One of the real problems that our politics has never addressed is full-time advocates. In issue after issue, only one side has money, so therefore has the time to write, speak, argue, make radio appearances, testify at great length to legislative committees, and generally conduct an all-out campaign to win. The other side relies on volunteers, stealing time from their jobs or families in order to wage a fight. You see this in fights over tax cuts, over the argument about whether payday lenders should be allowed to charge 260% interest, and in discussions about virtually every environmental regulation ever proposed.
So it is in the debates about the state’s misguided use and abuse of the NECAP test. To date, I have yet to see any response to my letter to the Board of Education chair that didn’t rely on misconstruing it. Not only that, but I’ve heard from several psychometricians that my criticisms were on target. And I keep hearing from teachers the same refrain: “yeah you’re right, but you don’t know the half of it.”
What I have seen is a continuing blizzard of media and radio appearances by the Commissioner and her supporters, where her assertions about testing policy and statistics are allowed to pass essentially unchallenged by hosts who maybe aren’t exactly statistics aces. I’ve also seen a very strange letter from business leaders that endorses Commissioner Gist for no reason they could actually cite.
Let the record show that, since I wrote my letter in March, Dan Yorke’s is the only media outlet to invite me on. I was on Buddy Cianci’s show for about five minutes, when I called in. I also got to mention the subject for a minute during a Lively Experiment appearance, out of the indulgence of the producers who hadn’t put the controversy on that week’s agenda — even though the Commissioner had appeared the previous week.
Outside the media’s eye, I got two minutes to speak at a Senate Education Committee hearing, after the Commissioner spoke for about an hour and a half, and failed to speak at a Board of Education hearing when Eva Mancuso, the chair, shut down the public comment after 30 minutes, most of which was filled by endorsements of decisions the Board was already planning to make.
Have you seen any independent psychometricians interviewed or questioned by other media? They exist out there in the wide world. Which local reporter has called around to find one to weigh in? Who has published it?
In short, we’ve seen nothing that remotely resembles a debate over the issues raised by me, RI Future and by the Providence Student Union. The issues have not only gone unanswered, they pretty much remain ignored. This is not a debate that I have lost; it’s a debate that has never happened. The Department of Education has gone out of its way to show they have policies to address some of the failings of the test, but the easiest policy to address misuse of the NECAP test is simply to stop misusing it, and that is apparently not on the table.
So this is how policy works around here. There is no debate about issues going on, though we pretend. The pretense is abetted by politicians and education board members who only make a pretense of caring about public policy. The sad fact, though, is that policy is what the government actually does, for us and to us. If we don’t discuss policy in any useful fashion, is it any wonder that we can’t get out of our own way?