college, and not every job requires a college degree.

We must also consider the fact that policy changes in one area most certainly can impact or necessitate changes in the other areas. For example, our teaching force scored a “B.” In our frenzied effort to enact reforms, many educators are retiring or leaving the profession because of some specific reforms directed at them, namely tenure reform, licensure, teacher salary changes and teacher evaluations. Will that diminish the quality of our 21st century teaching force?  

As a Chamber of Commerce member, our organization would suggest the U.S. Chamber advocate for a reduced role by the federal government in public education. Directing education policy from Washington can create unintentional consequences, not to mention that states and local districts can be overwhelmed with compliance requirements created by federal programs, rules, and regulations. This takes away time and resources from our local schools and educators.

Stakeholders and policymakers should look at the data in their state or district for themselves. If the U.S. Chamber of Commerce really wants to make an impact for public education, we recommend that they include actual educators and stakeholders in that discussion. We would also advise a different approach to assigning grades to states based on an effort to inform and promote reform efforts. And policymakers should certainly consider the value and impetus behind such efforts in any single research study.   

J.C. Bowman, Samantha Bates

J.C. Bowman is the executive director and Samantha Bates is the director of Member Services of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Brentwood, Tenn.

Roy Exum: The Trouble With Chicago

On “Black Friday” night, I saw television footage of what was said to be about 2,000 people marching in protest in Chicago. The very vocal mob descended on the toniest street – Michigan Avenue – to spew its rage over a police officer who shot and killed a 17-year-old, this over a year ago in October of 2014. The just-released tapes of the incident embroiled the blacks who insist ... (click for more)

The Message Of The GOP Is Hate And Division - And Response

Maybe it is me.  Maybe it is me that thinks the likes of Donald Trump or Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and some of the others represent the voting public.  I noticed and watched, again, with horror, that another shooting and killing happened in Colorado yesterday.  Couple that with some of the hysterical rhetoric of the Republican Party and wonder, or I do, just what is happening ... (click for more)

Volkswagen Stockholder Files Suit Against Automaker At Chattanooga; Seeks Class Action Status

A Volkswagen stockholder has filed suit in Federal Court in Chattanooga against the automaker, charging that its stock was over-valued and that it has now plummeted due to revelations about emissions cheating. The suit was filed in behalf of Michael Wolfenbarger by Knoxville attorney Gordon Ball and Nashville attorney James Stranch III. It seeks class action status for those ... (click for more)

Woman In Critical Condition After Being Shot In The Face Saturday Night Near O'Rear Street

A woman is in critical condition after she was shot while driving in Chattanooga on Saturday night. Just after  9 p.m. , the Chattanooga Police Department responded to reports of a person shot. Once on the scene, police located a female victim near the 2500 block of O'Rear Street suffering from a life-threatening gunshot wound to the face. The victim was driving a ... (click for more)

Foster and Auriemma - Hall of Fame Coaches – Meet at McKenzie Arena Tonight

  A young basketball coach with lots of drive and knowledge but little money was in desperate need of a dependable car to get from home to work and back. A good friend gave his reliable $100 car to the coach and went out and replaced it with another $100 car. That same friend – also an up-and-coming coach – had also helped his brother a few years earlier by taking a ... (click for more)

No.1 UConn Women and Breanna Stewart Face Mocs Monday

“By late Monday night, UConn’s Breanna Stewart will be on a very short list of the greatest female players to ever play at McKenzie Arena.”   -- UTC women’s basketball coach Jim Foster   America’s most talented female player - Breanna Stewart - on the best women’s college basketball team in the land -   UConn – is in town for a one night showing, ... (click for more)