Charters, Play, Gifted
…from Diane Ravitch. Let your senator know that it’s time to end the abusive, misuse and overuse of high stakes tests. Click the link in the text below to write to your senator.
As you probably know, No Child Left Behind saddled the schools with a heavy dose of annual testing from grades 3-8, and Race to the Top required states to use those test scores to evaluate teachers. Testing is out of control. The curriculum is narrowed, especially in schools that enroll low-income students, where the scores are lowest. Educators have cheated to save their jobs, and some lost their jobs, their reputations, and their freedom for cheating.
No high-performing nation in the world has annual testing or evaluates teachers by test scores.
The current revision of NCLB retains annual testing unfortunately. However, Senator Tester (ironic name) has written an amendment to change annual testing to grade span testing: once in elementary school, once in middle school, once in high school.
Learn here how to support his sensible proposal. Write your Senator now. There is no time to waste.
Those who say that annual tests are needed to protect children of color, children with special needs, and English language learners have not looked at the racist history of standardized tests. These are the children most likely to be on the bottom half of the normal curve that governs standardized tests. They are the very children most likely to be labeled and stigmatized by the tests. What children need most are reduced class sizes, a rich curriculum, experienced teachers, fully resourced schools, and the opportunity to learn. This is what they need, not more testing. A test is a measure, not the goal or purpose of education. And it is a flawed measure.
The fact that required tests are high stakes makes everything worse. We’re using inadequate and inappropriate assessments to determine the futures of children, teachers, and schools.
In Indiana, these test results form the basis for a letter grade for their school and their district. Schools’ reputations hang in the balance, along with funding.
Incredibly, the people grading these exams, which require more than simple multiple choice answers, are not testing experts, and may not even have a background in education.
Rather, they are $12 an hour temporary workers hired by testing corporations like CTB McGraw Hill, which operates Indiana’s test, and Pearson, which oversees Illinois’ Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).
Research shows it…educators have been saying it for years…now, the best of the best are saying it: The problem with our schools is poverty, not “bad teachers,” “failing schools,” or unions.
Will anyone listen?
The greatest barriers to school success for K-12 students have little to do with anything that goes on in the classroom, according to the nation’s top teachers: It is family stress, followed by poverty, and learning and psychological problems.
Those were the factors named in a survey of the 2015 state Teachers of the Year, top educators selected annually in every U.S. state and jurisdictions such as the District of Columbia and Guam.
Various popular theories abound in attempting to answer this question. For the longest period of time, the parents were thought to be the problem. More recently, it is teachers of low-income children who have been identified as the problem. That is, teachers in high-poverty schools are either not as talented as teachers in suburban schools or teachers in high-poverty schools simply do not work as hard as teachers in suburban schools. This line of hypothesizing has led to schemes whereby all teachers will be paid (or retained in employment) only when their students make good progress with reading development.
The problem with these popular theories is that they have both been proven wrong by the evidence we already have available.
The practice of excluding practicing K-12 educators from public education policy isn’t new. From the first day on the job at the U.S. Department of Education, the nation’s schools have been led by lawyers, politicians, and business tycoons. Jimmy Carter set the tone by appointing as the first Secretary of Education, Shirley Hufstedler, an attorney, judge, and college professor. Since then, only two Secretaries of Education, Terrell Bell and Rod Paige, have had experience at K-12 teaching, but none were practicing teachers when they were tapped for the position of Secretary.
It isn’t like teachers haven’t been talking about this for years. Finally, though, as evidenced by the mobilization of teachers in Chicago, Washington state, and elsewhere, educators’ voices are loud enough so that the politicians can hear the sound of votes coming from the public schools…where 90% of America’s children spend their educational years.
It’s time voices of teachers are heard.
The current age of education reform can be traced to the landmark 1983 report A Nation at Risk, subtitled “The Imperative for Educational Reform.” Future dictionaries may mark this report as the turning point when the definition of reform changed from cause to a curse. In 1981 Ronald Reagan’s first Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell appointed an 18-person commission to look into the state of US schools. He charged the commission with addressing “the widespread public perception that something is seriously remiss in our educational system.” The commission included 12 administrators, 1 businessperson, 1 chemist, 1 physicist, 1 politician, 1 conservative activist, and 1 teacher. No students or recent graduates. No everyday parents. No representatives of parents’ organizations. No social workers, school psychologists, or guidance counselors. No representatives of teacher’s unions (God forbid). Just one practicing teacher and not a single academic expert on education.
It should come as no surprise that a commission dominated by administrators found that the problems of U.S. schools were mainly caused by lazy students and unaccountable teachers. Administrative incompetence was not on the agenda. Nor were poverty, inequality, and racial discrimination. A Nation at Risk began from the assumption that our public schools were failing. Of course our public schools were failing. Our public schools are always failing. No investigative panel has ever found that our public schools are succeeding. But if public schools have been failing for so long—if they were already failing in 1983 and have been failing ever since—then very few of us alive today could possibly have had a decent education. So who are we to offer solutions for fixing these failing schools? We are ourselves the products of the very failing schools we propose to fix.
The crisis in education is not low test scores, “failing schools,” “bad teachers,” or any other “reformer” bogeyman. The crisis in education is privatization. American schools do good work and need to be improved not privatized.
…when poverty characteristics are taken into account, the accomplishment of US students and schools is even more impressive. Students in schools with between 10-25% of students eligible for free or reduced lunch scored 584, which is higher than the national average for top performing Singapore, a city state where roughly 1 in 10 households earns an income below the average monthly expenditure on basic needs and whose actual poverty rate may be higher. At the same time, United States students whose schools have 75% or more students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, scored 520, roughly the same as African American students, and “tied” with France, 18 places behind the U.S. average.
The PIRLS data tells us something that we’ve known for some time. United States testing data, much like United States educational funding, is tightly coupled with the poverty characteristics of the community tested. Dr. Stephen Krashen, Professor Emeritus at University of Southern California, concluded that the unspectacular scores on U.S. students on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) are largely attributable to our 21% child poverty rate and the impact that has on communities and individual children. PIRLS results tell a similar story, and the persistent connection between race and poverty in America similarly explains the score gap between African American students and other ethnic groups.
Lack of oversight for charter schools is a feature…not a bug. That’s how they want it.
Charter scandals are getting more and more press, yet the U.S. Department of Education wants to keep pouring money into the charter industry with no additional safeguards.
Despite the huge sums spent so far, the federal government maintains no comprehensive list of the charter schools that have received and spent these funds or even a full list of the private or quasi-public entities that have been approved by states to “authorize” charters that receive federal funds. And despite drawing repeated criticism from the Office of the Inspector General for suspected waste and inadequate financial controls within the federal Charter Schools Program – designed to create, expand, and replicate charter schools – the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is poised to increase its funding by 48% in FY 2016.
REAL EDUCATION: PLAY
Real educators understand that learning is more than just testing, paperwork, and data collection. Real learning happens through life.
…a growing group of scientists, education researchers and educators say there is little evidence that this approach improves long-term achievement; in fact, it may have the opposite effect, potentially slowing emotional and cognitive development, causing unnecessary stress and perhaps even souring kids’ desire to learn.
One expert I talked to recently, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a professor emerita of education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., describes this trend as a “profound misunderstanding of how children learn.” She regularly tours schools, and sees younger students floundering to comprehend instruction: “I’ve seen it many, many times in many, many classrooms — kids being told to sit at a table and just copy letters. They don’t know what they’re doing. It’s heartbreaking.”
The stakes in this debate are considerable. As the skeptics of teacher-led early learning see it, that kind of education will fail to produce people who can discover and innovate, and will merely produce people who are likely to be passive consumers of information, followers rather than inventors. Which kind of citizen do we want for the 21st century?
REAL EDUCATION: GIFTED
Giftedness is an exceptionality, and by definition, that means that it’s the “exception” not the rule. Every child has positive attributes that can be nurtured. Every child has abilities which can be developed, but not every child is gifted.
…not every child is gifted.
The myth that all students are gifted is wrong, and the idea that all children can blend together with just the right dose of deep learning will destroy any hope for special programming for gifted students in the future.
To blend students together implying that everyone can be gifted with deep learning is both naive and dangerous. It is not unheard of that students who are gifted, without identification, drop out of school and never have their qualities recognized.
Many gifted children currently languish in classrooms. They complete tasks that do nothing to help them achieve all they are capable of doing. Students who come from poverty are especially at risk, because their parents might not have the means or the insight to get their child tested. Gifted children might act out and appear to be anything but gifted!
The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.