Total Pageviews

Search This Blog

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Just where is Obama on education reform?

From Building Better Schools

By Conny Jensen

Eight days ago Newsweek published an article by Diane Ravitch, called Obama’s War on Schools, and it appears that president Obama is finally hearing what she has been saying all along about the harmful effects of high-stakes testing. Today, in an article by the Associated Press he was quoted as saying that:

“..students should take fewer standardized tests and school performance should be measured in other ways than just exam results. Too much testing makes education boring for kids..All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test and that’s not going to make education interesting.” Read all: “standardized tests too punitive”

Here an excerpt of Diane’s article.

“Over the past year, I have traveled the nation speaking to nearly 100,000 educators, parents, and school-board members. No matter the city, state, or region, those who know schools best are frightened for the future of public education. They see no one in a position of leadership who understands the damage being done to their schools by federal policies.

NCLB mandated that 100 percent of students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Any school not on track to meet this utopian goal—one never reached by any nation in the world—would face a series of sanctions, culminating in the firing of the staff and the closing of the school.

As 2014 nears, tens of thousands of schools have been stigmatized as failures, thousands of educators have been fired, and schools that were once the anchors of their communities are closing, replaced in many cases by privately managed schools. NCLB turns out to be a timetable for the destruction of public education.

The theory behind NCLB was that schools would improve dramatically if every child in grades 3 to 8 were tested every year and the results made public. Texas did exactly this, and advocates claimed it had seen remarkable results: test scores went up, the achievement gap between students of different races was closing, and graduation rates rose. At the time, a few scholars questioned the claims of a “Texas miracle,” but Congress didn’t listen.

In fact, the “Texas miracle” never happened. On federal tests, the state’s reading scores for eighth-grade students were flat from 1998 to 2009…Texas students ranked in the bottom 10 percent in math and literacy nationally. After two decades of testing and accountability, Texas students have certainly not experienced a miracle when judged by the very measures that were foisted on students across the nation.

..So now come President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan with their Race to the Top program. The administration invited the states to compete for $4.3 billion in a time of fiscal distress. To qualify, states had to agree to evaluate teachers by student test scores, to award bonuses to teachers based on student scores, to permit more privately managed charter schools, and to “turn around” low-performing schools by such methods as firing the staffs and closing the schools.

Race to the Top went even beyond NCLB in its reliance on test scores as the ultimate measure of educational quality. It asserts that teachers alone—not students or families or economic status—are wholly responsible for whether test scores go up or down. Now teachers rightly feel scape-goated for conditions that are often beyond their control.

..The Obama agenda for testing, accountability, and choice bears an uncanny resemblance to the Republican agenda of the past 30 years, but with one significant difference. Republicans have traditionally been wary of federal control of the schools. Duncan, however, relishes the opportunity to promote his policies with the financial heft of the federal government.

The confluence between the Obama agenda and the Republican agenda became clear in the fall of 2009, when Duncan traveled the country with Newt Gingrich to promote Race to the Top. And on March 5 of this year, President Obama flew to Florida to celebrate the test-score gains at a high school in Miami with former governor Jeb Bush, one of the nation’s most vocal proponents of conservative approaches to education reform.

Emboldened by the Obama administration, as well as by hundreds of millions of dollars from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, many districts and states now plan to use test scores to evaluate teachers. Most of our nation’s leading testing experts think this is a risky path.

Many of our nation’s top teachers—some with National Board Certification—are so disgusted by the attacks on public education that they are planning a march on Washington in July. They plan to demand equitable funding for all public schools, an end to using test scores to punish schools and teachers, and involvement of parents and teachers in the decisions that affect their schools.

The only question is whether President Obama, Secretary Duncan, and Congress will hear their message about what’s best for our children—and best for our country.”

Ravitch is a historian and author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System.

No comments:

Post a Comment