Mayor Misrepresents Student Performance
I look forward each week to Sunday’s Alaska Ear column in the Anchorage Daily News, as penned by formerly-anonymous reporter Sheila Toomey. For many years I considered it purely entertainment, until I got involved with the fetid swamp known as Alaska politics. It was then that I discovered the accuracy of The Omnicient Oriface’s information.
So it was with great interest that I read this tidbit from Sunday’s column:
“. . A couple of weeks ago earwigs reported our new school superintendent, Jim Browder, walked out in protest while Mayor Sullivan made a presentation at some big public meeting. The mayor was playing that video about his education summit — the one that trashes our schools. (It’s on the muni website. Check it out for yourself).”
I completely understood how Mr. Browder felt. Every time the Mayor shows that video at some meeting I’m attending, I want to do more than just storm out of the room.
I watched most of the Education Summit from home and still have hours of it on my DVR. I wrote and I wrote and I posted pieces by others last year about the manipulative Summit agenda. I complained about the selective material presented by the voucher/privatization advocates who made up the majority of the presenters. I was infuriated by how information was ignored that didn’t support the voucher/privatization push.
So, I understood when Mr. Browder allegedly left the building and sent a letter to the Mayor, to which Sullivan responded.
While the Ear did a cursory review of the correspondence, I really wanted to see what they said to each other. Luckily, a kind Facebook friend deposited these letters on my virtual doorstep so that I could read them and share them with you.
Mr. Browder’s letter was civil, but angry and to the point:
“I am very disappointed that you continue to use messages, such as the Education Summit video summary, that inaccurately portray the Anchorage School District. As you are aware, the District has made significant changes in recent months, changes that were guided by the School Board and myself. Many of those changes are outcomes also supported by participants in the Summit.”
Later, Browder asks the Mayor to focus more on positive rather than negative messages:
“…Yes, we have room for improvement but we also have much success, more than just “pockets” at choice schools. It’s imperative that we work collaboratively to see growth within a system that already shows success.”
Of further interest was Browder’s acknowledgement that he and the Mayor had already discussed the issue of the inaccurate video, that Sullivan had agreed to make changes, and that he had not followed through:
“Several months ago, we discussed and mutually agreed that the video was outdated and in need of significant revision. I offered full support from myself and my video production team to be of any assistance that was needed to make this happen. Your video currently swings between very select ASD scores and test results statewide that inaccurately reflect the actual outcomes of our students in the community.”
(Note that I bolded the part where he mentions use of statewide information rather than a narrower focus on Anchorage. Almost all of the information that Education Summit presenters used was statewide information rather than Anchorage-specific numbers.)
In the Mayor’s letter back to Mr. Browder, Sullivan acknowledges that the video does not provide an accurate narrative… in a backhanded way:
“You are correct that it [the Education Summit video] does not, in a few short minutes, portray all the positive and/or negative attributes of the Anchorage School District.”
The Mayor explains the reason for the video…to show that we have “significant challenges ahead” and his desire for Anchorage to become “the best school district in the nation.”
Sullivan also kinda-sorta takes responsibility for his mistakes…
“You are also correct in stating that we had agreed to update the video.”
…and then promptly denies any responsibility for correcting them…
“I have been waiting for any information/presentations from the district that you felt would be appropriate to include in the video and to date nothing has been forthcoming.”
He’s making ASD responsible for updating a video that they had no part in creating, nor did they provide any of the original information used. From Mr. Browder’s letter, it doesn’t look like that was part of any understanding.
The Mayor then goes on to address the suggestion that he inaccurately portrays Anchorage student performance…
…by inaccurately portraying Anchorage student performance:
“Alaska, unfortunately, does indeed rank last in numerous key student performance categories.”
— First, please note that he is saying “Alaska,” not Anchorage. He is again using state statistics to make his claims about ASD students rather than Anchorage numbers.
— Second, here are the results of the 2011 NAEP State Snapshot Reports for Alaska –
As you can see, none of these reports show Alaska ranking last. Though, if you throw out one score (District of Columbia) like Education Trust representative and Summit presenter Katie Haycock did for her slide show, that puts Alaska (not Anchorage) last in one category…Fourth Grade Reading. She also cherry-picked other test scores that gave the most negative view of Alaska students, even when different tests from the same period or a long-term view of student performance contradicted her conclusions.
Also, in Mathematics where NAEP testing goes back to the early 1990s, Alaskan children show a trend of making significant improvements.
Within this summary information is also an excellent break-down of performance according to various factors. It shows that if Alaska wants to improve its ranking, focus should be put on equalizing and improving Alaska Native education (whose kids score as much as 47 points behind, and make up about a quarter of the student population), and kids with limited financial means (kids who qualified for free/reduced school lunches scored about 30 points behind and make up close to half of the student population).
Nowhere during the Education Summmit was a complete picture of Alaska student performance presented, much less Anchorage student performance. That information didn’t fit what the Administration was trying to accomplish and the Mayor continues to promote the false narrative.
I’m glad Mr. Browder keeps pointing it out.