Every few months a story pops up in the news that says High School students don’t know anything about anything.
Strategic Vision gets caught by Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com probably fabricating results of a poll of civics knowledge of Oklahoma high school students for the purposes of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) (a conservative think tank).
There were other hints too, that Strategic Vision’s poll may have been fake. The scores that Strategic Vision claimed the kids had gotten, for instance, were strangely underdispersed. And they seemed to contradict results from Oklahoma’s own standardized testing, which asked much more difficult citizenship questions and found most of the students doing just fine.
It turns out that I was not the only person who had doubts about the survey. So did Ed Cannaday, the State Representative from Oklahoma’s 15 House District.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Cannaday told me he was shocked when he heard of the results, which had received widespread media attention. “When I saw the statistics, I was just flabbergasted and said it cannot be true,” he told me.
There were two items in particular that sent up warning flags for him: the one claiming that only 23 percent of the students knew the identity of George Washington, and another that claimed that about one in every ten students had listed the two major political parties as “Republican and Communist”.
“Given the dialog of today, if they had said Republican and socialist, then maybe,” Cannaday told me. “But communist — that’s just not something that you throw out there any more. I don’t think Sarah Palin even used that term.”[…]
Cannaday’s survey however, found his students doing just fine: They answered an average of 7.8 out of the 10 questions correctly. By comparison, the high school students that were purportedly surveyed by Strategic Vision had gotten just 2.8 out of the items correct. 98 percent of the students on Cannaday’s survey — not 23 percent — knew that George Washington was the first President. 81 percent — not 14 percent — knew that Thomas Jefferson had written the Declaration of Independence. 95 percent — not 43 percent — knew that the Democrats and Republicans are the major political parties. There was just no comparison between the two.
Cannaday’s real sample is from OK House District 15, which Nate Silver points out is not an exceptional school district vs. Oklahoma state as a whole.
This is pretty despicable stuff. Not just for the reason of this being a professional violation that should completely discredit Strategic Vision’s work but they basically sought to denigrate the worth of the Oklahoma’s public school system, the quality of its teachers and the worth of its students. To fabricate and publicize this lie is beyond hackery.
From OCPA’s website:
Ten questions, chosen at random, were drawn from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) item bank, which consists of 100 questions given to candidates for United States citizenship. The longstanding practice has been for candidates for citizenship to take a test on 10 of these items.4 A minimum of six correct answers is required to pass. Recently, the USCIS had 6,000 citizenship applicants pilot a newer version of this test. The agency reported a 92.4 percent passing rate among citizenship applicants on the first try.5
Of course, immigrants have had an opportunity to study for the test-a distinct advantage-so we might not necessarily expect a 92 percent passing rate from Oklahoma’s public high-school students.
On the other hand, most high-school students have the advantage of having lived in the United States their entire lives. Moreover, they have benefited from tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars being spent for their educations. Many immigrants seeking citizenship, meanwhile, often arrive penniless and must educate themselves on America’s history and government.
After seeing the questions for yourself, you the reader can judge whether a 92 percent passing rate is a reasonable expectation for Oklahoma’s high-school students. Unfortunately, Oklahoma high-school students scored alarmingly low on the test, passing at a rate of only 2.8 percent. That is not a misprint.
So a summary of this situation:
OCPA: Yes, these kids are so stupid because the government can’t do anything right. Even immigrants are smarter and they don’t get any socialist money from our government.
Strategic Vision: the numbers don’t lie! Look: these kids haven’t learned anything! The government can’t teach kids about the government!
But pollsters and think tanks do lie. As of this posting OCPA has not published the full data from their study.