Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Leaving kids behind?

Very interesting article from NPR (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124209100&sc=fb&cc=fp) interviewing former Assistant Secretary of Eduacation Diane Ravitch, who once championed George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" program and now thinks maybe it was a bad idea. The money quote is at the end, talking about how schools operate best when they share the best ideas rather than competing and trying to put each other out of business.

Ya think?

I have no idea who Ravitch is, or whether she's having this deathbead conversion to protect her professional position after the election or not. And while the goal of accountability in NCLB is laudable, the mechanism used to achieve it is disastrous. Unfortunately, the Republican panacea to everything is "apply competition, give tax breaks" without any consideration as to whether or not it would actually, you know, work. It's the ultimate example of the cliche about when your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Sadly, the Obama approach to education hasn't been that much better. Race to the Top, part of the stimulus package, has asinine rules and outcomes as well.

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In 2005, former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch wrote, "We should thank President George W. Bush and Congress for passing the No Child Left Behind Act ... All this attention and focus is paying off for younger students, who are reading and solving mathematics problems better than their parents' generation."

Four years later, Ravitch has changed her mind.

"I was known as a conservative advocate of many of these policies," Ravitch says. "But I've looked at the evidence and I've concluded they're wrong. They've put us on the wrong track. I feel passionately about the improvement of public education and I don't think any of this is going to improve public education."

Ravitch has written a book about what she sees as the failure of No Child Left Behind called The Death and Life of the Great American School System. She says one of her biggest concerns is the way the law requires school districts to use standardized testing.

Emphasis On Test Scores Led To Cheating, Dishonesty

"The basic strategy is measuring and punishing," Ravitch says of No Child Left Behind. "And it turns out as a result of putting so much emphasis on the test scores, there's a lot of cheating going on, there's a lot of gaming the system. Instead of raising standards it's actually lowered standards because many states have 'dumbed down' their tests or changed the scoring of their tests to say that more kids are passing than actually are."

Some states contend that 80 to 90 percent of their children are proficient readers and have math proficiency as well, Ravitch notes. But in the same states, only 25 to 30 of the children test at a proficient level on national tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

"Secretary (of Education Arne) Duncan often says we're lying to our kids," Ravitch says. "And we are lying to our kids."

'There Should Not Be An Education Marketplace'

Part of the reason schools were so intent on achieving high tests scores was because they were competing with other schools for resources, which were often doled out on that basis alone.

Ravitch is critical of the impact this had on schools.

"There should not be an education marketplace, there should not be competition," Ravitch says. "Schools operate fundamentally — or should operate — like families. The fundamental principle by which education proceeds is collaboration. Teachers are supposed to share what works; schools are supposed to get together and talk about what's [been successful] for them. They're not supposed to hide their trade secrets and have a survival of the fittest competition with the school down the block."

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