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Is More Testing the New Civil Rights Agenda?

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Dear Deborah,

To answer your question, “How come, since there are more teachers than policymakers,” the policymakers get to run the show? Easy. Public education is controlled by laymen, not professionals. Decision-making power is placed by law in the hands of the local board of education, the state board of education, and the federal department of education. Lots of others influence policy, including teachers’ unions, business groups, and foundations.

I find myself getting really annoyed when people rage against the teachers’ unions, because they are the organized voice of most of the people who work in schools. The same people who vilify the teachers’ unions never complain about the influence of businesses or foundations, both of which try to steer the public schools by the power of the purse.

Just last week, we saw a conflict of visions over who should run the show and which vision should prevail.

First came the release of the statement of a group calling for a “broader, bolder” reform agenda. You and I both signed a public statement that said, in brief, that schools alone cannot eliminate the achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged children, and that government should not only improve schools, but invest more in early-childhood programs, health services, and out-of-school programs.

Only a day or so later came a press conference from a group that included the Reverend Al Sharpton, Chancellor Joel Klein of New York City, Chancellor Michelle Rhee of Washington, Superintendent Arne Duncan of Chicago, and various others. This group said that it was pursuing a “civil rights” agenda (it calls itself the Education Equality Project). But in its statements, as represented in news reports [e.g. USA Today], the spokespersons placed the blame for the achievement gap at the door of the teachers’ unions. Although it was not entirely clear what their specific proposals are, they did call for more testing and more charter schools, the sort of things that Chancellor Rhee likes to say serve the interests of children, not adults.

Columnist David Brooks of The New York Times said that the statement we signed represented "the status quo camp," while the Sharpton-Klein-Rhee group is "the reformist camp." This is simply bizarre. Brooks is often an insightful and thoughtful commentator on current events, but in this case he is simply spouting hokum, in my judgment.

How testing and charter schools and hostility to teachers’ unions translate into a “civil rights” program that will close the achievement gap is beyond my meager understanding. If testing were the answer to closing the achievement gap, why haven’t we seen it closing over the past five years? Apparently we are not testing enough! As for charter schools, I am waiting for persuasive evidence that achievement rises if schools are turned over to private governance boards; in some cases, it does; in other cases, it doesn’t.

As for blaming the teachers’ unions for the lower than average performance of children of color, that is nutty. The gap is there in non-union states, as well as in unionized states, and is probably even larger in non-union states. As the “broader, bolder” group says, the causes of the gap are to be found in social and economic disadvantage and should be addressed by reducing the disadvantages, to the greatest extent possible.

Of course, school improvement and school effectiveness are important for low-performing kids, but you and I probably agree that those goals are unlikely to be reached by the strategies described by this new organization. Rev. Sharpton and Chancellor Klein plan to launch a national campaign for their testing and charter schools agenda, they say.

It seems to be nothing more than a ploy to win reauthorization for No Child Left Behind, which already uses the same approaches. Since their agenda tracks so closely with NCLB, it must be that NCLB does not require enough testing to satisfy Rev. Sharpton and Chancellor Klein.

Diane

PS to readers: If you saw the first-posted version of this piece, you may have noticed that I changed a word: I replaced "reduce" to "eliminate" in paragraph 4. An observant reader asked me whether I really meant to say that school improvement cannot "reduce" the gap, and I said she was absolutely right. Good schools, small classes, great teachers can obviously improve the achievement of all students (though, it should be noted, when the achievement of ALL students improve, the "gap" from top to bottom is not narrowed). School improvement can indeed improve the academic performance of poor and minority students. I believe that, and I also believe that the root cause of the gap itself is demographic, rooted in persistent poverty and disadvantage. We should do all we can to improve schools while also doing all we can to reduce poverty and disadvantage. Anyone disagree?

36 Comments

Nice piece of writing. It helps clarify things. Thanks Diane.

Diane,

Why would you support and sign a measure that purports to improve education but even if implemented will have little/no actual effect on education?

Certainly, the wonderful social goals of the broader, bolder initiative should be considered and perhaps implemented as part of a health and human service.

But why use the achievement gap in learning to spur that initiative when none of the proposed “solutions” will have any effect on student learning?

Multiple other school systems are very effective at reducing (but not eliminating) the disadvantage/advantaged learning gap by focusing on what happens inside the school. And they do this while increasing the achievement of their top students as well. The approaches of these different school systems vary considerably, but all consistently benefit from a quality school system that is set up to improve student learning.

The US, on the other hand, consistently has a lower overall achievement level and a very large disadvantaged/advantaged learning gap. We are saddled with an ineffective school system that purports to be fair and equitable, but is anything but. Without a change in school structure to focus on improving student learning, how will any of the proposed “solutions” (by any camp) make a difference? How will these ideas/proposals translate into better teaching? Better curricula? Better testing? And thus better student learning?

So this dichotomy set up in the press between “the reformist camp” and “the status quo camp” is bizzare, as none of the initiatives advocated by either group will do anything to either 1) improve our students' learning nor 2) reduce our country’s unacceptable learning gap.

Erin Johnson

Diane,

Definitely agree with doing all we can to both improve schools and reduce poverty.

But your assertion that the as "the achievement of ALL students improve, the "gap" from top to bottom is not narrowed" is incorrect.

The best school systems in the world do both. (See the PISA analysis from OECD).

Erin Johnson

Erin,

It is true that a rising tide lifts all boats, but unless the kids at the bottom make more progress than those at the top, the gap from top to bottom remains the same.

Diane Ravitch

Diane,

The best school systems do enable their disadvantaged kids to learn with a steeper learning curve than is typically seen in the US.

Consequently, the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students is reduced (relative to the US).

Additionally, the average performance of the students is higher and surprisingly their top students do better than our best students (for the most part, some countries are better than others at this.)

The best school systems are able to narrow the acheivement gap while raising the tide for all their students. Something that we could acheive if we were not saddled with our ineffective school system.

Erin Johnson

I found the negative reactions to "Broader, Bolder" quite strange. To me it was obvious that the proposed measures would accompany--not replace-- improvements in curriculum and instruction.

To me this signals a polarized field, where, if you believe in X, it's assumed you also believe Y and Z. Likewise, if you deny Z, then you must deny X and Y and support A, B, and C. There's little room for an ABXZ combination, etc. So, for instance, if you support the creation of certain social services, it’s assumed you don’t care about improving schools. Fie upon false assumptions!

The same problem comes up in relation to unions. If you support the union, many assume you just want to work less and earn more. They ignore many aspects of unions that don’t always get as much publicity--the quiet advocacy for students, improved curriculum, saner school envirnoments, etc. Also, they forget that our work is both “clocked” and “clockless.”

The contract spells out how much time we spend officially on the job. It can’t spell out the unofficial time—the evenings and weekends spent planning, reading, and sifting through experiences and ideas. That part probably waxes and wanes over the days, months, and years—sometimes we put just about everything into teaching, and at other times we have to make some room for other things. There should be room for some fluctuation and choice. If the school demands everything of us during the day, then we have nothing left for the other part. Our teaching suffers, as do our lives.

I am concerned about the trend toward a longer school day and year—not because I don’t want to work hard, but because I do. Like many, I need quiet time in order to work well. Kids, for their part, need diversion and time for healthy romping. Sadly, the romping has become less healthy, as kids gravitate toward violent computer games, sexual relationships, drugs, and gangs. Increased “seat time” will not change this—but meaningful after-school activities could, provided they supplement meaningful curriculum and instruction. That’s where “Broader, Bolder,” if implemented well, could make a big difference.

So, it is possible to support excellent curriculum and instruction, assessment and accountability, after-school activities, health care for all, and good working conditions for teachers. None of these should detract from the others. Why do people insist on apportioning them to opposing camps?

Diana,

There is much to be admired in the Broader Bolder inititive on the human level, but there is very little/nothing in Broader Bolder that will actually help improve education.

There is an opportunity cost to every educational reform.

If we spend the next 5 to 10 years implementing Broader Bolder and find out that nothing really has changed (in student learning), where will we be? Pretty much the same place that we are after NCLB.

The problem with NCLB was not the broad based goals. Who could ever disagree with leaving No Child Behind?

The problems with NCLB were primarily due to a completely incorrect assessment of what ails our schools.

That is NCLB assumed that teachers and schools really know how to improve student learning, but they were just being lazy and needed a stick (the tests coupled with warnings) to get them moving.

So while we really know now (from all the testing) that our children know very little, NCLB has done very little to improve student learning. So how are our students better off after NCLB? And how would they be better off after Broader, Bolder?

Should we not be advocating reforms that actually will make a difference in our children's education?

Erin Johnson

Less calculus and more statistics courses should be required! Of course we can create an artificial top score and hold it steady, and then everyone can "catch up". By the age of seven, on a test of 6 basic colors, tests can make the achievement gap disappear (except for color blind kids). Unless one starts adding more nuanced shadesI Doing so may well now rewiden the gap again and we're back where we started. Not doing so only fools us.

The US gaps in income and health between the haves and have-nots is not comparable to virtually any of the other nations in the comparison groups (China, India e.g. are not included)

Being advantaged is an advantage, and surely you and I pass on every advantage we possess to our kids. Those with fewer pass on fewer. Duh? The solution? I have a few ideas, But when in fact we have widened most of the advantages over the past 30 years it seems ironic that we now demand that in this one set of tests the advabntages should disappear!

Diane and I are in agreement, however, on trying to do our damnedest to find the strategies--pedagogies, curriculum, structuring of schools, teachers--which if combined might at least help all boats rise--rather than sinking the ones that the least advantaged find themselves on. It might not wipe out gaps, but we'd all be better off.

Head experiment: If one made no other changes in nutrition, polcing, housing, and access to medical care would you predict that we'd close the gap in life expectancy? Or the gap in youth incarceration? Or birth weight? There are some policies that would improve this data, but making the gaps disappear by merit pay and longer doctor hours?

We might call a meeting of hedge fund directors who unanimously agree that the fault lies in the laziness of doctors, who ought not be making decisions anymore given their complicity in the existing gap? The hedgies will redesign it.

We do need to rethink, and doing so will held reduce the gaps as Diane notes in her P.S., and Diana Senechal in her commentary. For example, we need to rethink how teachers spend their time. and how kids engage the world in the 4/5 of the year that kids are not attending school but are being "educated". .

Bloomberg and NYC are--as we speak--reducing afterschool and weekend and summer child centers in the Bronx public projects for budgetaring reason! It's a disaster--for children and schooling.

Argue on! It keeps my juices flowing.

Deborah

Erin,

Again, why assume that the "broader, bolder" measures wouldn't accompany improvements in curriculum and instruction? They would have to.

Curricular improvements can make a huge difference in students' performance and lives. But they cannot wipe away problems such as poverty, poor health, depression, broken families, or peer influence. When the kids reach their teenage years, the problems can overwhelm. I've seen kids go through drastic changes between sixth and eighth grade.

The extra support (starting at a very early age) can help forestall problems and get the students back on their feet if they need it. It can also provide them with mentors and role models. The teacher cannot and should not be everything. The kids need good influences from many sources.

Also, after-school activities can have a huge effect on school performance. Kids learn all sorts of things through participation in an orchestra, play, sports team, chess club, or debate team. The kids learn discipline; they learn how to build a large project over time. They learn how to work hard at something they love. My students in the Musical Drama Club learned a lot of English through working on the musicals. They also built artistic skill, stamina, confidence, and more.

Unfortunately, there's often a lag between the actions and their results, and this can obscure the picture. Sometimes the results are not immediately visible. I know this from my own experience. Some of the best support and advice I received has stayed with me for decades, growing in meaning over time. If we cling to our current method of measuring achievement, we may miss a lot of the picture. Schools should follow students over the long term and see how they're doing later, in high school and beyond.

Deborah,

We all are looking for ways to find strategies that enable all boats to rise. My concern with the Broader Bolder initiative is that all the strategies are looking in the wrong places. There may be very compelling social reasons to implement many of the programs put forth by Broader Bolder, but they have nothing to do with education.

Again, I have nothing, (repeat nothing) against any of the initiatives in Broader, Bolder from a social standpoint. But from an educational standpoint, they will do nothing to improve our children’s learning, because none of the initiatives affect the quality of instruction, the curricula or the evaluations that we have our children use. And it is always in the specifics that improvement in our children’s education is found.

When you speak about your experience teaching, you talk about the quality of the teaching, the great interactions between yourself and your students and the system that you set up to encourage quality learning. None of those attributes are present in any of the Broader Bolder literature. If the focus of the Broader Bolder had been to improve classroom interaction, I would have been impressed and supportive.

But the very weak, vague language such as “continue to improve school improvement efforts” or “improved professional development and school leadership; better coordination between pre-school, elementary, secondary, and higher education; the use of assessments that provide guidance to teachers and principals; and better instruction that makes a high-quality college preparatory curriculum accessible to all students.” Who could argue with that?

But nobody could argue with “No Child Left Behind” either and it still turned into a disaster. Without specific ways of improving teaching, curricula or testing how would any of these tepid, meaningless statements be of any benefit for our students? They will most likely be twisted and contorted (just like NCLB) into something untenable, just like NCLB.

But given what you know about American classrooms, how can you say that our classrooms are anywhere close to a quality teaching/learning environment? Why is it that Broader, Bolder focused on everything but improvements in classroom teaching? Did you find classroom teaching to be irrelevant to your student learning? Why isn't the classroom environment the centerpiece of the Broader, Bolder Challenge?

Our disadvantaged children suffer quite dearly (for the most part) in their home lives. How about real improvements in our schools that offer a sanctuary for them? Why not offer improvements (in their school life) that make at least 6 hours of their day enjoyable, and positive. With Broader, Bolder, all the focus is on external attributes and not the quality learning atmosphere that you strove to create in your classrooms/schools.

Should we not try and improve those precious 6 hours a day so that our disadvantaged children have the opportunity to learn something close to that seen in the best schools around the world?


Diana,

Improvements in curricula and teaching would be awesome, but our school system is not set up for improvement. It matters not if the initiative is Broader and Bolder or from the Gates Foundation, or the Federal government, or the State governments or the local barber. Our schools have no systems in place to improve teaching, curricula or student evaluation. And it is improvements in the classroom that will have the most dramatic effects on student learning.

Additionally, a well designed pre-school environment can work wonders for school preparation. But our current model (Head Start) has been very ineffective at preparing children for learning. Should we just throw money at Head Start (and hope that it works someday) or look at changing our school system (including pre-school) to a system that actually improves student learning?

There is much to be admired in the social improvements put forth by the Broader, Bolder Challenge. It is just unfortunate that they will have little effect on our children’s education.

Erin Johnson.

Diane Ravitch,

From first-hand experience I can attest to you that the NEA is perhaps the most dispicable labor organization in America today. They care nothing for the children in our public schools, all the while being interested in the rights and benefits of their membership. They are NOT the organized voice of most of the people who work in the schools as you claim in this entry. They are the organized voice of the NEA and only the NEA and its political agenda.

An example of their hard-ball tactics can be viewed below. The NEA is an embarrassment to public education.

________________________________________

October 31, 2007
The Honorable U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515-4903

Dear Congressman

On behalf of the National Education Association's 3.2 million members, we are writing to remind you that the National Education Association (NEA) is seeking cosponsors of proposed House and Senate bills described in the attached document.

Included are 17 House and Senate bills to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or the No Child Left Behind Act. While NEA has endorsed more than 100 such bills, the attached memorandum necessarily highlights only those proposals that are most comprehensive in scope or address NEA’s highest legislative priorities. The list also includes priority bills on other issues.

Cosponsorship by November 16, 2007 of bills on the attached list will impact positively a Member of Congress’ score and overall grade on NEA’s Legislative Report Card (voting ratings) for the 110th Congress, 1st Session. Please note: the NEA Report Card for this session will only reflect cosponsorships on record as of close of business on November 16, 2007.

Thank you for your attention. If you have any questions or need any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact the NEA lobbyist assigned to your office:

Sincerely,

Diane Shust Randall Moody
Director of Government Relations Manager of Federal Advocacy

Erin,

Thanks for the opportunity to come out for motherhood and apple pie.

In separate posts you write that the Broader Bolder intitative will not improve "children’s learning, because none of the initiatives affect the quality of instruction, the curricula or the evaluations...

... The problems with NCLB were primarily due to a completely incorrect assessment of what ails our schools."

Given your considerable knowledge of social science and educational research, you should acknowledge that you can't prove or disprove those statements - and that when you use international comparisans your evidence becomes far weaker.

Neither can we "prove" that the Broader Bolder approach would raise test scores. Take a broad view of social science and history, however, and you can make a strong case that improving material conditions is the best way of increasing student performance.

Combine personal experience with an effort to figure out what "causes" educational improvement, and I'd argue the Broader Bolder would raise test scores more and the reason would be the power of hope. Give people hope, and educational excellence follows.

In my experience, the rate of academic improvement in poor schools is largely determined by the rate of success in motivating students, i.e. the rate that we encourage hope. In my experience, its a 50 - 50 process, the adults have to help instill confidence as they guide better academic achievement.

By the way, the same applies to missing fathers and other parents. To paraphrase Deb's question, if we can't create a more hopeful society, do you think we can create stronger families? Then when we remember that students spend 4/5ths of their time out of school, we have a strong case for modesty in making educational diagnoses. Not to dump on you but to illustrate the flaw in NCLB and other detailed prescriptions, the idea that we can isolate the "correct" instructional practices that would best transform such a vast system is hubris.

Diana correctly notes that changes occur in 6th and 8th grade, and personally I don't see how any single approach can repeal that fact of human development.

So, I'd like a more modest approach. Stop being so sure that we can isolate the proper investmests, and instead "cover our bets." Of course, we need to invest much much more in early childhood. Similarly, if we want to reduce the drop out rate, we need more investments in 6th through 8th grades. But we should also hedge our bets and invest in recovery programs for kids from 18 to the early 20s. (like Obama was saying yesterday)

And Erin, you make two statements that illustrate the paradox, writing,

"Our schools have no systems in place to improve teaching, curricula or student evaluation. And it is improvements in the classroom that will have the most dramatic effects on student learning."

I'd agree with your first sentence. But don't you think that that truthful statement is a reason why your second sentence is a little prideful. If we as society has not yet put functional systems in place, how can you be so confident that you know what those systems would be? To oversimplify, aren't asserting. We know that xyz does not exist. But I know that xyz would work. And I know it because my reading of social science is better than yours.

Let me come in and try to offer Erin some support--although she and I may not agree on everything. I am personally mistrustful of the Broader, Bolder approach, simply because it (appears to) moves the focus away from the things that are lacking in schools to the things that may be lacking elsewhere. I don't think that this helps.

While I am unclear what Erin would advocate in terms of an educational system with "specific ways of improving teaching, curricula or testing," I do agree that these are the things within schools that we need to be improving upon. And despite the well-documented effects of poverty, there is also ample evidence that these things are inequitably distributed within our current system.

To my mind, an immediate issue to get behind would be the comparability considerations in the distribution of Title I dollars. Changing to a distribution of dollars--rather than average cost/FTE for teachers would help provide an economic cushion to high-risk schools and populations. It might not buy more experienced teachers, but it could perhaps lower classroom size for first year teachers or provide additional mentorship/supervision.

Like Erin, I am not opposed to the things that are proposed by the Broader Bolder folks, but I am very mistrustful of legitimizing the point of view that the schools cannot get better until the rest of society gets better. I have not seen overwhelming evidence of any movement on the part of education as a whole, but more specifically individual schools within neighborhoods, to forge the kinds of relationships with neighborhood services that can really help to use those services to support education. How many schools/districts have explored the creation of summer day camping programs that include school sponsored reading or mathematics support? In my district the "summer school" literature warns parents not to schedule any other summer programs (like camp) that might interfere with classes (which are scheduled for teacher convenience, taught by teachers selected not for their excellence, but by some formula that gives all teachers an equal chance at the extra assignment). Imagine a summer program that taught swimming, nature studies, arts, music along with reading support and mathematics exploration--and that covers the hourse that most parents work. The resources to do this already exist--in separate systems that don't talk to one another.

We have teachers who complain that they have never been trained in how to work with students who have mental health issues--and mental health systems who cannot find their way in the door to present the training that they have developed. I don't know a single community, not matter how poor, that doesn't have some of the kind of people that John Thompson talks about who know how to bring order to chaos. Schools will only know who they are when they are willing to go outside the walls, and find safe ways to allow others to come inside. You cannot do that when you believe that the "problem" inside your school is caused by the neighborhood "out there" that needs to be fixed (by someone else) so you can do your job.

I would say off hand that education is ahead of health care--because education has a public system. Health care is all over the board--with public health operating off to the side. But I am appalled when I look at the dollars spent on both, in relationship to the return--as compared to the countries that are doing well.

An April article from Teachers College Record by Denise Gelberg called "Closing the Achievement Gap: Schools Alone Cannot Succeed" addressed this same idea. I my opinion, it hits the nail right on the head.

http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentID=15204

Margo/Mom,

Well stated. As to your question regarding setting up a school system that encourages “specific ways of improving teaching, curricula or testing,” there are multiple ways that school systems around the world encourage this. And I wouldn’t necessarily say that any one would work better in our culture than another.

But despite the huge cultural differences between effective school systems, one of the common threads is a school system set up for self-improvement. School systems are set up to improve (among many factors) teaching, curricula, student evaluation and to ensure that the scope and sequence of learning is consistent from grade to grade. Additionally, one of the key elements in effective school systems that promote quality learning is the use of external evaluations. That is that teachers are not primarily responsible for issuing summative evaluations of their students.

If you want to look at some examples:

For Japanese style improvements:
lessonresearch.net/nagoyalsrev.pdf
The Teaching Gap

Singapore style improvements:
Press release on how they dramatically improve their student’s reading performance using the 4th grade PIRLS:
misingapore.com/index.php/sg/content/pdf/97

An overview of the Singapore Educational system:
nctm.org/resources/content.aspx?id=1542

Finnish style school improvements:
oecd.org/dataoecd/43/17/39928629.pdf

John,

The refutation of the Broader Bolder style initiatives for improving student learning does not come from my research but from multiple other analyses that examine what aspects of schools affect student learning.

No one in their right mind refutes the effects that socio-economics can have on student learning. But to assert (as Broader Bolder does) that real student learning happens outside the classroom is not supported by the evidence. Frankly, if this were so, we should disband our schools and send all our students to camp instead. (Less expensive and probably more fun.)

For the few vague school improvement initiatives: better teacher recruitment, better teachers, better leadership, better professional development, better coordination between classes, better use of assessment to guide principals, better instruction and more sensitivity to immigrants. Who would argue with these?

But they are meaningless when applied to our schools. Asking for better does not define a path toward success. NCLB wanted “better” schools too. And what did we get with that law?

What your “better” is may be different than my “better.” So what do these mean when applied to our schools? Really, rather nothing.

So how are we going to get to better? My contention is that our schools are not set up to improve. We have no systems in place to either define nor strive for “better.”

Considering how challenging it is to address social problems associated with poverty, do you really think that addressing poverty is an easier “fix” than trying to make our schools more effective?

Certainly the international evidence strongly suggests that quality school systems are able to reduce the achievement gap. Why should we not start there and change the school system first?

Erin Johnson

Erin,

I also am a consumer of research as opposed to a full-time researcher (and when I was a full-time researcher it was in other social science fields) but there is research that says up to 1/3rd of the achievement gap can be explained by the summer loss of high poverty kids. Since I got my start through summer camps as well as other outdoors activities, I wholehearted support Margo/mom's and Obama's proposal for high quality summer programs that respect the humanity of poor kids. Margo/mom, please check out the Dean Millot's Friday Guest Column on Comparability. Even if it doesn't convert you, it does explain why the issue is not so simple. I strongly support addtional resources for poor schools. I would never under any circumstances support a proposal that erodes collective bargaining on a wish and a hope that poor kids might benefit.

How's this for a compromise? We can hold "schools alone" accountable for increasing performance, as long as we explicitly agree that schools alone can only raise performance significantly when when they ARE NOT ALONE, BUT WORKING WITH COMMUNITY PROGRAMS, AS WELL AS PARENTS. Then, we would be holding schools accountable for bringing outside providers into the buildings. Then, we could campaign for both, increased social investments before, during, and after pre-k through 12.

I have been proclaiming the virtues of the The Turnaround Challenge which argued that instruction-driven reforms are inherently incapable of addressing the complex eco-system of the highest poverty schools. But I just found an appendix that discusses turnaround efforts in 10 states and four major districts. It began with the disclaimer of what was not found, "What's Not Here: Turnaround Exemplars at Scale."

Their conclusions were stated diplomatically. All four systems used aggressive instruction-driven approach. Philadelphia's long and well-funded experiment with restructured schools showed increased student performance that slowed when additional funding ceased. Moreover, improvements may have occurred because "the district farmed out their worst schools" to contractors.

Chicago also engaged in three waves of reforms over two decades and it produced progress, even if it "did not result in the broad-based achievement gains .. of NCLB." Moreover, reforms may have increased violence and behavior issues that had a negative impact former students who were left behind. In other words, in both cities, those who benefitted gained incrementally, but the students who were dumped, or not selected by favored schools, may have been seriously damaged.

According to the report, the greatest improvements were in Miami's Improvement Zone, a reform which Rudy Crew brought from NYC. Questions were raised about their sustainability as their three years of additional funding comes to an end. (they did not mention, of course, budgetary problems that have grown worst in the last few months.) Regarding New York City, the report cited the usual positive stats, as well as quoting Diane Ravitch, "No one knows what any of this means." The report concluded, "If nothing else, the initiative certainly has shaken the status quo that contributed to this level of under-performance."

But wait, a decade ago New York had Rudy Crew's Chancellor's Districts, that had done so well in Miami until the money ran out.

I take no joy in recounting the modest (minimal) results of instruction driven-reforms. Those four districts invested far more per student over a far longer period that we can expect in most communities, and yet the results are underwhelming. The answer is not to reject curriculum-driven efforts. I just want us to consider classroom instruction as one of many factors. Improving instruction is one of a half dozen or so challenges that we face.

John thompson,

The Chancellor's District in NYC was a great success. It was identified as one of the four most successful urban districts by the Council of Great City Schools. But you are wrong about one thing: It did NOT run out of money. It was terminated by Chancellor Joel Klein. He didn't gave any reasons. I assume he thought that his citywide agenda was even better than anything created by Rudy Crew. What chutzpah! Rudy Crew is an experienced educator; Joel Klein is an experienced prosecutor.

Help! We still need a Chancellor's District in NYC.

Diane

I must have screwed up my sentence. I was trying to say what you just said.

Crew brought the idea to Miami where it also was successful. But now his renamed Improvement Zone in Miami is facing the budgetary crisis, and the crisis has grown worse in the last few months.

My point is that the authors of the report seemed to be straining to be diplomatic about BloomKlein.

John,

Instruction is only one aspect of student learning, but a critical one at that.

The fact that many "instruction-driven" reforms have failed to make large improvements in our children's education is due more to the lack of systemic school support for improvements in instruction than "proof" that instruction does not matter.

Multiple other promising educational reforms have also had limited success in changing our children's learning, mostly because our school system is not set up for improvement.

Studies focusing only on the US tend to miss those school structural issues that are glaring on the international scale. Our schools are similar in how they operate and how they are organized. School organizational contributions to the achievement gap are only seen when compared with other, very different school systems.

When looking at what makes a difference in student achievement as measured by the PISA, Woessmann and Fuchs (2004) concluded:

“Student characteristics, family backgrounds, home inputs, resources, teachers and institutions are all significantly related to math, science and reading achievement. … Student performance is higher with external exams and budget formulation, but also with school autonomy in textbook choice, hiring teachers and within-school budget allocations.”

“Institutions alone account for roughly one quarter of the international variation in student performance. Thus, institutional structures of school systems are again found to be important determinants of students’ educational performance.”

What is surprising here is their very strong conclusions regarding external exams and the importance of school structure (institution) on student learning. That is that they estimate that 25% of the variation seen between countries is due to how schools are organized. Something that we can not see if we just look at US data alone.

Most importantly, the school systems that achieve at the highest levels also have the best equity. The PISA 2003 report concluded:

This analysis… “highlights that countries differ not just in their overall performance, but also in the extent to which they are able to reduce the association between socio-economic background and performance. PISA suggests that maximizing overall performance and securing similar levels of performance among students from different socio-economic backgrounds can be achieved simultaneously. The results suggest therefore that quality and equity need not be considered as competing policy objectives.”

If school organization can affect student learning as much as suggested by the international data, should we not try to change our school structure first to both increase overall achievement and narrow the achievement gap?

Erin Johnson

The best systems have less inequity to overcome. Poverty is an impediment to taking advantage of the best of schooling; but that doesn't mean the "best of schooling" can't make a difference.

Diversity is both a plus and a minus; even democrcy is often a nuisance. But we start off insisting on both. So our school system has to be built to honor both. That's our secular 'ism.

So I favor reforms that provide maximum opportunities to be designed and redesigned close to home, with lots of external commentary and review. I'd keep the stakes low on the latter, but make sure they were well known and accessible to those most affected by them.

Yes education takes place everywhere--but not always well. That 1/5 is where we, as publics, have a chance to directly think about what matters most to us. That means, to think more than we do about "ends" than we do. And then to make space and time available for teachers to turn those "ends" into living possibilities given the particulars of each of their settings. That's "all" we did at CPESS; and it can turn ordinary people into what we otherwise think of as "extraordinary" people.

But without living "ends" in mind (note the plural), always in the process of being revised, rebalanced, responsive to their situation, we won't grow great teachers. We'll get a few "born" greats, fewer till "schooled" to greatness, period. Schools have to be educators of kids and teachers, together. We are "apprenticed" as students to our elders, but we rarely have an opportunity to be apprentices to practising and passionate scientists, writers, readers, mathematicians, historians. Ditto for would-be-teachers. We need classrooms and schools in which such real practice takes place--"I, thou and it". Nothing less works for teaching sports or other crafts; why do we take "academia" to be the one craft that is best learnt otherwise?

Deb


I think that Erin and I must be pulling from some of the same reading lists, and yes, some of our barriers do leap into view when we look at other countries. I have recently been looking at Finland and Japan, as well as New Zealand, Canada and England. Erin, you might also want to take a look at Michael Barber's report on Creating a World Class Educaion System in Ohio http://www.achieve.org/files/World_Class_Edu_Ohio_FINAL.pdf It offers specifics from various other systems, but also contextualizes within issues such as local control, unions, charters, vouchers, etc.

One of the things that I am seeing among the highly performing countries that we have a good bit of difficulty with is systematic identification of students with challenges and providing targetted intervention to get them "back on track" with their peers. Think about the resistance to Response to Intervention, which provides a similar system. Japan has a highly systematized methodology for improving classroom performance. In involves ongoing observation in classrooms--and discussion. In this country we have a high level of resistance to classroom observation. We also tend to view all teachers on a single plane, which is counter to the Japanese expectation that it is only after time in the classroom and demonstration of competency that one can lead a lesson study.

I would argue that these things are possible in this country--at least at the individual building level--and generally at no additional cost. But we have deeply engrained resistance to blurring the line between "special ed" and "regular ed." We fear classroom observation, particularly if there is any hint of anything evaluative at the end.

John--I wholeheartedly support the right to collective bargaining. But could someone please explain to me why it is that teacher's unions want to protect a status quo that prevents the opportunity for teachers to learn and grow in their profession, or to benefit from modern evaluative practices? Why is it that union contracts tend to stipulate such things as the right of the individual teacher to determine topics selected for professional development (as opposed to this being a school-based decision based on the needs of students). Are there not, rather some things that unions might better be fighting for (inclusion of union history into the curriculum, for instance) that would allow for flexibility of schools (and teachers) to respond to the needs?

I also have to add, regarding the international picture, many countries do have a greater support for social services (Finland is an excellent example), and schools routinely work together with public health or public housing when a student or student's families have non-academic needs that interfere with learning. I don't see us going there any time soon. But, England has some models of more connected school communities (as does New Zealand)--particularly in areas of high need.

Margo/Mom
Be wary of quoting Sir Michael Barber's advice. He has been advising Joel Klein in NYC and the results have been unimpressive, to say the least. NYC is no closer to having a "world class education system" today than it was 10 years ago. If anything, we have "world class chaos," as every part of the school system has been torn apart, not only what didn't work, but what did work. Meanwhile, privatization proliferates, and super-wealthy patrons are getting their own personal charter schools. And the system as a whole has a dismal graduation rate of 50%, placing it near the bottom of all cities in the nation.
Be careful in picking gurus!
Diane

Erin and Margo/mom,

I agree that "your better" might be different than "my better." In fact that's my point. Surely you are not willing to trust the luck of the draw, and gamble your career on not drawing an administrator whose "better" is disgusting. I accept the odds under our current system that I might have to risk my job and/or resign because of my conscience might make me fight top down mandates (that tend to grow out of NCLB). But what talented young person would consider a teaching career if any two-bit Napolean with a gimmick for raising test scores can force them to flush their conscience down the toilet or comply with policies that damage kids?

I don't have kids at home or a mortgage, and I am marketable, in good health, and I'm not bluffing when I say that I'd go back to digging ditches before I'd comply with "test to the test." My willingness to fight means that the bosses are less likely to push me around. (My students call me a "Ryder" because I fight for them.) But without strong unions, the same human nature that we read in Aesop's Fables would destroy public education. In fact, another way to phrase my arguemnt is that we must resist the urge to drop the imperfect bone that we have in our mouths, for the mirage offered by NCLB-type accountability.

The better approach is to work collaboratively to "set up schools for improvement." After all, it will be our students who will be the final evaluators of which view of better is actually better for their generation.

I have never heard of unions getting so involved in resisting professional development. But the idea that we can "benefit from modern evaluation" seems unreal in this situation. Extant accountability regimes are about as reliable as throwing a witch into the lake to see if she sinks. The smarter approach is to practice what we preach to the students and focus on behavior.
If a teacher is incompetent, their test scores will probably reflect it and we can negotiate reliable methods of bringing data into the process as a supplement to documentation of incompetent behaviors.

Interestingly, students are much tougher in evaluating themselves than teachers are. Teachers are tougher in evaluating their peers than administrators or ed schools are.

Margo/Mom,

Glad to hear that there is much that we agree on and thanks for pointing out the Barber report to Ohio.

However, as far as our students' education is concerned the Barber report is much like the Broader, Bolder Challenge. Lots of “nice to have” goals without a viable path to attain them.

The most troubling part of the Barber report is the insistence on “accountability” without any system support for improving teaching and curricula nor any feedback loop on the type of tests that he would advocate. While the international data fully supports his idea of external exams, the way that he advocates developing those exams along with the performance “incentives” for principals and teachers goes against everything that quality school systems do to encourage quality student learning.

Particularly troubling is the lack of “accountability” if you will, on the test designers and the curricula designers and the students themselves. All of the burden for providing a quality education is put on the shoulders of the teachers and principals. How is this any different than what we have now under NCLB?

The Barber report advocates that:

“Ohio would closely collaborate with the State’s higher education system and local employer base to establish and regularly update a set of academic standards that reflect what all Ohioans need to know, understand, and be able to do to compete in the global workforce or succeed in postsecondary education. It would ensure that districts and schools use aligned instructional systems and demanding curricula throughout all grade levels, and that they employ multiple pathways to ensure that all students, regardless of geography or background, receive an equitable education.”

But “Ohio” is a state, not an educational organization. Is Barber advocating that all citizens get together one day each year to discuss what children should learn? Is he advocating the state convene a panel to dictate standards that may or may not make sense? Who should be responsible for deciding and what input should the community have? Is he saying that only business and colleges should decide on the content? This is very troublesome.

Additionally, where is the “demanding curricula” supposed to come from?

The “who” on the development of educational standards and the “how” of developing curricula is an essential part of a quality school system. Why did he leave such critical elements out of his document? Doing so makes his “school system” almost worthless.

As for student motivation: In other school systems (both high and low quality), entry into college by the passing of a very difficult, rigorous exam puts much of the ownership for learning onto the shoulders of the students. Without passing a tough end-of-school exam, students are excluded from college. While the benefit of this system is that students are highly motivated to learn, the end-of-high-school exams are largely deterministic on a student’s future. Not something that we would (or should) tolerate in our country.

Student ownership of his/her own learning is essential for a quality education. But limiting all future education based upon his/her exam scores is not something that we should adopt from other school systems. One of the best attributes of our culture/idea of schooling is continuous life-long learning. It would be a grave mistake to give that up for the hope that rigorous exams will motivate students to learn. There are better methods. There are better school systems. The best school systems in the world do not resemble in the least the description put forth by Barber.

There is very little in the Barber report to Ohio that would improve our students’ education because there is nothing that encourages quality teaching, quality curricula or the processes and feedback necessary to develop great student evaluations.

Erin Johnson

John,

Is it all tests that you don't like or just the ones that we subject our students to now?

If you developed the test then how would "teaching to the test" be any different that what you do now in class?

Erin Johnson

Diane:

I don't know that I would consider Michael Barber to be my guru--and some of his work is on the superficial side. What I like about the Ohio report is the attempt to examine how to take the lessons from best practice in some highly socialized and highly centralized systems and suggest ways that they might fit into our highly decentralized, mostly unsociable, highly unionized context.

Erin:

You write: "In other school systems (both high and low quality), entry into college by the passing of a very difficult, rigorous exam puts much of the ownership for learning onto the shoulders of the students. Without passing a tough end-of-school exam, students are excluded from college. While the benefit of this system is that students are highly motivated to learn, the end-of-high-school exams are largely deterministic on a student’s future. Not something that we would (or should) tolerate in our country."

In some of the things that I have been gleaning from various OECD reports, while most of the highly performing systems do benefit from end of school exams (and may also use an entrance exam to determine what secondary paths will be available), the presence of ample "second chances" enhance their systems--and in particular contributes to life long learning. Some allow additional schooling before retaking various tests, some provide for opportunities to build on polytechnic learning, etc. This is something we are not so good at. We are also less good at providing an equitable experience pre-high school. We tend to track kids by zip code (and price and sell houses based on school district). This is something we need to acknowledge and work on.

Margo/Mom,

I am dubious whenever anyone starts spouting about "best practice." Really? Do we agree on what they are? The heart of my difference with Deborah is that we don't agree. Yet Ohio and NYC can bring in a British expert to tell us how to turn our schools "world class." He hasn't done it in England, so why believe him here?

Diane

Margo/Mom,

While many of those school systems are trying to implement "second chances" they are still saddled with an orginal school system tha was more exclusionary. The second chances are better than what had happened previously, but not really a system that would works great at allowing second chances not a system that would thrive in our culture/country.

Still, for quality learning, students need to take ownership for their own learning. Currently, we use the threat of grades. Not a great system either.

So of course, the question is how to encourage students to take ownership for their own learning without damaging their future prospects.

How would you set up a school system to do both?

Erin Johnson

Erin asked:

"So of course, the question is how to encourage students to take ownership for their own learning without damaging their future prospects.

How would you set up a school system to do both?"

This question takes me back again to lessons that I learned spending time in the woods with children. One big lesson: You can't teach what you don't know. As long as many of the adults in schools operate under narrow self-definitions of responsibility (which students they are able to teach, which parts of the school culture they are able to impact, whether they believe that they are to teach anything about behavior or only "content,"), the culture of schools is not likely to be able to foster student sense of responsibility for learning. Some students will arrive with that sense, having acquired it elsewhere, or having some innate predisposition, or having caught the learning (or competitive) bug to find joy in the outcomes of their efforts.

To move from a teaching to a learning culture (as I heard someone describe it recently) requires a critical mass of adults willing to work together with responsibility for agreed upon goals that relate to learning.

We three have got to stop meeting this way, after everyone has moved on.

Margo/mom, I completely agree with your last paragraph which says,

"To move from a teaching to a learning culture (as I heard someone describe it recently) requires a critical mass of adults willing to work together with responsibility for agreed upon goals that relate to learning."

Also, when lost in the woods, start by "hugging a tree." I once watched as our toughest camper tried to get up the nerve to take the first step into the trees. I was like a Kabucki Dance (sp.) where he go only comand is legs to move in extreme slow motion into the unknown. Later I held him all night through his miagraines. A decade later when he was a big gang leader and had dropped out of our school, I was approaching a car load of gangsters who almost certainly was armed. His car whipped into the lot, he took control and told his homeboys to leave.

Erin, as far as my attitudes towards testing, it depends on the class and the situation. All my classes develop unique personalities. Its grading that I hate. I can accurately rank the quality of work, but assessing a fair grade - I'd argue - is impossible.

So here is where I draw lines.

Thirty years ago, my wife and I went on our first date, Tom Paxton's (an Okie) performance for Steve Biko who had just been murdered. Over ther years I have accumulated a range of materials (including another Okie, Bill Moyer's documentary) on apartheid and colonialism. Key scenes in Richard Attenborough's Gandhi and Cry Freedom provide an excellent explanation of colonialism, and the kids always love the lessons.

So, I start my world history class with colonialism and the 20th century, and then we loop back later to the Fertile Crescent. The kids love it, and its always fun to watch them recognize that its Denzel playing Biko. It builds a team effort and it gives the class objectives.

Administrators hate it. But when we get transfers from the neighboring magnet school, they don't even get to 1492, and our transfers from the neighboring neighborhood school just copy word-for-word out of the text. So, why should I drop to the lowest common denominator?

We reached a compromise. I teach my way as long as the textbook is sitting on the students desk in case of a visit from the central office.

If they demand that I abandon my looping I will do it. But if then demand that I abandon my unit on colonialism, they know they have a fight on their hands.

Similarly, when the Supreme Court is in session, my Govt class studies the Bill of Rights through the cases of that session. I teach a different scope and sequence in a presidential election year than in off years. I'm not going to give into the "if this is Tuesday, everyone must be on page X" mentality. And if the bosses want to fight me, they know they will also be fighting students, former students, and parents, so they just find young teachers to bully.

After all, all this curriculum alignment, in high school at least, is not about the kids. Its about central office administrators throwing their weight around.

If they want to benchmark test my kids to hold me accountable, that's find. But I won't grade my kids on their standardized tests. The outstanding young teachers who were my neighbors agreed, against their better judgements to grade benchmarks. They were so ripped up by the damage it caused, that they both transferred.

John,

If you don't like to grade, why do you do it? Additionally, why don't you give all your students A's?

Erin Johnson

Margo/Mom,

For our schools to develop a learning culture, they need substantially more than just "a critical mass of adults willing to work together with responsibility for agreed upon goals that relate to learning."

Even if we had a whole host of adults (teachers, parents etc...) storm the local school and demand quality learning it still would change little in our schools because our school structure is not set up to encourage quality learning.

If we look internationally, the quality school systems are few and far between. But the fact that there are good school systems that both enable quality learning while reducing the acheivement gap, gives us some guidance that it is possible to be better.

But those few school systems that are able to do this have attributes (mostly a focus on student learning and not seat time) that are completely missing in our school system.

Without substantial changes to our school structure, it matters not what the flavor of the day is for Ed Reform (the Barber method, the Broader Bolder method or anything else), our schools will maintain the status quo as they have through the wave after wave of ed reform that has happened over the past 20+ years.

Erin Johnson

OK--I promise this is my last comment on this thread. Erin, I keep thinking that you may be somewhat younger than some of the rest of this, so I hope this doesn't go by you. In the epic story of the Alice's Restaurant Massacree, Arlo Guthrie recounts how a charge of littering kept him out of the army during the Viet Nam war. He suggests that draftees go down to their local draft office and hum a few bars of the Alice's Restaurant Massacree--and then walk out. They might think you're crazy and not take you. Or take a friend--they might think you're gay and not take either one of you. But if there's three of you, walking into the draft board, humming a few bars of the Alice's Restaurant Massacree, then they'll know that it's a MOVEMENT.

Now--right now, John is quietly undermining the pacing chart that someone laid on him (because they didn't know how to create a meaningful curriculum guide). But imagine, if John, and one other social studies teacher in his school sat down and planned out the year together, in response to the standards and following a sequence that made sense according to the political events of the year. They might only each have to write half as many creative lessons. Some young teacher might see them and ask to join in. They might take over the whole department. They might even organize some benchmark evaluation to fit their curriculum. It might be better than what the district is providing. Someone might notice. Things might get better.

You can get anything you want...

Erin,

Now its just you and me, so I can really tell the truth. I assign grades, just like I take attendance, and do bus duty, and sign in and out, but I don't let grading bring negative energy into the class. Students rarely complain but when they complain about anything I just sing old sixties songs, but I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't sing Alices Restauraunt THIS YEAR. It like Lynn Canady says, every dept has its own culture and math teachers can report grades down to the third decimal. Social Studies teachers are more likely to say "Looks good enough."

The best grading system that I know of is the National Certification process. I thought I'd gotten lucky when they asked a question, ON THE KNOWLEDGE PART OF THE EXAM, about the social origins of the Okies. Having won the Western Historical Association Athearn Award, I was probably the nation's leading authority on that issue (not that there is a lot of competition on that subject). The grader determined I had "No Knowledge."

I had also gotten a B+ from Lawrence Stone at Princeton on a course on the 18th century, and I got a question that we spent a full semester on. The grader said I had "Little Knowledge."

In regard to international data, I have so little trust in it that I didn't read the following as carefully as you, but you'll have less trouble following the acronyms. Gerald Bracey has opinions, but his analysis is rock solid.

From: GERALD BRACEY
To: [email protected] com ; [email protected] org ; [email protected] yahoogroups. com
Sent: Wednesday, June 18, 2008 3:13 PM
Subject: tests, tests, tests


I have always had my suspicions about international comparisons, but people in the U. S., and especially in the educational research community take them hook, line and sinker. I was diappointed to see PISA results quoted as if they were gospel in Democracy at Risk from The Forum for Education and Democracy. No TIMSS (on which we look better). No PIRLS (on which we look good indeed). Just PISA. Having just perused part of a book of chapters critical of PISA, all written by Europeans, I can see why: For critics here, PISA is just a general cudgel. As one of the authors points out, "it only confirms what was known from earlier international studies--that American students don't do very well in such tests compared to the students of many other nations." In parts of Europe governments and other agencies have tried (erroneously) to draw grand curricular and structural conclusions from it.

From the introduction to this book:

"What has emerged is a picture not unlike the behavior of large companies when they encounter a potential scandal" (the section is titled "PISA--The Contergan of Educational Research?" Contergan was the firm that made thalidomide) .

"If some critique is voiced in public, the first response seems be silence." (People affiliated with PISA were repeatedly invited to contribute to the volume. None would.)

"If that is not enough, the next step is often to raise doubts about the motives and the abilities of those who are critical of the enterprise.

"The next step seems to acknowledge some problems, but to insist that they are very limited in nature and scope, not affecting the overall picture. Alternatively, it is pointed out that these problems are well known within large scale survey research of the kind like PISA, and even unavoidable when working comparatively. Of course, this claim does not reduce the impact of these problems on the validity of the results.

"Finally, there is the statement that the criticism does not contain anything new and this claim is often accompanied by references to opaque technical reports that only insiders can understand, or to unpublished reports."

Sound familiar?

From a chapter from a person at the Forschungszentrum Julic in Munich: "Some codes [for right answers] are kept secret because national authorities want to prevent certain analyses."

"Only Luxembourg has scanned and published some student solutions to free-response items; these examples show that students sometimes misunderstood what the item writer meant to ask."

Although PISA permits 0.5% exlusion for organizational reasons and 4.5% for intellectual or functional disabilities, the decisions about exclusion depended only on "the professional opinion of the school principal or other qualified staff," a completely uncontrollable source of uncertainty.

"Items that did not fit into the idea that competence can be measured in a culturally neutral way on a one-dimensional scale were simply eliminated. Field test results were never published. This adds to Olsen's observation that in PISA-like studies, the major portion of information is thrown away."

This from Svein Sjoberg at the University of Oslo:

An observer noticed Taiwanese parents gathered with their children before TIMSS testing. The director of the school gave and address exhorting them to do their best and the national anthem was played as the children entered. (Archie Lapointe reported a similar phenomenon in Korea--as each child's name was called, he or she stood up to wild applause from the rest of the class. Such an honor to perform for the country!.)

"In this country, only one thing matters: Be best--teach to the test."

As the test nears in Singapore, stores have special offers: At the bottom of a shelf are painkillers and at the top, collections of exam papers for parens to buy for their children (a picture of same accompanies the text).

This from Stefan Hopman at the University of Vienna, talking about NCLB:

The core of accountability is narrowly focused on student achievements measured by 'academic standards.'" Other functions of schooling (such as the role school plays for locale communities or in shaping society) are hardly mentioned, and if at all they are constructed as minor problems...The starting idea of the "basic principles of curriculum and instruction (Tyler, 1949), which was embedded in the methodologically much broader approach of the Eight-Year Study (Aikin, 1942) which asked for a comprehensive understanding of schooling as a social and local institution, has dwindled to a concept of measurable yearly progress."

Jerry

John,

You don't have to bring in negative energy. It is already there with the fact that teachers have to assign grades. An artifical letter representing acheivement that is only beneficial to the external world.

From the student's standpoint how is their relationship with their teachers any different than the one you have with your principal or the central office? Whenever there is an evaluation involved, the relationship is always different.

A note about the PISA, TIMSS, etc... Despite the vast differences between the tests, we actually do not look very different on the different tests. Rather mediocre (but not the worst) when compared with countries around the world. But considering that we think that with our immense resources we should be able to educate our students at least as good as our peer nations, the results are rather disappointing.

What is valuable about the international data is being able to tease out those assumptions in our schools that we would not normally see if we are looking at US data alone.

But even if you don't like the international data, clearly our country has struggled to improve our schools despite the multiple ed reforms that have been tried.

Clearly even the US data alone shows no/little growth in learning over the past 20+ years.

Your concerns regarding external reviewers being wrong are, of course, very problematic and quite indicative of the state of our schools.

Certainly, with our current school structure, many of the inept ways that schools have tried to put in standards based assessments are frankly, inane.

But we could continue the way things are, excessively relying upon the very few individuals, such as yourself, to thumb their nose at the system. Or perhaps change the system to enable teachers to teach well.

The narrowing of the curricula to test taking strategies does not serve our students well.

But well defined, high quality external evaluations (this can include exams, oral evaluations, or frankly anything of value) do have the potential to change our schools for the better.

We are not flying solo here as there is a wealth of experience in the everyday struggles of school systems that are able to encourage teachers to teach well to use as a guide. Of course, the key term is a guide, not a blueprint.

Lewis 2002 remarks regarding how the Japanese system encourages quality learning with the use of lesson study:

"Japanese teachers focus their goals on a single subject area (such as
science or mathematics), they often have broad, long-term goals such as for
“students to learn science with desire” or “love nature” or “become problemsolvers.”

US teachers are often surprised by the broad, long-term goals of Japanese lesson study. These goals sharply contrast with the advice often given US teachers – to focus on short-term, concrete, measurable outcomes."

How is that the Japanese school system is able to encourage the long range, broad perspective of teaching while we are stuck with the "fill in the bubble" mentality of schooling?

Erin Johnson

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