NMSI Pushes Bad Education Policies Based on Junk Science

12 Oct

Last Week, I got this message from a colleague in the Sweetwater Union High School District: “you doing ok, brother Ultican? I have a question for you.  In your tireless research and writing on education schemes and scams, what have you learned about NMSI?  They’re in our district now and I’ve got a bad feeling about the direction it’s taking.” In the words of Dr. Johnny Fever, “Sometimes paranoia is just good thinking.”

The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) was founded by a group of Dallas area lawyers and businessmen. Tom Luce is identified as the founder and Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil and present US Secretary of State, provided the financing.

An ExxonMobil web-page announces:

“ExxonMobil became a founding sponsor of the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) in 2007 with a $125 million commitment to the non-profit organization, which provides scalable and rigorous program solutions that empower school communities to prepare all students to succeed in college and the workforce.”

Some Background on the Founder

NMSI founder Tom Luce’s bio at the George W. Bush Presidential Center states:

Tom Luce

From the George W. Bush Presidential Center

“Tom Luce, Chief Executive Officer, was a founding partner of Hughes & Luce, LLP, a prominent Texas law firm. … He served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development during the George W. Bush administration ….”

“From 2007 to 2011, he was founding CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative, Inc. Additionally, Tom served on Dell, Inc.’s Board of Directors from 1991 until 2012. … He presently serves as the Chairman of the Board for the National Math and Science Initiative.”

Tom Luce is a lawyer not an educator but his fingerprints are all over some of the worst education policies in the history of our country. His bio at the George W. Bush Whitehouse archives says, “… Luce is perhaps best known for his role in 1984 as the chief of staff of the Texas Select Committee of Public Education, which produced one of the first major reform efforts among public schools.” The chairman of that committee was Ross Perot.

A former Texas Lieutenant Governor, Bill Hobby, wrote in 2010 about that 1984 education reform law:

 “Remarkably, most of the reforms initiated in House Bill 72 persist to this day. The teacher test was never repeated, but the statewide student tests are a hallmark of Texas education. They also served as the model for President George W. Bush’s ‘No Child Left Behind’ federal legislation.”

Mark Twain said, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” For Ross Perot, the founder of Electronic Data Systems the problems in education looked like data problems. He and his Chief of Staff, Tom Luce, decided standardized testing and data analysis were the prescription for failing public schools. Unfortunately, standardized testing is totally useless for analyzing learning and public schools were not actually failing.

Tom Luce was also directly involved in implementing NCLB (a spectacular education reform failure) while serving at the US Department of Education.

A Fraudulent Paper from the National Academies Motivated the Formation of NMSI

RISING ABOVE THE GATHERING STORM” was published by the National Academies in 2005. The title of this paper echoes Winston Churchill’s The Gathering Storm which chronicled the lead up to World War II. The name like its predecessor “A Nation at Risk” indicates that the United States is in imminent danger of losing its superior economic and scientific lead in the world and education is the fundamental problem. Like “A Nation at Risk,” “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” is also a polemic that cannot stand up to scrutiny.

The late Gerald W. Bracey from Stanford University illuminated several false claims that were foundational to the papers arguments. He recited the Academies declaration, “’Last year more than 600,000 engineers graduated from institutions of higher education in China, … In India the figure was 350,000. In America, it was about 70,000.’”

Bracey continued,

“Naturally, given this lofty pedigree, the statistics then materialized in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune and on many Web sites. While Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman did not use these specific numbers in his 2005 bestseller, “The World Is Flat,” he did write that Asian universities currently produce eight times as many bachelor’s degrees in engineering as U.S. universities do.”

Bracey discussed the growing doubt about these numbers and cited credible peer reviewed research:

“After an exhaustive study, researchers at Duke University also pummeled the numbers. In a December 2005 analysis, ‘Framing the Engineering Outsourcing Debate,’ they reported that the United States annually produces 137,437 engineers with at least a bachelor’s degree while India produces 112,000 and China 351,537. That’s more U.S. degrees per million residents than in either other nation.”

This is an example of the kind of subterfuge that is being used to promote the unsupportable claim that education in America is not producing enough science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workers.

The impetus and money for writing “RISING ABOVE THE GATHERING STORM” came from the United States Senate:

“Senator Alexander indicated that the Energy Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which he chairs, had been given the authority by the full committee’s chair, Senator Pete Domenici, to hold a series of hearings to identify specific steps that the federal government should take to ensure the preeminence of America’s science and technology enterprise. Senator Alexander asked the National Academies to provide assistance in this effort by selecting a committee of experts from the scientific and technical community to assess the current situation and, where appropriate, make recommendations.”

By 2006 that series of hearings seemingly led to President Bush proposing legislation to solve the “crisis” in STEM education. Senate Bill 2198, “Protecting America’s Competitive Edge” came before the senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee on March 6, 2006. Although, the PACE bill never became law, the record of this senate hearing chaired by Lamar Alexander is instructive. It is also where the birth of NMSI came to light.

Arden L. Bement, Jr., Director, National Science Foundation, (one of the academies) said during his testimony:

“As you are well aware, the National Science Foundation has been selected to play a major role in the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative. One of the cornerstones of our involvement is preparing the Nation’s scientific, technological, engineering, and mathematics workforce for the 21st century while improving the quality of math and science education in America’s schools.”

“When three quarters of American colleges find it necessary to offer courses in remedial mathematics and 22 percent of entering freshman take these courses, it is clear that our high schools are not doing the job they should be doing.”

Here a spokesman for the National Academies is revealing that they have a big government contract to fix education. They are not likely to say, “public schools don’t need fixing” and the comment about remedial courses for freshman is meritless. There has always been a substantial number of students needing remedial courses – see the 1892 committee of 10 report.

James B. Hunt, the former Governor of North Carolina testified,

“A recent report on 30 countries and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed that of those 30 countries–you have probably heard these figures–the United States is 15th in reading, 18th in science, 24th in math. Of the G-8 countries, the eight countries, we are 7th in 10th grade mathematics.

“Now, those are the facts, folks.”

Governor, that was lame. Researchers around the world have been questioning the methodology employed by PISA and especially the value of their international rankings. For a good discussion of the useless nature of PISA comparisons see Yong Zhao’s Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? starting on page 167. Or take a peek at Noel Wilson’s paper Education Standards and the Problem of Error for a discussion of the absolute folly of standardized testing.

James B. Hunt Jr. also testified. He said, “It is a well-documented fact that the single most important element in a student’s academic success is that student’s teacher.”

That is just ignorance. Parents and their economic conditions are far more important.

Senator Edward Kennedy remarked,

“By 2009, 6 million jobs will go unfilled because our youth will not be qualified to hold them. To keep America competitive, we need more students with degrees in math, science, and critical-need foreign languages.”

That is at a minimum uninformed. Kennedy repeats the lack of STEM educated graduates misinformation. He is selling the big lie.

Lamar Alexander announced one of the day’s star witnesses,

“Peter O’Donnell is here, who is a member of the National Academy’s Committee that produced ‘The Gathering Storm,’ and his work in Dallas is one reason for the inclusion in ‘The Gathering Storm’ report of the advanced placement recommendations.”

Peter O’Donnell is a wealthy businessman from Dallas, Texas and a huge contributor to the University of Texas at Austin. He is described by the American Statesman:

“O’Donnell is something of a godfather in the state Republican Party, having chaired it for several years in the 1960s. He was a top adviser to Bill Clements during his successful 1978 campaign to become the state’s first GOP governor in more than 100 years, and he has contributed to many Republican candidates in Texas and across the nation.

Like most modern edu-philanthropists, he has no education experience or training. He testified about his foundation’s Advanced Placement Initiative which became NMSI:

“The Advanced Placement Incentive Program succeeds because of three fundamental concepts: the high standards of Advanced Placement, which is built on a strong curriculum, rigorous national exams, and measurable results; emphasis on excellent teacher training; and financial incentives for teachers and students. Incentives are key to the success of our program. They provide extra pay for extra work and are paid by private donors.”

He went on to describe the principles which were adopted by NMSI:

“These recommendations will provide public schools in the U.S. with outstanding math and science teachers on a scale equal to the size of the problem. The recommendations are based on six concepts:

  1. High standards;
  2. Measurable results;
  3. Integrated curriculum for math and science for grades 6-12;
  4. Quality teacher training that is based on content;
  5. Incentives to teachers and students based on academic results;
  6. Implementation vehicle in each State to manage the programs to ensure quality control and accountability.

There is general agreement that these six concepts will strengthen education, especially in math and science.”

In other words, NMSI calls for teacher merit pay, a hundred-year-old idea with a hundred years of failure to back it up. It employs top down control by using College Board to design curriculum and train educators. It calls for bribing students to study hard which most education theorists would agree is a way to undermine a student’s need to know and harms self-motivation.

NMSI has been moving into San Diego for a while. It is not just in the Sweetwater School District, in 2015 Serra High School of the San Diego Unified School District held an NMSI AP Incentive Awards Night. The announcement says, “Over $32,000 will be given out to 178 current students and graduates. Three students will be given $500 checks!”

Wealthy Texas conservatives say we should turn away from education professionals at Stanford or those at the California State University and the University of California systems. We should embrace the teach to the test education philosophy of College Board and bribe students to get them engaged. We should do this even though there is no independent evidence supporting NMSI’s claims of success.

I Will Let the Curmudgucator Conclude my Article

Three years ago, Peter Greene wrote about NMSI:

“While there may be similar-ish programs in districts across the country, the big dog in the AP bribery biz is the National Math and Science Initiative. NMSI is an organization that was launched “to address one of this nation’s greatest economic and intellectual threats – the declining number of students who are prepared to take rigorous college courses in math and science and are equipped for careers in those fields.” You may recognize that as a classic reformster talking point– low test scores are a threat to our national security– and in fact, the big launching funders of NMSI include Exxon, the Michael and Susan Dell foundation, and the Gates Foundation. Partners also include the US Department of Education and the College Board, because why not fund an advocacy group that is telling everyone that your product is really important. This isn’t philanthropy– it’s marketing.”

3 Responses to “NMSI Pushes Bad Education Policies Based on Junk Science”

  1. mike c October 12, 2017 at 4:54 pm #

    Good work as usual, Tom. Appreciate the way you put the pieces together here. And I always appreciate a WKRP reference–even amidst these all too real but more sinister characters with designs on public education.

  2. peachymeyer October 12, 2017 at 5:41 pm #

    Thanks, Tom. for yet more important info!

  3. Marysue October 13, 2017 at 5:40 am #

    Thank you for connecting the dots and the dollars, Tom. It’s intriguing – – billionaires binging on bucks generated by this self replicating cycle of high stakes test generation teacher training. Add to this mix a dollop of union busting and a dash of fake data and it is win-win for the Tillerson – Perot – Gates crew. I give this essay a 5 on the AP (Advanced Prophet *) rubric.
    *not to be confused with AP (Advance Profit) which is more of a NIMSI whimsy.

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