ETS and Dept. of Education Cite Lack of Parental Support in Gap Study

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat May 9 14:07:35 UTC 2009

ETS and Dept. of Education Cite Lack of Parental Support in Gap Study

Educational Testing Service is a non-profit with a policy arm aimed at
influencing legislation around childhood education. ETS has just
released Parsing the Achievement Gap II -- a five-year update on its
landmark study. The first release sent shock waves through the
educational system citing biological, cultural and even language
skills factors in the gap between minority and white students on
standardized tests like the AP and SAT.

Asked if the report was geared to promoting the test, and deflecting
blame for poor performance to mom and dad, ETS' Mike Nettles said the
achievement gap report was mainly to tell Congress that more focus is
needed on how to fix the problems. Pre-K reading programs, more
nutrition and school meals funding and even reducing gang violence
were cited.

The press conference at the National press Club was a highly "managed
event" -- with three ETS PR people, an internal video shooting team,
and an audience chock-a-block with support for educational reform.
Since reporters don't like to be managed, told were to sit as
moderator, and asked for a pre-review of the questions, the debate
moved quickly to the Department of Education spokesman who was
spoiling for a fight.

Marshall S. "Mike" Smith, senior counsel to Secretary of Education
Arne Duncan, and a former Clinton Deputy Education Secretary, seemed
to differ on the import and meaning of this new Educational Testing
Service report. He called for a laser focus on "turning around 1,000
schools" and closing language and fluency gaps as the number one

Richard Coley, director of the Education Testing Service's policy
information center, wrote
Parsing the Achievement Gap II -- a follow-on report to an ETS
research product delivered in 2003 that makes clear 16 predictive
factors for determining success in secondary education. Many of them
environmental. Joining Coley and Smith were Nettles, senior v.p. of
ETS for policy and research, and Edmund Gordon, professor emeritus of
Teacher's College at Columbia.

"Research has found a difference in the effectiveness between
teachers," said the ETS report, "with less than five years of
experience than teachers with more. White students were less likely to
have inexperienced teachers than Black or Hispanic." Rigor of
curriculum showed racial and socioeconomic disparity. Fear and safety
at school also weighs more heavily on minority kids.

Smith said: "Teachers, young teacher experience, has no effect beyond
the third or fourth grade," challenging the report." Smith said the
Education Department spends $100 billion per year on children; but
noted disparity of spending $18,000 per child in nearby Arlington
County Public Schools versus $6,500 in East Palo Alto, California's

Both ETS and The Department of Education said reading to kids early in
life and developing strong language skills is critical to higher
achievement. ETS "left some of the variables out of its report," Smith
commented. "Like a caring adult for a child to talk with about their
work. That is not reflected here." Poverty has increased over 18%
since the initial report five years ago. That has a "huge effect on
society," said Smith.

Smith noted, "God knows we need a comprehensive healthcare program."
If we cannot achieve it, "we don't even deserve to be a society."

"Don't take any of these indicators too seriously," added the
Education Department spokesman. "Reading books will help close these
language barriers. Speech and fluency in the language also promotes
higher test performance."

Smith also said "students need more control and context over why they
are learning something."

Ed Gordon noted that "government has not responded deeply enough or in
a comprehensive way" to reforms provided under both the 1964 Civil
Rights Act and equal opportunity amendments. He felt society needs to
value teachers and create learning opportunity outside of school.
Nothing new about that!

NOTE - Copies of the ETS report "Parsing the Achievement Gap," are
available for free download at

Editor's Note: Mike Smith, Huffington Post columnist and a
Washington-area public affairs exec, is not related to Mike Smith of
the Dept. of Education.
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