By Kevin Anthony Stoda in OpEdNews
Instead of benchmarks, schools now go for the scores--not the gaining of either liberal or conservative items of knowledge. In short, national standards that are obligatory and are not sufficiently high enough and supportive of good learning and teaching practices are not real benchmarks, but are a race-to-the-bottom, i.e. from a mathematical and statistical perspective, which are often focused on standard deviations - Race to the Top: Executive Summary and Key Policy Details -- November 2009 (PDF)
March 7, 2010 -- On DEMOCRACY NOW, Diane Ravitch took time to criticize the continuingly poor national and state educational trends and then added, "[U]nfortunately, the Obama administration has adopted and is building on the foundation of No Child Left Behind. And as I explain in this book, I believe that No Child Left Behind has been a failed policy, that it's dumbed down the curriculum, narrowed the curriculum. Our kids are being denied a full education, because so much time is being spent on test prep and on tests that are really not very good tests and, in some cases, even fraudulent scoring of the test. The kids are getting a worse education as a result of No Child Left Behind."
Earlier, Juan Gonzalez had noted, "The Department of Education announced sixteen finalists Thursday in the first round of its "Race to the Top' competition, which will deliver $4.35 billion in school reform grants. The finalists were selected from a pool of forty-one applicants and include Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, quote, "These states are an example for the country of what is possible when adults come together to do the right thing.' The winners will be chosen in April, and a second round of applications accepted in June."
A recent government press release has indicated that of "the $4.35 billion in Race to the Top funds provided under the Recovery Act, the Department will distribute approximately $4 billion directly to states to drive education reform and $350M to consortia of states that compete in a separate competition to create new college and career-ready assessments. The assessment competition is still in the design phase. Based on Race to the Top's early positive effect on national education reform, President Obama proposed to continue the program next year by requesting $1.35 billion in the Administration's FY 2011 budget."
OFFICIAL AND UNOFFICIAL GOALS OF D.O.E.
In short, only 16 states [or less] will receive such moneys from the so-called "Race to the Top", sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education is officially intended to help and promote states and schools that are:
(1) Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
(2) Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
(3) Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
(4) Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.
Unofficially, the program is intended to promote the privatization of schools. "The Washington Post reports that all the first round finalists, except for Delaware and South Carolina, received financial help from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in preparing their "Race to the Top' application. The foundation gave many states grants of up to $250,000 each to pay for a consultant to help them craft their application." In short, the competition appears to be focused on privatizing the whole decision-making process of Department of Education grants, which in turn promote charter and private schools.
In the old days, America was interested in not having a race-to-the-top (a very elitist or survival-of-the-fittest way to view the world). America used to be commitment to every child achieving as much and as well as possible. Ravitch, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education in the 1980s, stressed, "They[DOE]'ve said to the states in the "Race to the Top,' this competition that was just held, that the requirements to be considered are, first of all, that the states have to be committed to privatizing many, many, many public schools. These are called charter schools. They're privatized schools. The Bush administration would have never gotten away with that, because Congress would have stopped them."
Worse still, Ravitch added, "They've also required states to commit to evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students, which means that that will put even more emphasis on standardized testing, more drill down of test prep, more emphasis on basic skills. And also, it's a very unfair measure, because it means that the students who live in poor communities, that they're likely to get small gains, whereas the kids in the affluent communities will get big gains. And so, we'll see the third emphasis of the Obama plan, which is close low-performing schools."
Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, summarized the 2+ decade-long trend of U.S. presidential administrations' tendency to simply blame teachers and administers wholly for the failure to do well on someone else's standardized exams or evaluations. "They've said to the states in the "Race to the Top,' this competition that was just held, that the requirements to be considered are, first of all, that the states have to be committed to privatizing many, many, many public schools. These are called charter schools. They're privatized schools. The Bush administration would have never gotten away with that, because Congress would have stopped them. They've also required states to commit to evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students, which means that that will put even more emphasis on standardized testing, more drill down of test prep, more emphasis on basic skills. And also, it's a very unfair measure, because it means that the students who live in poor communities, that they're likely to get small gains, whereas the kids in the affluent communities will get big gains. And so, we'll see the third emphasis of the Obama plan, which is close low-performing schools."
"LOOK BEHIND YOU, YOU HARD-WORKING TEACHERS!!!!!"
In a Huffington Post article, Ravitch wrote, "Imagine that you are a teacher in a high school in a high-poverty district. Many of your students don't speak English. Some don't attend school regularly because they have to earn money or babysit with their siblings while their parents are looking for work. Some come to school unprepared because they didn't do their homework." So, "you are idealistic and dedicated, you work with each of the students, you do your best to teach them reading, writing, science, math, history, whatever your subject. But despite your best efforts, many of your students can't read very well (they are struggling to learn English), and many of them don't graduate. If your school eliminated all its standards, you could easily push up the graduation rate."
Then some government or private foundation comes along and compares your school to standards that they or Washington, D.C. think takes have thought up for the DOE, and "[a]bout 45 minutes away is another high school in a much better neighborhood. Its statistics are far better than yours. The children are almost all born in the U.S., and their parents are almost all college graduates with good jobs. Their kids don't go to school hungry, they have their own room and their own computer, and they have stellar test scores to boot. Their graduation rate is very impressive, and most of their graduates go to college."
Here is now President Obama's warning shot to you. Here comes more privatization of education your way. "Recently, the school committee of Central Falls, Rhode Island, voted to fire all 93 members of the staff in their low-performing high school. Central Falls is the smallest and poorest city in the state, and it has only one high school. Those fired included 74 classroom teachers, plus the school psychologist, guidance counselors, reading specialists, and administrators."
Meanwhile, "[s]ecretary of Education Arne Duncan thought this was wonderful; he said the members of the school committee were "showing courage and doing the right thing for kids.' The kids apparently didn't agree because many of them came to the committee meeting to defend their teachers."
Worse, "President Obama thought it was wonderful that every educator at Central FallsHigh School was fired. At an appearance before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on March 1, the President applauded the idea of closing the school and getting rid of everyone in it."
Houston, Texas school districts are applying similar mass firings next school year.
Other school districts are expected to follow.
BOTTOM LINE IS THAT NO-CHILD-LEFT-BEHIND WAS A FAILURE
Amazingly, people forget the most important point, says Ravitch, and emphasized, "I'm just trying to say the evidence says No Child Left Behind was a failure, and the evidence says that charter schools are going to lead us into a swamp of--well, first of all, they're not going to be any better, because if you look at national test scores--charter schools were first part of the national tests in 2003--they didn't do any better than regular public schools. They were tested again in 2005, 2007, 2009. They have never outperformed regular public schools. So if we're looking for a quantum leap in educational performance, as the President--as President Obama says, charter schools have no evidence behind them. You can find one charter school here or there that did spectacularly well, but on the other side will be others that were terrible.
This was clear long before Barack Obama took office. However, so many great educators and U.S. citizens had put their faith in Obama to due much better than his predecessors. Ravitch had noted this last year in another Huffington Post article: "No group had greater hopes for President Obama and his promise of change than the nation's teachers. Poll after poll showed that they despised President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) law with its demand for testing, testing, testing. When asked, teachers said that NCLB was driving out everything except reading and math, because they were the only subjects that counted. Science, the arts, history, literature, geography, civics, all gave way to make more time for students to take practice tests in reading and math. In some districts, the time set aside for practice tests consumed hours of every school day."
Two years ago, in 2008, the following report was circulated wildly among educators across the country*. A summary of this article is: "A brief narrative description of the journal article, document, or resource.The signing of the No Child Left Behind Act on January 8, 2002, moved the federal effort to influence K-12 schooling to a new and higher level--more aggressive, focused, and directive. The act requires that school districts and schools demonstrate adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward a particular goal: universal student achievement of standards established by each state. Each year, school districts and schools that do not achieve AYP will be labeled "Did Not Make AYP,' and after two such years they may suffer sanctions that include loss of federal funding, termination of staff, and dissolving the school district. There is much in NCLB to like and embrace. The focus on "leaving no child behind"--systematically identifying and then addressing the needs of low-achieving students--is still a worthy if distant goal. If the provisions of NCLB as they stand at this writing are not changed, the greatest consolation for the education community and all concerned may be that the results of NCLB will so lack credibility that they will be not be taken seriously. . . ."
The name of that article by Lowell C. Rose, criticizing the NCLB politics of this past decade, is: "No Child Left Behind: The Mathematics of Guaranteed Failure." Rose's report [http://bit.ly/cK6IXA] makes it very clear that "Absent significant change, NCLB will at minimum fail to improve schooling and do nothing to aid low-performing students."
Now two years later, Obama is saying to America, through his education department, "Full speed ahead with NCLB--just change the name so no one will notice."
WITH LOW TARGETS, YOU GET & KEEP LOW STANDARDS
The problem with NCLB is (and was) explained in a nutshell by Dianne Ravitch, "NCLB was a failure, and not just because teachers didn't like it. Test scores inched up, but no more than they had before NCLB was passed. Scores on college-entrance exams remained stagnant. Just last week, the ACT reported that only 23 percent of the class of 2009 was prepared to earn as much as a C average in college. ACT tests over a million students, not only in reading and math, but also in science and social studies. ACT found that more than three-quarters of this year's graduates -- who were in fifth grade when NCLB was passed -- are not ready for college-level studies."
Ravitch added, "Part of the problem is that the tests on which so much attention is now lavished are low-level. Students don't have to know much to pass them."
Instead of benchmarks, schools now go for the scores--not the gaining of either liberal or conservative items of knowledge. Nor do they learn a great variety of alternative problem solving techniques, so children and young Americans learn to think for themselves. In short, national standards that are obligatory and are not sufficiently high enough and supportive of good learning and teaching practices are not real benchmarks, but are a race-to-the-bottom, i.e. from a mathematical and statistical perspective, which are often focused on standard deviations than on in individual student (and individual school) needs.
What we, as teachers and as students, really need are good and very clear high targets. Only then could--and only just possibly--a good exam or evaluation be helpful. Setting minimum standards is not going to get us there.
I think Obama needs to go back to school and learn these basic facts in planning, testing, and education before he continues down the paths of the worst education presidents of recent decades.
*smf: in 2008 that prescient report was four years old; it’s author deceased.