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The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (Kindle Locations 4222-4226). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.
NCLB focusing on basic skills rather than curriculum and standards As NCLB was implemented, I became increasingly disillusioned. I came to realize that the law bypassed curriculum and standards. Although its supporters often claimed it was a natural outgrowth of the standards movement, it was not. It demanded that schools generate higher test scores in basic skills, but it required no curriculum at all, nor did it raise standards. It ignored such important studies as history, civics, literature, science, the arts, and geography. Though the law required states to test students eventually in science, the science scores didn’t count on the federal scorecard. I saw my hopes for better education turn into a measurement strategy that had no underlying educational vision at all. (Kindle Locations 429433) The failure to pass meaningful national standards The Clinton administration’s Goals 2000 program gave the states federal money to write their own academic standards, but most of the state standards were vague when it came to any curriculum content. It seemed that the states had learned from the battle over the history standards that it was better to say nothing than to provoke controversy by setting out any real curriculum standards. Most state standards were windy rhetoric, devoid of concrete descriptions of what students should be expected to know and be able to do. One exception was Massachusetts, which produced stellar state standards in every subject area. But most states wrote social studies standards in which history was mentioned tangentially, with few or no references to names, events, or ideas. The states seemed to understand that avoiding specifics was the best policy; that standards were best if they were completely noncontroversial; and that standards would survive scrutiny only if they said nothing and changed nothing. Ravitch, Diane (2011-11-01). (Kindle Locations 496-501) “A Nation At Risk” in contrast to No Child Left Behind
Today, when we contrast the rhetoric of A Nation at Risk with the reality of the No Child Left Behind legislation of 2002, A Nation at Risk looks positively idealistic, liberal, and prescient. A Nation at Risk was a report, not a legal mandate; if leaders in states and school districts wanted to implement its recommendations, they could; but they were also free to ignore the report and its recommendations. No Child Left Behind, however, was a federal law; any state or district that refused to comply with its mandates risked losing millions of dollars targeted to its neediest students. A Nation at Risk envisioned a public school system that offered a rich, well-balanced, and coherent curriculum, similar to what was available to students in the academic track in successful school districts. No Child Left Behind, by contrast, was bereft of any educational ideas. It was a technocratic approach to school reform that measured “success” only in relation to standardized test scores in two skill-based subjects, with the expectation that this limited training would strengthen our nation’s economic competitiveness with other nations. This was misguided, since the nations with the most successful school systems do not impose such a narrow focus on their schools. (Kindle Locations 681-685) Whereas A Nation at Risk encouraged demands for voluntary national standards, No Child Left Behind sidestepped the need for any standards. In spirit and in specifics, they are not closely related. ANAR called for sensible, mainstream reforms to renew and repair our school system. The reforms it recommended were appropriate to the nature of schools: strengthening the curriculum for all students; setting clear and reasonable high school graduation requirements that demonstrate students’ readiness for postsecondary education or the modern workplace; establishing clear and appropriate college entrance requirements; improving the quality of textbooks and tests; expecting students to spend more time on schoolwork; establishing higher requirements for new recruits into the teaching profession; and increasing teacher compensation.
These recommendations* were sound in 1983. They are sound today. (Kindle Locations 700-707) *Summary excerpts from A Nation At Risk findings: Content By content we mean the very "stuff" of education, the curriculum. Because of our concern about the curriculum, the Commission examined patterns of courses high school students took in 1964-69 compared with course patterns in 1976-81.
Expectations We define expectations in terms of the level of knowledge, abilities, and skills school and college graduates should possess. They also refer to the time, hard work, behavior, self-discipline, and motivation that are essential for high student achievement. Time Evidence presented to the Commission demonstrates three disturbing facts about the use that American schools and students make of time: (1) compared to other nations, American students spend much less time on school work; (2) time spent in the classroom and on homework is often used ineffectively; and (3) schools are not doing enough to help students develop either the study skills required to use time well or the willingness to spend more time on school work. Teaching The Commission found that not enough of the academically able students are being attracted to teaching; that teacher preparation programs need substantial improvement; that the professional working life of teachers is on the whole unacceptable; and that a serious shortage of teachers exists in key fields. “Systemic School Reform” For a time in the 1990s, the most promising idea for school improvement was “systemic school reform.” Leading scholars said student performance would improve only when all the parts of the education system were working in tandem to support higher student achievement. That meant that public officials and educators should establish a curriculum, set standards for proficiency in those subjects, base tests on the curriculum, expect teachers to teach it, choose matching textbooks, and realign the entire education system around the curricular goals. The scholars recognized that school reform begins with determining what children should know and be able to do (the curriculum) and then proceeds to adjust other parts of the education system to support the goals of learning. This approach makes sense; it is what top-performing nations do. (Kindle Locations 723-729) School reform: “slow, steady” School reform will continue to fail, Cohn warned, until we recognize that “there are no quick fixes or perfect educational theories. School reform is a slow, steady laborintensive process” that depends on “harnessing the talent of individuals instead of punishing them for noncompliance with bureaucratic mandates and destroying their initiative.” He predicted that “ground-level solutions, such as high-quality leadership, staff collaboration, committed teachers, and clean and safe environments, have the best chance of success. These solutions are not easily
quantified. They cannot be experimented on by researchers or mandated by the federal government.” (Kindle Locations 1339-1344) Narrow focus on math and reading to the exclusion of a broad education Because of its concentration on raising test scores in reading and mathematics, the Department of Education consistently paid less attention to other subjects. The media, too, closely followed reading and math test scores but ignored such subjects as science and social studies, even though the state tested these subjects. When science and social studies were tested in 2008, twenty-eight of New York City’s thirty-two districts placed in the bottom 10th percentile of the state’s districts in science, and twenty-six districts were in the bottom 10th percentile in social studies. In fact, eighteen districts scored in the bottom 5th percentile statewide in both science and social studies. Not a single district scored at or above the 50th percentile in science, and only one (District 26 in Queens) exceeded the 50th percentile in social studies.42 This was a sobering reflection on the narrowness of what was taught in New York City’s public schools. But no one noticed or cared, because those subjects were not part of the city, state, or federal accountability programs. Thus, as the city concentrated intently on raising test scores in reading and mathematics, the other essential ingredients of a good education were missing. (Kindle Locations 1735-1744) NCLB Remedies have no evidence of success I. To date, there is no substantial body of evidence that demonstrates that lowperforming schools can be turned around by any of the remedies prescribed in the law. Converting a “failing” school to a charter school or handing it over to private management offers no certainty that the school will be transformed into a successful school. Numerous districts have hired “turnaround specialists,” but most of their efforts have been unavailing. In 2008, the federal government’s education research division issued a report with four recommendations for “turning around chronically low-performing schools,” but the report acknowledged that every one of its recommendations had “low” evidence to support it.14 It seems that the only guaranteed strategy is to change the student population, replacing low-performing students with higher-performing students. Sometimes this happens with bells and whistles, as the old “failing” school is closed and then reopened with a new name, a new theme, and new students. But such a strategy is meaningless because it evades the original school’s responsibility to its students. Rather than “leaving no child behind,” this strategy plays a shell game with low-performing students, moving them out and dispersing them, pretending they don’t exist. (Kindle Locations 19871990) II. One of the unintended consequences of NCLB was the shrinkage of time available to teach anything other than reading and math. Other subjects, including history, science, the arts, geography, even recess, were curtailed in many schools. Reading
and mathematics were the only subjects that counted in calculating a school’s adequate yearly progress, and even in these subjects, instruction gave way to intensive test preparation. Test scores became an obsession. Many school districts invested heavily in test-preparation materials and activities. Test-taking skills and strategies took precedence over knowledge. Teachers used the tests from previous years to prepare their students, and many of the questions appeared in precisely the same format every year; sometimes the exact same questions reappeared on the state tests. In urban schools, where there are many low-performing students, drill and practice became a significant part of the daily routine. (Kindle Locations 20342041) III. [the] achievement gaps between black and white students narrowed more before the implementation of NCLB than in the years afterward (Kindle Locations 2079-2080). IV. NCLB was a punitive law based on erroneous assumptions about how to improve schools. It assumed that reporting test scores to the public would be an effective lever for school reform. It assumed that changes in governance would lead to school improvement. It assumed that shaming schools that were unable to lift test scores every year—and the people who work in them—would lead to higher scores. It assumed that low scores are caused by lazy teachers and lazy principals, who need to be threatened with the loss of their jobs. Perhaps most naively, it assumed that higher test scores on standardized tests of basic skills are synonymous with good education. Its assumptions were wrong. Testing is not a substitute for curriculum and instruction. Good education cannot be achieved by a strategy of testing children, shaming educators, and closing schools. (Kindle Locations 2096-2100) Charter Schools I. The theory of the charter movement is that competition with the regular public schools will lead to improvements in both sectors, and that choice is a rising tide that lifts all boats. But in reality, the regular public schools are at a huge disadvantage in competition with charter schools. It is not only because charter schools may attract the most motivated students, may discharge laggards, and may enforce a tough disciplinary code, but also because the charters often get additional financial resources from their corporate sponsors, enabling them to offer smaller classes, after-school and enrichment activities, and laptop computers for every student. Many charter schools enforce discipline codes that would likely be challenged in court if they were adopted in regular public schools; and because charter schools are schools of choice, they find it easier to avoid, eliminate, or counsel out low-performing and disruptive students. (Kindle Locations 2535-2539) II. A national study in 2009 concluded that students in most charter schools performed no better than those in traditional public schools. Researchers at Stanford University, led by economist Margaret E. Raymond, analyzed data from 2,403 charter schools in fifteen states and the District of Columbia (about half of all
charters and 70 percent of all charter students in the nation at the time) and found that 37 percent had learning gains that were significantly below those of local public schools; 46 percent had gains that were no different; and only 17 percent showed growth that was significantly better. More than 80 percent of the charter schools in the study performed either the same as or worse than the local public schools. Raymond concluded, “This study reveals in unmistakable terms that, in the aggregate, charter students are not faring as well as their TPS [traditional public school] counterparts. Further, tremendous variation in academic quality among charters is the norm, not the exception. The problem of quality is the most pressing issue that charter schools and their supporters face.” She commented to Education Week, “If this study shows anything, it shows that we’ve got a two-to-one margin of bad charters to good charters.” (Kindle Locations 2633-2641) III. In their current manifestation, charters are supposed to disseminate the freemarket model of competition and choice. Now charters compete for the most successful students in the poorest communities, or they accept all applicants and push the low performers back into the public school system. Either approach further disables regular public schools in those communities by leaving the lowestperforming and least motivated students to the regular public schools. It matters not that the original proponents of charter schools had different goals. It does matter, though, that charter schools have become in many communities a force intended to disrupt the traditional notion of public schooling. The rhetoric of many charter school advocates has come to sound uncannily similar to the rhetoric of voucher proponents and of the most rabid haters of public schooling. They often sound as though they want public schools to fail; they want to convert entire districts to charter schools, each with its own curriculum and methods, each with its own private management, all competing for students and public dollars. (Kindle Locations 2708-2715). The “standards movement” was replaced by the “accountability” movement. I. By putting its emphasis on the importance of a coherent curriculum, A Nation at Risk was a precursor to the standards movement. It recognized that what students learn is of great importance in education and cannot be left to chance. When the standards movement collapsed as a result of the debacle of the national history standards, the reform movement launched by ANAR was left without a strategy. To fill the lack, along came the test-based accountability movement, embodied by the No Child Left Behind law. (Kindle Locations 690-694). II. The trouble with test-based accountability is that it imposes serious consequences on children, educators, and schools on the basis of scores that may reflect measurement error, statistical error, random variation, or a host of environmental factors or student attributes. None of us would want to be evaluated—with our reputation and livelihood on the line—solely on the basis of an instrument that is prone to error and ambiguity. The tests now in use are not
adequate by themselves to the task of gauging the quality of schools or teachers. They were designed for specific purposes: to measure whether students can read and can do mathematics, and even in these tasks, they must be used with awareness of their limitations and variability. They were not designed to capture the most important dimensions of education, for which we do not have measures. (Kindle Locations 3046-3052) Lessons Learned Our schools will not improve if we continually reorganize their structure and management without regard for their essential purpose. Our educational problems are a function of our lack of educational vision, not a management problem that requires the enlistment of an army of business consultants. (Kindle Locations 4079-4081) Our schools will not improve if elected officials intrude into pedagogical territory and make decisions that properly should be made by professional educators. Congress and state legislatures should not tell teachers how to teach, any more than they should tell surgeons how to perform operations. Nor should the curriculum of the schools be the subject of a political negotiation among people who are neither knowledgeable about teaching nor well educated. Pedagogy—that is, how to teach—is rightly the professional domain of individual teachers. (Kindle Locations 4087-4090) Our schools will not improve if we continue to focus only on reading and mathematics while ignoring the other studies that are essential elements of a good education. Schools that expect nothing more of their students than mastery of basic skills will not produce graduates who are ready for college or the modern workplace. (Kindle Locations 4092-4094) Our schools will not improve if we value only what tests measure. The tests we have now provide useful information about students’ progress in reading and mathematics, but they cannot measure what matters most in education. Not everything that matters can be quantified. (Kindle Locations 4099-4100) Our schools will not improve if we rely exclusively on tests as the means of deciding the fate of students, teachers, principals, and schools. When tests are the primary means of evaluation and accountability, everyone feels pressure to raise the scores, by hook or by crook. (Kindle Locations 41034105). Our schools will not improve if we continue to close neighborhood schools in the name of reform. Neighborhood schools are often the anchors of their communities, a steady presence that helps to cement the bonds of community among neighbors. (Kindle Locations 4108-4110) Our schools will not improve if we entrust them to the magical powers of the market. Markets have winners and losers. Choice may lead to better
outcomes or to worse outcomes. Letting a thousand flowers bloom does not guarantee a garden full of flowers. (Kindle Locations 4115-4117) Our schools cannot improve if charter schools siphon away the most motivated students and their families in the poorest communities from the regular public schools. Continuing on this path will debilitate public education in urban districts and give the illusion of improvement. (Kindle Locations 4118-4120) Our schools will not improve if we expect them to act like private, profitseeking enterprises. Schools are not businesses; they are a public good. The goal of education is not to produce higher scores, but to educate children to become responsible people with well-developed minds and good character. (Kindle Locations 4124-4126) Our schools will not improve if we continue to drive away experienced principals and replace them with neophytes who have taken a leadership training course but have little or no experience as teachers. (Kindle Locations 4133-4134) Our schools cannot be improved by blind worship of data. Data are only as good as the measures used to create the numbers and as good as the underlying activities. If the measures are shoddy, then the data will be shoddy. (Kindle Locations 4137-4139) Our schools cannot be improved if we ignore the disadvantages associated with poverty that affect children’s ability to learn. Children who have grown up in poverty need extra resources, including preschool and medical care. They need small classes, where they will get extra teacher time, and they need extra learning time. Their families need additional supports, such as coordinated social services that help them to improve their education, to acquire necessary social skills and job skills, and to obtain jobs and housing. (Kindle Locations 4148-4151) Our schools cannot be improved if we use them as society’s all-purpose punching bag, blaming them for the ills of the economy, the burdens imposed on children by poverty, the dysfunction of families, and the erosion of civility. Schools must work with other institutions and cannot replace them. (Kindle Locations 4152-4154)
What we should do If we are willing to learn from top-performing nations, we should establish a substantive national curriculum that declares our intention to educate all children in the full range of liberal arts and sciences, as well as physical education. This curriculum would designate the essential knowledge and skills that students need to learn. In the last two years of high school, there should be career and technical studies for students who plan to enter the workforce after high school graduation.
But they too should study the arts and sciences, so that they too may gain a sense of life’s possibilities. Because we are all citizens of this democracy, because we will all be voters, we must all be educated for our responsibilities. (Kindle Locations 41974202)
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