March 6, 2008

WaPo Colors outside the lines


The Washington Post colors a highly misleading article on NCLB's narrowing effects on non-reading and non-math subjects, such as art, in elementary schools.


It was all art, all morning at the Montgomery County school, casting a local spotlight on a national reality: that art is often squeezed out of the curriculum by the academic rigors of the No Child Left Behind law.

...

Her sentiments echoed a report released last month by the Washington-based Center on Education Policy, which found that many elementary schools across the country have allotted more time to reading and math by cutting time for social studies, science, art and physical education. The issue of "curriculum narrowing" has become a key part of the debate over reauthorizing the 2002 federal law, which is designed to improve reading and math proficiency. (emphasis mine)

According to WaPO, art is "often squeezed out of the curriculum" by NCLB.

Often! Often? What percentage of schools do you think WaPo considers to be "often"? 2/3rds? 3/4ths?

According to the CEP report the percentage of schools that have reduced instruction time Post-NCLB is a whopping -- wait for it -- 16%.

I've heard that 40 is the new 30, but I didn't realize that 16% was the new often.

And, the category is "art and music" not just art. These 16% of schools could have cut either music or art or both.

Now let me give you some actual data from the CEP report, which WaPo fails to do

84% of schools didn't cut any time from music and art.
2.9% cut less than 25 minutes per week.
3.8% cut between 25 and 29 minutes.
4.3% cut between 50 and 74 minutes.
4.5% cut between 75 and 149 minutes.
0.5% cut more than 150 minutes.

For those schools (16%) that did cut time, the pre-NCLB time spent on art and music instruction was 154 minutes a week. The post-NCLB time was 100 minutes. So, on average, about 54 minutes per week was cut from art and music instruction per week. The report doesn't tell us how much instructional time the 84% of schools who didn't cut instructional time for art and music. Maybe it was already less than 154 minutes.

I also like the way they picked as their poster child the North Chevy Chase Elementary School, in Montgomery County, Maryland where over 93% of the children are testing at the proficient level. Why not pick a DC school where over half of fourth graders tested at the "below basic" level on the 2007 NAEP test? Certainly, these illiterate and innumerate kids need to maximize their instructional time in art and music since there's little hope of them graduating with the ability to read above the fifth grade level. Assuming they graduate at all.

Then we have this gratuitous comment:


Fourth-grade teacher Jackie Moore considered it a protest against a decline in public school arts education attributable to budget cuts and a focus on standardized test scores spurred by the federal law.

Whenever some educator claims that there's been budget cuts you can rest assured they are either a) misinformed, b) lying, or c) both. According to school matters not only has Montgomery county not seen budget cuts, their total expenditures have been steadily rising from $11,262 in 2003 to $13,785 in 2005. I'd bet that they're spending close to $15,000 per year now based on that trend.

And then there's this:


Moore decided a half-day of drawing would highlight how little art instruction students usually receive. She thinks that art helps students learn while improving concentration and observation skills but that there's no longer time to have her classes sew colonial embroidery samplers or create Native American jewelry and pottery.

She thinks; she doesn't know. Surely there must be some evidence she can point to in which these artist-students use their superior "concentration and observation skills" to improve academic outcomes in other academic subjects. Otherwise, all they've learned is how to sew embroidery samples and create Native American Jewelry and pottery, two high-growth jobs in the DC area.

This article is bad, even for WaPo.

Update: Kevin Carey has similar thoughts and even stresses a point I made back when the curriculum narrowing debate first surfaced:


The 16% of districts that cut art in favor of reading and math didn't necessarily make a bad choice, unless you think that all districts had, pre-NCLB, miraculously arrived at the precise optimal mix of subjects and time. Reducing time for art in order to ensure that elementary school student can read might be exactly the kind of hard decision those students need.

It's hard to argue that pre-NCLB had the optimal mix considering the rampant amount of academic failure.

AFTie John OTOH apparently thinks that 16% qualifies as "often," though he doesn't provide much of a supporting argument.


Update II: AFTie John responds: "Well, a little extrapolating and back-of-the-envelope arithmetic suggests that 4 million students (16% of ~ 25 million public K-6 students) are missing more than 30 hours of art instruction per year. "

As long as we're pulling a Fermi, my back-of -the envelope calculation is that 8.25 million students (33% of ~ 25 million) are performing at the below-basic level in reading and 5.5 million in math. Are we really getting up in arms that these kids get an hour less finger-painting and macaroni collage time per week in favor of some additional time actually learning how to read and do basic math?

8 comments:

Downes said...

The argument that 16 percent does not constitute "often" is spurious and misleading.

If 16 percent of the people you meet in a day punched you in the nose, you'd say it happened "often".

Rather than be misdirected by your interpretation of the report, let's look at what the authors actually conclude:

"Taken together, tables 1 through 5 indicate that since NCLB took effect, relatively large shifts have occurred at the elementary level in the amount of instructional time allotted for
various subjects in a large number of districts. Forty-four percent of all districts nationwide have added time for English language arts and/or math, at the expense of social studies, science, art and music, physical education, recess, or lunch. Where these changes have
occurred, the magnitude is large, typically amounting to cuts in other subjects of 75 minutes per week or more."

This would suggest that the Washington Post article was fundamentally accurate.

Similarly misleading is your response to a teacher who attributes the decline in the teaching of arts to budget cuts.

Nobody would expect actual overall expenditures on education to decrease in a region like Montgomery County, where more than 40 percent of households make more than $100K per year, well above the state average.

It is unreasonable to expect the teacher to be making a blanket statement about county funding as a whole over a 5 year period.

If you look at the figures in detail, you can see justification for such a remark. For example, if you look at the 'new money' table, you see a significant decrease in pupil support in 2003-4, and a similarly large decrease in instructional staff support in 2004-5. Notwithstanding that these cuts were offset by increases in other years, there was nonetheless a significant decrease in funding in some areas at some times.

Similarly, if we look at the 'compensation' table, we see compensation falling in 2006 as a percentage of core funding. We see salaries dropping significantly as a percentage of total compensation. We see 'instructional staff support' dropping by more than 30 percent over 2005-2006.

All of these - *combined* with a diversion of funding from arts, social studies, and science to math and English, could very well lead a teacher quite reasonably to attribute the decline to budget cuts.

It is simply irresponsible to state that "Whenever some educator claims that there's been budget cuts you can rest assured they are either a) misinformed, b) lying, or c) both." This presupposes that there are never budget cuts - which is proven to be false, even in the statistics you adduce to support your case.

If you had actually taken the time to study the statistics, you would see that most of the putative 'increase' is taken up in capital expenses, while at the same time operating expenses, taken as a whole, decreased from 2005-2006, from almost 90 percent of funding, to just under 83 percent of funding. That's a huge difference, and it is beyond ungenerous to attribute the teacher's remarks to lying or misinformation.

Indeed, the tone of this post as a whole demonstrates no interest in being fair to either the teachers in question or to the author of the article.

One wonders what the point of such a post is. It so scantly - and inaccurately - refers to the facts of the matter that it certainly cannot have been to set the record straight.

KDeRosa said...

Stephen, why do you bother to make criticisms that are so easily refuted. Though, admittedly, I am impressed by your ability to be consistently the first commenter to make those criticisms.

In the context of school curricular reform, mass changes to curriculum occur much more frequently than the incidence of punches to noses.

Notwithstanding the context argument, the exact figure from the report was easily obtainable and should have ben given so that readers could determine what the author meant by "many" or "often." My informal survery reveals that most people think that in this context those words mean a majority of schools.

This would suggest that the Washington Post article was fundamentally accurate.

Except that it assumes that "the optimal mix of subjects and time" were already in place before NCLB, Clearly that was not the case based on academic performance, so your conclusion does not stand.

All of these - *combined* with a diversion of funding from arts, social studies, and science to math and English, could very well lead a teacher quite reasonably to attribute the decline to budget cuts.

A fine display of cherry-picked data, Stephen.

Of course when we look at money going to classroom, instruction, instructional support, and pupil support, we see the same rising trend as total expenditures. These are the things the teacher was no doubt talking about.

Quincy said...

As a musician and composer, I can say that trading some time teaching music for time teaching reading, assuming they're actually teaching reading, is a perfectly OK tradeoff.

Why? Because one can't perform written sheet music without being able to read. One's decoding skills have to be good enough to recognize words from English, Italian, French, and German.

I'm looking at a piece right now that has the following words on it, just on the first line: Trompete, Langsam, Con Sordino, crescendo, Senza Sordino

If I couldn't read those words, I wouldn't be able to play the music, even if I could perfectly execute the instructions encoded on the staff itself.

Music and art are valuable for both the heart and mind, but reading and math are necessary for success in anything, including music and art. (Before you say anything, finger painting and other such free-form activites, while diverting, don't count in the serious study of art.)

Anonymous said...

Believe me, the students are getting plenty of art instruction. You know, cut paper, colored pencils, sketching....

Oh wait, that's Everyday Math....

heh. heh.

KDeRosa said...

Don't remind me.

The "art" part of each night's homework assignment takes an inordinate amount of time with little instructional pay-off, at least in mathematics.

NYC Math Teacher said...

The "art" part of each night's homework assignment takes an inordinate amount of time with little instructional pay-off, at least in mathematics.

And don't you remind me, either. My bulletin boards are due to be updated soon and I have to come up with some cockamamie project artistic enough for display. I think I'll have my best, most attentive class waste their time doing it. At least that will minimize the number of crayons launched across the room.

Downes said...

> In the context of school curricular reform, mass changes to curriculum occur much more frequently than the incidence of punches to noses.

First of all... so what?

Second of all... is this even true?

And third... you are doing what you do so well, comparing the wrong things.

The analogy I offered has the form a:b is like c:d (curricular reform:cancellation of art is like passing people:being punched).

The appropriate comparison is either the antecedent (a compared to c) or the consequent (b compared to d). Comparing a to d (curricular reform - being punched in the nose) is a fallacious criticism. It is not a valid way to criticize metaphors.

Again - YOU know this, what you are hoping is that your readers won't know this.

It gets my gander up when people knowingly and deliberately commit errors of reasoning in order to score rhetorical points.


> Notwithstanding the context argument, the exact figure from the report was easily obtainable and should have ben given so that readers could determine what the author meant by "many" or "often."

Why? The uses of 'many' and 'often' are not misleading. They are accurate and easily accessible ways of describing the result, without bogging the reader down in uninterpreted numbers.

> My informal survery reveals that most people think that in this context those words mean a majority of schools.

Yeah, this is you using a very narrow and unrepresentative data set and representing it as evidence again.

Again - since you KNOW this is a fallacious for of reasoning, I can only infer that you are doing it deliberately.

Which to me raises the far more interesting question: WHY are you so intent on misleading your readers in this way?

What's the agenda? What's the point?

But you never talk about this.

> Except that it assumes that "the optimal mix of subjects and time" were already in place before NCLB,

Not so.

It may be the case that too much time was spent on art. This does not change the fact that the curriculum reform "often" resulted in arts classes being canceled.

> Clearly that was not the case based on academic performance, so your conclusion does not stand.

There is not evidence to support this conclusion.

At the very best, the evidence would say that performance in math and language improved.

Untested, and unreported, is the likely corresponding decline in the subjects that were not taught.

We have no way of knowing whether improvements (if any) in math and language offset losses in other subjects.

And therefore, we cannot make the case that "academic performance" improved, and therefore, "academic performance" does not provide evidence for your assertion.

For those who are keeping track, this is a fallacy of substitution: providing figures that describe A in an attempt to establish a fact about B.

Another common fallacy,and again, probably deliberate.

> A fine display of cherry-picked data, Stephen.

May be so. But there is no reason to suppose that *this* was the data alluded to when the people were making their remarks.

You are representing people of speaking about A when there is evidence that suggests that they were probably speaking about B.

> we see the same rising trend as total expenditures....

As a WHOLE, over the LONG TERM.

Unless you can show that they were speaking of the whole over the long term, you have utterly no basis for making the very scathing remarks that you made.

> These are the things the teacher was no doubt talking about.

On what evidence do you offer this? None.

Rather - it somehow makes more sense for you to assume that the teacher was talking about something that was increasing, knowing that it was increasing, and saying that it was decreasing.

People lie, sure - but seldom so blatantly and so badly.

Your supposition involves a PRESUMPTION of dishonesty on the part of the teacher.

This again, suggests to me that you have no intent to express the state of affairs factually and honestly, and instead are manipulating quotes, facts and statistics in order to mislead and confuse people.

Shame.

KDeRosa said...

Before I get too bogged down responding to your sophistry let me address the major point of contention. The WaPo journalist could have and should have written a more factually accurate, less misleading, less slanted, and more honest piece by substituting a few words:

"It was all art, all morning at the Montgomery County school, casting a local spotlight on a national reality: that art is [sometimes, occaisonally, increasingly] squeezed out of the curriculum by the academic rigors of the No Child Left Behind law.

...

Her sentiments echoed a report released last month by the Washington-based Center on Education Policy, which found that [some, a few, a small percentage] elementary schools across the country have allotted more time to reading and math by cutting time for social studies, science, art and physical education."

All of those words are accurate and present a fair interpretation of the data. Unlike "many" which connotes a "large number of" and "often" which connotes "frequently" to the general reader not inclined to actually search for read the underlying report.

There is no reliable baseline pre-NCLB data that supports a comparative interpretation of "often" and "many" which permits a usage, as you propose, in which a small number/infrequent qualifies as many/frequent.

You resort to an extreme example, the only kind of example, that supports your argument. But, the facts of the article are not comparable to your example. Hence, your need to resort to arguing by analogy.

In the absence of special circumstances, the dictionary meaning should be prevail for the general reader rather than your contrived usage.

Now let's mop up the minor points.

With respect to your analogy arfument, I was equating "mass changes to curriculum" a perennial and highly disruptive event in schools that is surely on par with and at times contains changes in instructional times. So, I did address your analogy properly, though you may disagree with the merits of that argument.

With respect to my informal survey/poll, this is a perfectly legitimate argument since it addresses the interpretation of the disputed words by people like those who would read the article. I never claimed the results were representative of all readers or statistically signifcant.

With respect to me "agenda," it is to point out and corect out misleading and biased journalism like the instant article.

It may be the case that too much time was spent on art. This does not change the fact that the curriculum reform "often" resulted in arts classes being canceled.

The point is: who cares given that instructional time varies in each school anyway and that it does matter if too much time ws being spent on art classes-- a point taht is unknown and highly relevant the the merits of the underlying argument. And, you need to get your facts staright: art classes weren't getting cancelled, instructional time was being reduced (50 odd minutes on average -- and that includes music class) in a handful of schools (see I can play that game too).

There is not evidence to support this [low academic performance] conclusion.

Sure there is. See my latest post on at-risk black kids in PA.

Untested, and unreported, is the likely corresponding decline in the subjects that were not taught.

The NAEP data contradicts this conjecture.

And therefore, we cannot make the case that "academic performance" improved, and therefore, "academic performance" does not provide evidence for your assertion.

For those who are keeping track, this is a fallacy of substitution: providing figures that describe A in an attempt to establish a fact about B.


This is lawyers say that you never ask a question you don't know the answer to. Often you wind up looking like a fool. As is the case here. Again, check the NAEP data for history and science for all grades across the board.

With respect to school expenditures, there is ample longitudinal data that school expenditures have been raising at a reate greater than inflation for at least the past 30 years. This is across the board and on all levels including capital, operation, and instructional spending. Which is to say, any area that any teacher in any school could possibly be referring to. It is disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

Your supposition involves a PRESUMPTION of dishonesty on the part of the teacher.

No, I wrote "either a) misinformed, b) lying, or c) both" -- point b does not require a presumption of dishonesty.