Inquiring education historians want to know…

I saw this piece on Transparent Christina, and followed the link to its posting on Neiman Watchdog, a blog related to the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. The intro to their post is: “Diane Ravitch poses a dozen piercing questions on education and school policy. Some of them turn conventional thinking on its ear, and each could be a starting point for reporting on elections, from the presidency on down to local school boards.”

If you go to the Neiman Watchdog link you can also read the comments on the original post. They are both interesting and informative. 

I like the format of asking critical questions. If the questions are well done (if they are thoughtful, informed, well-constructed, and conceived to create genuine dialogue, leading to possible resolution) then their provocative nature is worthwhile. I greatly admire Diane Ravitch and think that she is on the right track. I would love to work with others to get her here to speak in Delaware.  Any takers? Anyone?

Do politicians know anything at all about schools and education? Anything?

By Diane Ravitch        gardendr@gmail.com

1.     Both Republican candidates and President Obama are enamored of charter schools—that is, schools that are privately managed and deregulated. Are you aware that studies consistently show that charter schools don’t get better results than regular public schools? Are you aware that studies show that, like any deregulated sector, some charter schools get high test scores, many more get low scores, but most are no different from regular public schools? Do you recognize the danger in handing public schools and public monies over to private entities with weak oversight? Didn’t we learn some lessons from the stock collapse of 2008 about the risk of deregulation?
2.    Both Republican candidates and President Obama are enamored of merit pay for teachers based on test scores. Are you aware that merit pay has been tried in the schools again and again since the 1920s and it has never worked? Are you aware of the exhaustive study of merit pay in the Nashville schools, conducted by the National Center for Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt, which found that a bonus of $15,000 per teacher for higher test scores made no difference?
3.     Are you aware that Milwaukee has had vouchers for low-income students since 1990, and now state scores in Wisconsin show that low-income students in voucher schools get no better test scores than low-income students in the Milwaukee public schools? Are you aware that the federal test (the National Assessment of Educational Progress) shows that—after 21 years of vouchers in Milwaukee—black students in the Milwaukee public schools score on par with black students in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana?
4.     Does it concern you that cyber charters and virtual academies make millions for their sponsors yet get terrible results for their students?
5.     Are you concerned that charters will skim off the best-performing students and weaken our nation’s public education system?
6.     Are you aware that there is a large body of research by testing experts warning that it is wrong to judge teacher quality by student test scores? Are you aware that these measures are considered inaccurate and unstable, that a teacher may be labeled effective one year, then ineffective the next one? Are you aware that these measures may be strongly influenced by the composition of a teacher’s classroom, over which she or he has no control? Do you think there is a long line of excellent teachers waiting to replace those who are (in many cases, wrongly) fired?
7.     Although elected officials like to complain about our standing on international tests, did you know that students in the United States have never done well on those tests? Did you know that when the first international test was given in the mid-1960s, the United States came in 12th out of 12? Did you know that over the past half-century, our students have typically scored no better than average and often in the bottom quartile on international tests? Have you ever wondered how our nation developed the world’s most successful economy when we scored so poorly over the decades on those tests?
8.     Did you know that American schools where less than 10% of the students were poor scored above those of Finland, Japan and Korea in the last international assessment? Did you know that American schools where 25% of the students were poor scored the same as the international leaders Finland, Japan and Korea? Did you know that the U.S. is #1 among advanced nations in child poverty? Did you know that more than 20% of our children live in poverty and that this is far greater than in the nations to which we compare ourselves?
9.     Did you know that family income is the single most reliable predictor of student test scores? Did you know that every testing program—the SAT, the ACT, the NAEP, state tests and international tests—shows the same tight correlation between family income and test scores? Affluence helps—children in affluent homes have educated parents, more books in the home, more vocabulary spoken around them, better medical care, more access to travel and libraries, more economic security—as compared to students who live in poverty, who are more likely to have poor medical care, poor nutrition, uneducated parents, more instability in their lives. Do you think these things matter?
10.Are you concerned that closing schools in low-income neighborhoods will further weaken fragile communities?
11. Are you worried that annual firings of teachers will cause demoralization and loss of prestige for teachers? Any ideas about who will replace those fired because they taught too many low-scoring students?
12.  Why is it that politicians don’t pay attention to research and studies?

And another question that came to mind after the initial posting of this article:
13. Do you know of any high-performing nation in the world that got that way by privatizing public schools, closing those with low test scores, and firing teachers? The answer: none.
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This entry was posted in "Reform Experts", Accountability, Education Reform, Education Transformation, School Improvement. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Inquiring education historians want to know…

  1. A Delaware Teacher says:

    Fredrika, you asked me to post this here.
    So, tell me again, what exactly do I have control over? I feel like this is the question I ask myself every day. The answer that keeps coming back to me is, “some things, but not many.”
    The Serenity Prayer says, “God, grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The prayer asks God to grant me “wisdom” so I can know the difference between what I can control and what I can’t. Most times, wisdom is something that comes from experience. We all have wisdom. We learned early that it is wise not to touch hot things. First, we were told. Then we did it anyway. Then we actually learned the wisdom of not touching hot things.
    But what does it mean to be granted wisdom? What does it mean to ask for wisdom? I think asking is the key to the prayer. The mere act of asking for help and having the willingness to learn is when the wisdom is granted. We grow when we open ourselves up to the idea that the answers are not always within us. But are we willing to hear the answers?
    This school year started as one of the most difficult years I have ever had, and yet it is progressing towards one of the most enriching years I have had. By October, I had cracked under the pressures of so many changes being imposed upon me. This school year, like none I have ever experienced, started with a salvo of reforms and efforts meant to change the students into what they are supposed to be… as determined by a standardized test. The reality is, some of the efforts will produce the desired results on the tests, which will result in more of the same.
    Is all this change bad? No. Will the change hurt the students? Sometimes. Is it what I would do? No. But then again, I am not in control of that. I am a front-line soldier. I do the fighting, and I get paid to take orders. Luckily, I do have a voice, but in the end, I am to do what I am told, or at least give the appearance that I am. As a soldier, I cannot change what happens above me.
    But I have attained some wisdom over the years. I have also recently been granted some wisdom in the form of a group of students like I have never taught before. Sure, there was the huge group that went through a few years ago. The challenge with them was pure numbers. This year’s group exemplifies Ruby Paine perfectly. And as I sat through the in-service yesterday, I kept looking at the title of her book: Understanding Poverty. Understanding- not solving, helping, how to teach to. Understand.
    We don’t understand something until we understand it. Understanding can’t be forced. As much as we would love it, that ah-ha moment arrives when the student gets it. This student of life has come to an ah-ha moment recently. What does it truly mean to live life “one day at a time”?
    As teachers, we plan and organize our weeks and years so that everything will go smoothly, as if we will land on the runway in a month with perfect accuracy- at least we try to do this. We try to pass on this valuable skill to every student because it has served us well. It has not served me so well this year. What these students and the craziness of these school reforms have taught me is that each day has its own priorities, most of which are outside of my control. Faced with the reality of the situation, is there a need to get angry? Is there a need to think you will change the reality of the world around you? If you are stuck in a world that you have no power over, it is you that must change. Our students in poverty have no choice but to adapt to the world that surrounds them.
    I am not saying I have all the answers. I am not saying I have achieved enlightenment. But when I asked for the wisdom to know the difference between what I can change and what I can’t, I have been granted some insight. Most of the students who come into our schools are looking for us to help them in some way. For some, it might be as simple as food and the rest of the day is playtime. For some, it is the handshake in the hall and a smile, but the rest of the class is just too much for them to deal with. For some, school might be a safe place where they can hang out with their friends because they are not allowed out at home.
    I would like to think that students walk through those doors in the morning seeing school as the opportunity I give them to make something of themselves in life, that they see school as a way to enrich their lives and stimulate their imagination. The reality is I don’t control how they view school, but I can change how I view them. In fact, if I open myself up to their world, I am finding I can learn a lot about my own.
    Testing schedules, DPAS II, DCAS, PLCs, how the media sees teaching, parents, Congress, even issues within my own school district: “God, grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Maybe there are a few things I can change, but most of it, I can’t. The next lesson I hope to understand is that serenity part! I hope that answer comes soon.

  2. Frederika says:

    Thank you. Please feel free to post responses here. I know that you are a frequent writer. I think that you deserve a blog of your own.

    The prayer is an entirely appropriate one. I think all the time about how I coulda/woulda/shoulda responded to a situation or a student from the last two years at HB. I am still seeking wisdom about individual students, groups of students, students I know and students I have never met. I think all the time about what some of our kids must go through when they ride that bus all the way from Hilltop and West Side out to HB–past those giant houses with the big yards and cars in the driveways to go to school with a bunch of kids they have never seen or known. It is hard to UNDERSTAND their lives, their back stories, their perspectives–let alone get a handle on their needs.

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