Education Reform: More of the Same

September 2009

Dear Friends,

Oddly enough, the ugly debate we are having over health care is a lot better than the complete non-debate we’re having over Duncan’s “race to the top” plans to ram down more testing, higher stakes, pay-by-score, etc plans! They are so at odds with the campaign oratory that Obama offered on education in which he derided the focus on bubble-in tests.

But before I go on, let me urge readers to go to the Bridging Differences Ed Week Blog and read Diane Ravitch’s blog from September 9th and mine from September 10th. Diane’s stuff on testing is brilliantly well-said and her documentation top notch. She has also written a number of good articles on he same subject—including one published in the NY Daily News. It will be interesting to read her forthcoming book. She and I might finally find grounds for bridging differences, but I am hard put of late to disagree with her printed words.

What most astounds me is the pile-up of evidence against the new so-called “consensus” –from the most impeccable of sources. But, at the same time we see more and more school systems and states capitulating to the new demands: lift the charter cap, fire all the teachers in low performing schools (and then bemoan how no one wants to teach there), hire less and less qualified teachers for short term “service,” start tests earlier and more often, pay teachers based on student scores, etc, etc. (I’m in the midst of compiling the evidence for/against these reforms.)

As success-by-the-numbers failed us in the economy, we’ve willy-nilly moved on to try it out in our schools. It appears that the new school “reformers” are every bit as good at gaming the system. But like any Ponzi scheme, it is hard for failed banks to hide out forever. Failed schools, alas, are another matter. For the kids whose schooling has most failed them, there appears to be no end in sight. Patience is a virtue—even in school reform—if the direction is right. But we’re escalating the very practices that have failed the poorest and least advantaged for the last 150 years.

The same joy fills my heart at the increasing number of articles in the popular media, as well as in the academic world, are pointing out the importance of play. Imagination—not just play—has even made a comeback. Meanwhile NYC plans to introduce tests for 4 and 5 year olds. Once again. They withdrew it last time under an onslaught of criticism, although pushing ahead in using it as a method for selecting out the chosen few for “gifted” programs. The latter, as I recall, are classes that still allow for some imagination and play. The rest are required to spend kindergarten “catching up” on their “basic skills.”

More in a few weeks, but meanwhile keep up with my thoughts weekly via Ed Week.

–Deborah

© 2009 Deborah Meier

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