Obama Has a Long Way to Go on Education Reform says Pedro Noguera. In an editorial special to CNN regarding President Obama’s comments about education during the recent State of the Union Address, Noguera (professor at New York University and director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education) remarks:
“The president could have pointed out that as important as it is to raise academic standards, as 40 states have done in response to Race to the Top, that is the easy part. The hard part is figuring out how to help schools perform at that higher level.
There is no reason to believe that simply by raising standards, academic performance among students will increase, followed by higher graduation and college attendance rates.”
Noguera has his doubts about the efficacy of setting high standards and demanding high achievement, as if just wishing would make it so. I do too. I live and breathe this stuff every day of the week. Test scores and meeting targets are paramount, and I’m not even a math or reading teacher! I teach science, for which there is currently no longer an annual test. Lucky me. However, I do everything that I can to support my students’ development of math and reading skills within the science program—there is a fair amount of math involved in 6th grade science and science literacy (reading, writing, and talking about our science lessons) is an important aspect of my work.
Not only has our state once again adopted higher standards—science has had nationally-based higher standards since at least 1999—but all of Delaware’s schools are also under the gun to achieve higher and higher test scores. [In the following example, I may not have the target numbers exactly accurate, but they are close enough for government work, as my father used to say.]
The test score targets go up every year—no matter what. Last year’s target in reading was set to have 76% of all of our students meet or exceed the standard—in other words, 76% of kids scoring a “3” or better on the state test. In math the target was 68% of all students. Plenty of our students did not meet those targets—schools did not make AYP (annual yearly progress). The consequence? The targets have been reset. The new target for reading has gone from 76% to 84%. The math targets have gone from 68% to 75%. It is a strange world in which we live—ahem,… in which we test.
There are some schools across the state that are meeting these targets. However, too many students in too many of our schools are failing to meet these targets. It is not for the lack of effort by me, by my colleagues, or by many of our students.
At the risk of sounding churlish and cynical (an attitudinal state in which I find myself more and more frequently each year), one has to wonder how on earth new levels of achievement can be reached when the bar is raised annually AND the previous levels had not yet been met. Heck—in many cases, some of us don’t even come close! What sense does it make if year after year, NCLB mandates that new levels be set for math and reading test scores when too many schools have not achieved the previously set levels? Are educators the only ones who are befuddled by this regimen?
How would this kind of scenario play out in the real world outside of school?
FOR EXAMPLE: I am currently involved in a weight loss program. I have lost 30 pounds in the past five months since school started. [Yea, me! I could not be happier or more proud of myself.] I took some time to assess my situation and to set some reasonable goals for myself. I sought out promising resources to help me achieve the goals. I joined Weight Watchers the week before school started, I hooked up with a girlfriend who also wanted to lose some serious pounds, and the two of us have been attending meetings and weighing in almost every week since then.
I know all about SMART goals—one of the good things I have gotten from recent years of PD: Specific-Measurable-Attainable-Realistic-Timely goals. Goal #1: I intended to lose 20 pounds by the end of the year—20 pounds over a four-month period—a pretty high number for someone who had not ventured into weigh-loss for 20 years. Up there, but doable. I met and exceeded that goal. I lost about 25 pounds by December 31. I set a second goal to try to lose five more pounds by the end of January. I met that goal. My new goal is a bit vaguer—to continue to lose, to go down or sometimes stay the same from week to week. I am thinking that 20 more pounds by the end of the school year seems reasonable. Heck, with snow days piling up, I may have until early July to meet this goal!
What if my weight loss plan was being driven by NCLB standards? First, I would receive a memo from the State DOW (Department of Weight Loss) identifying my target goal—let’s say 3 pounds a week for the first month = 12 pounds. My previous history would not be taken into account. Then, I would follow the prescribed plan (in this case, the Weight Watchers’ food points tracking system), record my food intake, keep track of the points used, take the weekly test (the weigh-in), and stay for the next training session (the weekly WW meeting—which I love because we have a great meeting leader, Cathy, who is funny as hell and swears just enough to make her real—like me!). And, remember, I am collecting data—very detailed data. Weekly weight is recorded electronically to the nearest tenth of a pound. Believe me—I can be made very happy by a 1.6 pound loss!
Then, on October 1, I would get another DOW memo indicating that my next target should be 4 pounds a week = 16 pounds. Apparently, it would not matter to the goal setters that while I had been successful, I had only lost a total of 9 pounds in the first month, not the recommended 12 pounds. I failed to meet the first target by 25%. That’s a pretty significant shortfall. No matter.
On November 1st, having lost 18 pounds in two months time, I would be notified that the new goal was 5 pounds per week = 20 pounds.
Jeez. During October, I was supposed to have lost 16 more pounds. I was already behind by 28 – 18 = 10 pounds. Now I was supposed to lose 5 pounds each week. Things were beginning to look grim. Here I was losing weight—conducting a successful weight loss program and making what many folks would assess as reasonable and desirable progress. But, I was continually failing to meet the established standards of achievement. By the end of November, whereas I lost about 24 pounds, I was off-target by the same amount. According to DOW targets, I should have lost 48 pounds in the three months that I lost only 24. Down by 50%, and losing ground every month.
But, I exaggerate. Or, do I?