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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Testing troubles

From the New York Times

by Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch is the author of "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education."

President Obama's address contained no surprises about education policy. His goals are unarguable: He wants Americans to be better educated. He wants schools to encourage creativity, innovation and imagination. He wants teachers to be treated with respect.

The centralized Race to the Top discourages creativity, innovation and imagination..Unfortunately, his Race to the Top program, which he called "the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation," undermines these goals. It is not a repudiation of the unpopular No Child Left Behind law, but a continuation. Like No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top places high priority on tests of reading and mathematics.

The president wrongly asserted that Race to the Top is not a "top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities." Instead, the U.S. Department of Education designed it and specified criteria that states had to meet to be eligible to win $4.3 billion in federal funds.

States had to agree to increase the number of privately managed charter schools; to evaluate teachers by student test scores; to award merit pay to teachers if student scores rose; and to "turn around" low-scoring schools by firing principals and teachers, closing schools or handing them over to private management.

No teachers or school boards proposed these ideas. Teachers feel unfairly blamed for low scores. None of these ideas is supported by research or has a record of success.

These "reforms" are not likely to improve U.S. education. Charter schools on average do not perform better than regular public schools. By emphasizing testing of basic skills, this program guarantees that students will have less time for science, history, the arts or foreign language and thus will be less likely to obtain an education that encourages creativity, innovation and imagination.

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