Letters to the Editor

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SCHOOLS: Data don’t appear to be much help

Letter by Andrew K. Milton, Tacoma on March 30, 2012 at 9:18 am with 52 Comments »
March 30, 2012 9:29 am

Re: “School turnaround program failing here” (TNT, 3-30).

Imagine my vexation when one moment I read in The News Tribune that, according to a survey by the University of Washington, schools in this state have not done too well with their federal turnaround money
then turn around and read that a Center for Education Policy report says that most schools across the country have made gains with their turnaround money

On the one hand, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn says he’s going to wait for the “actual data” before judging in Washington. On the other hand, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan observes that the nation’s lowest-performing schools appear to be showing preliminary promise, according to student-achievement data. But it’s too early to draw hard and fast conclusions from only one year of data.

More data is the only answer. I’m sure it’ll all be clear next year – when we get the school district data.

Leave a comment Comments → 52
  1. It depends on the interpretation of the data, however real data shows the numbers and my view is those numbers should show mastery of above 80% accuracy in student performance.

    As a teacher, I already know how the school system interprets the data, and how well others see it.

    Have students shown progress? My answer to that is no. Students must master the concepts being taught, and have to posess knowledge of concepts being taught before they are able to move forward. Unfortunately, schools don’t understand this concept and don’t want to hold kids back until they do master the concepts.

    How curriculums are designed is also flawed. They assume kids have a grouped learning style, and does not assume that what is learned before is used in later lessons.

    Lessons are cumulative and have prerequisite skills.

  2. Instead of disparaging WA schools specifically as though nobody else has problems with a complex situation, you should have included the following caution:
    But Robin J. Lake, the director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, Bothell, echoed the caution the secretary also expressed. She raised questions about the other 75 percent of schools in the program that weren’t highlighted in the department’s good-news report, as well as the impact of SIG on other schools in the district that didn’t receive the grants.

  3. BlaineCGarver says:

    Date doesn’t, not DON’T…… Sheesh, what a headline for educational comments.

  4. BlaineCGarver says:

    *rolleyes* Then, I spell Data wrong…..Gawd…

  5. cclnthr? Then you are well aware that no school wants to acknowledge that kids are being forwarded despite not mastering the prerequisites and this is most often due to administration not wanting to “fail” and/ or parents not wanting to hold back their little darlings. This is why being punitive with struggling schools will not work. Blaine? cute!

  6. truthbusterguy says:

    Washington State schools will never change until we have REAL reforms in education. We will never have REAL reform until we rein in the unions. That may never happen in this liberal union loving state so our kids are doomed.

    Parents, my wife is a teacher and if Johnny can’t read don’t blame her. Blame the unions and state regulations that stop her from teaching and the bad teachers that the unions protect from removal.

    Wake up people, your kids are failing and the schools are fooling you.

    And al they say is, “we need more $$$$ and it’s for the kids”. BS flag thrown on that.

  7. Blaine, The Associated Press Stylebook (which I assume TNT uses) says that data is a plural noun that takes a plural verb except in a few instances, and those instances require it to be preceded by “The”.

    This is slightly different than the NY Times Stylebook which says it can take either singular or plural verbs, with singular the most readable to American audiences.

    In a scientific study, meant for review by other scientists, you will always see datum as singular and data as plural, but in colloquial speech, Americans use data as a collective, singular noun.

    I’ve even seen people trying to make “data” plural by adding an “s”, like ccingthr did to “curriculum” in the above post instead of using the correct “curricula”.

    “As a teacher”, that is even worse

  8. BigSwingingRichard says:


    Kids in Washington State are not doomed.

    There are many excellent non-union schools in Washington. They are called private schools. Only the poor and the kids whose parents choose not to send them to private schools or to home schools are doomed.

  9. If private schools had to take everyone and had to provide special funding for those who could not afford it, they whould have the same difficulties the public schools have. Blaming the unions is childish at best.
    A closed mind is a disabled mind.

  10. truthbusterguy says:

    It wasn’t me that said the unions were the cancer and refuse to inact school reforms, it was your president obama. (not my pres.)

    He said we won’t change so in the “race to the top” we fishished almost last because our unions won’t allow reforms. Areas where we were graded F:
    A ban on charter schools
    – A ban on merit pay for teachers
    – A ban on hiring any qualified profressional as a teacher
    – Tight restrictions on how principals can run their own schools
    – Lower academic standards in math and science
    – The majority of public school employees are not teachers
    – Centralized curriculum that stifles teachers’ creativity in class
    – Union seniority, not classroom performance, determines teacher assignments.

  11. truthbusterguy,

    I agree. Being a teacher, I would like to get rid of the centralized curriculum. That limits what I can do with students.

    Each grade level has a scope and sequence of skills we have to cover. That scope and sequence is built from the state EALR’s. It is not based off a specific curriculum, but a guideline that we use to teach the skills based on depth and order. How we teach those skills is based off a curriculum. We can use techniques that don’t use a curriculum; I have built programs that don’t use a curriculum at all.

    I do think teachers have to have some background in education to make it possible for us to know what they should be doing in the classroom. Not all professionals trained in a specific subject can adequately explain how to learn that subject.

  12. ccgnthr? There are a couple of problems that I see that are not mentioned. First of all, teachers don’t come out of college with classroom management skills. That is something that is learned over time, yet I rarely see a centralized discipline program at schools that is enforced. You can have all the content knowledge in the world on the subject matter but it won’t do you any good if you cannot manage a class. This is where I see the ball being dropped on new teachers and more experienced teachers who have just given up. You cannot merit pay this skill either. I don’t know what level you teach, but I’m sure that you see it. Secondly, our kids go to public school. They do extremely well, but we enforce their studies at home. They were read to as babies, we take them to the library all the time, we don’t watch television, and we set up a study area and do homework together. You may have had them, maybe not, but they are doing well.

  13. spotted1 says:

    ccl…I am curious about the “centralized curriculum” you are addressing. The state does not provide any centralized curriculum. It provides standards in the form of EALR’s, which will soon change to the Common Core requirements. But there is not a mandated curriculum based on a scope and sequence. Only guidelines on the subjects taught.

    As a teacher myself, I routinely stray from the “required books” and utilize other appropriate material to teach the subject. Every good teacher does this, regardless of what the “mandated curriculum” tells us to do.

    Frida…you bring up a couple of very good points. Classroom management is learned both by learning the theory then practicing in a classroom. It is not an easy skill to learn. What is more important than that is the attitude of administrators who have moved away from following consistent discipline programs set forth by the schools. Every school and district has a set discipline policy in place that, when enforced, takes time, but moves a child from warnings to explusion usually in about 8 – 10 steps. Of course, when there is no support at home, or the parents don’t care, or the administration does not enforce the policies consistently, then many schools have issues that stem from this.

  14. tree_guy says:

    “Data don’t appear to be much help”

    HAHAHAHAHA good catch Blaine. That made my day.

    I guess a good follow up letter might be:

    “Journalism school don’t appear to be much help”

  15. tree_guy says:

    One reason kids fail in school (just my theory) is that they see a world that is going to provide for many of their needs as adults even if they don’t perform well in school. If there is a vast array of rewards awaiting students who don’t attend to their studies… why exert any effort?

  16. tuddo’s explanation notwithstanding, I too did a double take when I read the headline. Despite the fact that it may be offically accepted, it really sounds strange to say “data don’t….”

  17. Until the unions are taken out of the education process, kids will continue to fail When I see kids in our local schools actually spend their time in classrooms learning, rather than walking around the neighborhood “exercising”, and spending a regular day on wednesdays in class rather than jamming up the the streets with cars and busses for late start and early release times, then there will be some small improvement. If we count all of the “free”
    time given to teachers instead of being in the classroom doing the job that we pay them for, how can anyone believe that they have the best interest of the kids in mind?

  18. I have a grandchild in the Tacoma system. Every time I pick her up from school, I ask her if she has home work. The consistent answer is NO! As a middle school student I do not understand why she has no homework. Oh, maybe the teachers have to correct, grade, read the homework. Multiply the number of kids in each class by the number of classes and that is a lot of extra work. Just an observation and not a criticism.

    Fortunately, the child is at the top of her class and likes to read a lot. But, what about the average or less than average kids. What are they doing to expand their knowledge? Their creativity?

    Tacoma School District needs to spend more money on SOTA and SAMI type schools, where the kids are interested in an education.

  19. lylelaws says:

    Let’s face it, America’s public school system is on life support and the prognosis is beyond depressing.
    Public employee unions make it virtually impossible to terminate even the most incompetent teachers,clssroom discipline is almost a thing of the past, and far too many kids have little or no parental guidance.

  20. spotted1,
    When I taught full time, I routinely went outside the mandated curriculum. However, now, teachers who stray outside the curriculum are disciplined, particularly those in schools who receive grants and federal funding which requires strict adherence to the curriculum they want teachers to use. While I’m not sure what the school you teach at is like, in the Tacoma School District, teachers in schools who perform low cannot stray beyond the curriculum. When I go outside the curriculum in classes now, due to how I feel students are learning, I often get reports back from the administration that I do not follow the textbook lessons as the school wants. Even when I question that tactic, my questioning is often considered unprofessional because the school wants to use a very specific method of teaching.

    I feel that student teachers should have internships lasting more than one full school year in the classroom where they actually teach rather than being observers. When I had practicum experience, that only lasted 3-4 months at a time, not an entire year. In those practicals, very little teaching by the student teacher is done; most of it is observing. The way I learn is I have to actually do hands on experience and DO the work rather than trying to watch someone do it. I also feel that student teachers should have instruction (rather than having no instruction) on how to discipline kids and manage a classroom before they enter the classroom.


    Standard English instruction in classrooms now is not taught, which is the reason why people don’t use proper grammar. That subject has not been taught for at least 20 years or so; at least in the way I think it needs to be taught. The emphasis on English instruction includes slang and other forms of informal forms of the English language, which removes the exact grammar rules of the English language.

  21. “Data DON’T appear”??

    What kind of third grade grammar class dropout did the Tribune hire this time?

  22. Haa….after reading the comments, I guess I missed the bus! But I saw it to….in either case…really “impressive” job Mr. Editor!

    Prime example how this country has fallen into the darkest depths. Sheesh

  23. I would like to make something clear to the “Private School bashers” who repeatedly state that Private schools don’t have to take every child. Private schools do not receive state or federal funds to educate children. Public Schools do. On top of state and federal funds for each general education child, Public schools receive additional special education funds to educate children with special needs. There is no way a private school could do that on tuition and fundraising alone. Public Schools and those working there, including me, are paid through everyone’s tax dollars to educate all children. No one can opt out of paying taxes for this mission. Those parents who are sending their child to a private school are also paying the same amount of taxes that parents of equal income pays who sends their child to public school.

  24. averageJoseph says:

    LOL… But I saw it to. TOO much karma going on here.

  25. BigSwingingRichard says:

    Frosty: I have noticed groups of students walking around my neighborhood too. There appears to be a teacher or someone a teachers age in front and in back with a group of kids in between.

    I have been informed this is a “fitness” class.

    In todays educational world, we do not let kids walk to school, but we teach them to walk during the school day. I assume the prerequisite to take this class is the ability to tie ones own shoes.

  26. lylelaws says:

    We need to reprioritize high school graduation requirements.

    Why should students who have little or no interest in math, be required to complete two years of algebra to gain admittance to college if they want to pursue careers in literature, art, music, history…?

    Should we require kids who are hoping to pursue careers in fields that actually require higher math skills to take two years of French literature?

  27. I guess the people that think “data don’t” is poor grammar or thinks it sounds odd, just don’t ever read science journals and reports.

    With the number of conservatives few and far between who say they have trust in science, and the comments from conservatives on this thread belittling a common verb form for a plural noun (data) when talking about scientific reports, one can see why comments from them on education, especially grammar or science, might be highly suspect.


    “At the beginning of the survey, in the 1970s, conservatives trusted science more than anyone, with about 48 percent evincing a great deal of trust. By 2010, the last year survey data was available, only 35 percent of conservatives said the same.”

    No wonder our education system is in trouble.

  28. lylelaws says:

    At a time when our public schools are teetering on the brink of failure, it is too bad that so many folks choose to nitpick and assign political labels to the comments of others.

    The purpose of language is communication and potential contributors should not have to worry about being arrested by the spelling and word usage police.

    As for the Trib’s heading: “People who live in glass houses ….”

  29. Yes, lyle, Blaine and tree-guy and sozo should be ashamed that they used this forum to nit-pick a perfectly correct headline.

  30. sandblower says:

    Congrats tuddo. I’m with you 100% on that. Lyle is trying to get away with nonsense.
    I would like to see quotes from truthyguy concerning his post about Obama’s position concerning teachers’ unions. I could find nothing that matched his assertions.

  31. sandblower, yes, lyle shows his colors when he union bashes and then calls others out for pointing out the wide chasm that is the alck of conservative support for public schools, mainly because they are public.

    Union bashing isn’t about the idea of unions, really, its just that unions provide political support to Dems more often, and that really riles up the conservatives.

    Fair wages and benefits should belong only to Wall Street and upper income people, in the eyes of conservatives, not hardworking middle class folks like teachers.

  32. cclngthr says:

    Proper or standard English is not taught now. English instruction includes slang and informal interactions, which is why you don’t see correct grammar being used.

    The headline should read “Education Data Doesn’t Appear to Help.

  33. As for Obama’s quotes about teachers, he is for more innovation and reform. It sounds like he is for higher pay for good ones and more resources for teachers and a performance-based evaluation system. I could find nothing that he has said that would come close to saying they were a cancer. In fact, just the opposite. He is always praising teachers.

    In the 2012 State-of-the-Union speech, this is what he said, entire quote, no editing:

    “At a time when other countries are doubling down on education, tight budgets have forced States to lay off thousands of teachers. We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000. A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance. Every person in this chamber can point to a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives. Most teachers work tirelessly, with modest pay, sometimes digging into their own pocket for school supplies – just to make a difference.

    Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.”

    The way I read his comments is that we have to come up with a fair and manageable way that we can measure performance and stop using only tests like Bush’s No Child Left Behind put into place.
    We also need school boards and superintendents to provide flexibility for principles and teachers to develop innovate and effective ways of getting results rather than the “No Child Left Behind” reliance on uniform curricula.

    I didn’t see “cancer” there at all. Maybe truthbusterguy can provide a link or acknowledge he made it up. Of course, he has no investment in the education system of the USA since he must live in another country. He said Obama was not his president, so maybe he lives in France?

  34. ccingthr, just curious, I provided the quote from the AP StleBook that says data should have a plural verb when it is obviously plural, like this case.

    Could you provide a quote or a link or a sourcebook that supports your statement that a singular verb should go with this plural noun, so I can correct my sources? Thanks.

  35. sandblower says:

    The data don’t appear to be helpful.
    The data doesn’t appear to be helpful.
    The data is not helpful.
    The data are not helpful.
    All the above are appropriate uses.
    Get over it.

  36. tree_guy says:

    “the wide chasm that is the alck of conservative support” tuddo

    Read more here: http://blog.thenewstribune.com/letters/2012/03/30/school-data-not-much-help/#comments#storylink=cpy

    What’s an “alck” Tuddo, is that another one of your scientific terms?

  37. Tuddo says, “I guess the people that think “data don’t” is poor grammar or thinks it sounds odd, just don’t ever read science journals and reports…..”

    Well Tuddo, I am one Conservative who understands what you are sharing, HOWEVER, the TNT isn’t writing articles for the benefit of the scientific community. If it sounds or appears out of the norm for the AVERAGE reader, it is. There is Journalism 101, Lesson One for you.

  38. One thing I’ve noticed in my travels. While taking note of the varied idiosyncrasies of each region of this country, and trust me I know them pretty well, there is one very definite trend that you will find in the few pockets of Liberalism scattered around the country.

    Where you find a majority of liberal thinkers, you will also find that pseudo-intellectuals are a dime a dozen and worth far less due to inflation! HAA!

    I am thankful to know that in this country, there still remains a vast majority of REAL people! We just never hear about it in this whacked out liberal dump.

  39. averageJoseph says:

    What’s a “StleBook” Tuddo?

    Oh, and to complain about someone nitpicking the headline you sure did carry the ball on it.

  40. averageJoseph says:

    LOL, in 2008 Obama said on the campaign trail (no editing)
    “I met a teacher in South Dakota who loved her job as a teacher on an Indian reservation, she had to quit because the drive was too far, it was taking up too much of her paycheck”

  41. cclngthr says:

    The word data also is a singular noun according to the American Heritage Dictionary. The plural form of data is derived from DATUM, where data is in reference to multiple forms of conclusions or ideas. Here, data is used as a singular noun, where the data is in reference to a single conclusion, where educational facts regarding test scores are used to determine the success level of a district or particular school.

    The English language is confusing in this respect because words such as data are used in both plural and singular forms. The difference in how the word is used is the context it is used. The verb used in the sentence tells you if it is singular or plural.


  42. ccingthr, thank you. The headline is correct then, because “the verb used in the sentence tells you if it is singular or plural.” In this case, the headline refers to all kinds of data, since the writer used the plural form. This newspaper also uses the AP Style Guide, which I quoted, requiring the use of the plural.

    I am willing to put this to bed. The reason I persisted is that people kept insisting the headline was wrong, when it was correct, and they were condescending and tried to use this as a put down for public education, their usual put down of the TNT and journalism in general, and their put down of real evidence.

  43. averageJoseph,

    Feel free to correct all my posts. You’ll be a very busy person.

  44. mojjonation says:

    Being a sarcastic public school educated knucklehead, I routinely stray off topic. This is actually a violation of TNT TOS, isn’t it? Spending more time correcting someone’s fat fingerings than actually bringing something to the table regarding whatever the headline is, is far to self serving for my taste. If you don’t have the mental capacity to be able to interpret someone’s typeo without opening your mouth/keyboard, maybe you should become a teacher.

    All the union bashing in the world will not fix the problem with the education sysytem in this country. But some people are far to shallow to understand that and feel that if something is repeated enough times, it will eventually become the gospel. The anonimity of the internet seems to drive this point home. What they fail to realize is that eventually, they will be ignored. Standing up on your soap box and yelling the same thing over and over again with no actual proof of your claim makes you look like a fool. Then again, asking someone to stop spewing their anonymous rhetoric is like asking most little dogs to stop barking. It’s a waste of breath.

    Back to the subject at hand. Education is a lot like sports. You aren’t going to get results immediately. If you continue to change the coaching staff or the play book, the players will never get used or adapt to a system. While a lot of the ideas put forth by Washington State seem like WASL X.0, some of it might actually have merit if people would see the bigger picture. I don’t think I am alone when I say I believe things would work better, if there were actually discipline and consequences in school. When kids stopped being held back, and consequences to actions were being swpet under the rug, that is when education took a back seat to keeping parents happy and educational politics took over. Soccer nazis and helicopter parents (I can’t believe the first time I heard this one was a week ago) are to blame. Parents never want their child to fail or experience someone telling them “NO”. These people have brought education down to the level it is at now. You learn more from defeat than you do victory. No Child Left Behind = No Child is Allowed to Excel.

  45. cclngthr says:

    I see the headline is referring to one kind of information/data, as in regards to student performance. That would be singular, since student achievement is a single conclusion that is broad enough to be a single conclusion for each individual school/district.

    Yes, parental involvement, i.e. helicopter parents encourage schools to give high grades for little effort.

    However, I disagree with you in the area of teacher competence, when teachers are shifted around (or fired) and curriculum decisions. Some curriculums are better for some kids, but schools try to use a single curriculum for all students, which will never work right because that assumes all kids learn in a similar way, which they do not. No matter how adaptive people are, there are limitations to such play book and staff competence.

  46. ccingthr, a better headline would have read “Report on data doesn’t….”, since a summary report of all kinds of data is what had been shared. All of the data elements still had to be shared, and that is what Dorn said he was waiting for.

    I’ve rested my case, which is built on the AP StyleBook which governs the usage for newspapers that shjowed the . If people want to use data as singular in common speech, that is absolutely fine with me and perfectly grammatical in that context.

    However, to use a headline that is correct in its context and the rules that govern it to attack public education, journalism, the TNT, teachers, science, or whatever, is ridiculous and shows how low some people will go to push an agenda.

  47. OK, fat fingers did it again. strike “that shjowed the” above. At least on the comments for articles there is an “edit” function.

  48. lylelaws says:

    Sea hear, Twodough, know need two error your air, eye new what ewe mint. Sew their.

    Is English a strange language or what?

  49. averageJoseph says:

    Saim heer, I was just mocking the original objection to the spelling.

  50. cclngthr says:

    I do think one conclusion is made here; the choice of success and failure. If the conclusion does not meet the success/failure of the school criteria, then the data would be plural. The numbers of student achievement only make one conclusion, the choice of success or failure.

    The English language is confusing with some words that use the exact same spelling to mean singular and plural.

    Deer can mean one deer or a herd of deer. We do not use deers. Moose is also both singular and plural. We do not use Meese for more than one moose. Data is used the same way. One set of data (single conclusion) or sets of data that show multiple conclusions.

    People also don’t know how to identify propositions, adjectives, adverbs and other parts of grammar either.

    One pet peeve of mine is the misuse of sit and set. People sit, things set.

  51. bobcat1a says:

    The IEEE Computer Society, allows usage of data as either a mass noun or plural based on author preference. Other professional organizations and style guides require that authors treat data as a plural noun. For example, the Air Force Flight Test Center specifically states that the word data is always plural, never singular.
    Nitpickers should be more educated before picking nits.

  52. bobcat1a says:

    cc, can we assume you meant prEpositions?

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