Thursday, October 07, 2004

Alternatives

The situation is not hopeless. I've called this site "Education at the Brink" not because I think it's falling off a cliff but because I think there are tremendous opportunities to change education for the better, to make schools places of vibrance, activity, innovation, and hope.

Here's a story from the Washington Post profiling the Met Schools of Rhode Island. I've read about their approach quite a bit and I'm thoroughly impressed with everything I've read so far.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A55214-2004Sep27.html

But they didn't get really high test scores in every academic area. Shut 'em down, right? But wait-- what did they get? High scores for parental involvement, school climate, communication between students and teachers, and quality of instruction. How do you measure that with multiple choice questions? One system, School Accountability for Learning and Teaching (SALT), attempts to measure those intangibles that aren't measured in reading and math tests.
http://www.ridoe.net/schoolimprove/salt/default.htm

The Met Schools are under the umbrella of the Big Picture Co. which has founded 18 schools with similar goals. They are funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and are the schools we should be focused on building.
http://www.bigpicture.org/

There are alternatives to endless drills, rote memorization, and mind-numbing test preparation.

Mission Accomplished?

In a follow-up to yesterday's post about Secretary Paige's delusional proclamations of victory, here's a story that has even NCLB supporters questioning his interpretation of the results.
http://www.edweek.org/ew/ewstory.cfm?slug=06Paige.h24

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

"The Debate is Over"

I just picked up this remarkable story from two weeks ago. U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige said: "The debate is over" while speaking about No Child Left Behind. Uh, really? There seems to be a pretty active debate going on. What exactly is in the White House Kool-Aid that prevents Bush Administration officials from registering any dissent? http://www.cnn.com/2004/EDUCATION/09/24/paige.schools.ap/

But he didn't just stop there. Get this: "If we remain resolute and steadfast, year by year, more powerful and positive changes will follow." Are we talking about Iraq here or our public schools? The evidence just isn't there to support the claims that NCLB is working, so instead Paige and other supporters are reduced to platitudes and affirmations of faith.

I'm still unclear on Kerry's position on the controversial legislation, though I've been trying to figure out for some time now. According to this article, Kerry wants $100 billion more put into NCLB over the next 10 years, but he also want to de-emphasize testing. I'm not sure then what the $100 billion would go to... More later...(http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/2004/10/06_zdechlikm_education/)

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The Future of NCLB

This blog will not focus exclusively on No Child Left Behind. But I cannot ignore it either. Unfortunately, it's the dominant force in education today. A strict regime of testing is enforced on teachers throughout the country, handicapping them, preventing them from innovating in any meaningful way. Administrators -- faced with losing their jobs from poor test scores -- require that teachers teach to the test. In other words, if it's not on the tests, don't teach it. Focus instead on what's really important: the tests.

Have you ever seen these tests? They're full of the kind of meaningless, banal exercises that drive children (and teachers) to hate school. This leads to increased teacher fatigue and lower teacher retention rates, and increased boredom in students which leads to higher dropout rates.

And now they want to ramp it up. According to the New York Times, the federally mandated (and largely underfunded) program will be expanded next year so that grades 3-8 will be tested. Yes, third grade! Our 8-year-olds will be held back if they don't perform on standardized tests!(for more, go to http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/05/education/05child.html) And in 2007, Science will be added to the current testing regime of English and Math, which means History, Literature, the Arts, Music, and PE will be pushed even further into the background, because, if it's not on the tests, it's simply not important.

This is great: more pressure for 8-year-olds and less arts and PE. That's what we need. That's the cure for our educational ills.

I don't know much about Kerry and Edwards' education plan but I'm going to be looking very closely at it. Edwards alluded to NCLB tonight in the debate, but only in the context of its underfunding. That's not enough. They've got roll back the high-stakes aspects of the tests.

Look, the tests themselves aren't terrible. It's good to know what kids know and what they don't know. What's insidious is the notion that teachers should be fired, schools shut down, and kids held back (dare I say, left behind?) based on test scores alone.

NCLB must be stopped.

Monday, October 04, 2004

No Child Left Behind Fallout

The Providence Journal ran a brilliant story today on a school experiencing fallout from NCLB. An elementary school in Providence, in a largely Spanish speaking, working-class neighborhood, made double digit gains in English and math but they missed one federally mandated target (out of 21) for English. Now parents there can opt out and send there children to a "higher performing school," which means less funds for the already strapped and under-performing school.

Unfortunately, No Child Left Behind is designed to punish schools for every failing and reward for nothing.

Here's a sampling from the Journal of the absurdities that accompany the implementation of the law in Rhode Island:

  1. "Choice is not practical at the middle school level in Providence... because all the city's middle schools have been classified as needing improvement. They will instead offer supplemental services."
  2. "Coleman [School] is an example of how the federal accountability system is at odds with what's going on within the school. Coleman met all of its 21 targets this year. In fact, the school outperformed the district and the state in seven performance categories.
    Yet Coleman must offer choice because a school must show improvement for two years in a row to come off the "needs improvement" list.
    Principal George Nasuti says it makes no sense to bus children to another school when Coleman, because it is a high-poverty school, offers more programs for students struggling with basic reading and writing. If students transfer to another elementary school, they might not be able to get the same kinds of services."
  3. "In Woonsocket, the choice process has also been riddled with problems. The state Department of Education overlooked a Title I elementary school that was failing last year and ended up on the improving list this year. And one child was transferred three times because he was caught in the crossfire between choice and overcrowding."
  4. "Newport was taken off the 'needs improvement' list shortly after the school district challenged the designation. The state recalculated the Sullivan School's test scores and found that students had improved. In Sullivan's case, the results of three student test scores made the difference between an improving school and a school of choice."

Madness.

Link to story: http://www.projo.com/news/content/projo_20041004_choice4.85c22.html

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Mice or men?

We can't begin to understand the current debates on educational policy without a little reference to educational philosophy. Here's a gem from Joseph Campbell that I discovered while preparing a lesson for a mythology unit:

"You have to distinguish between reason and thinking... Yes, your reason is one kind of thinking. But thinking things out isn't necessarily reason in [the ultimate] sense. Figuring out how you can break through a wall is not reason. The mouse who figures out, after it bumps its nose here, that perhaps he can get around there, is figuring something out the way we figure something out. But that's not reason. Reason has to do with finding the ground of being and the fundamental structuring of order of the universe."

Which do you think we teach in schools? With apologies to John Steinbeck (and to women), are we mice or men?

Introducing Educhange

Education needs change. Tests are the focus while the interests of children are shoved aside. And we're told it's progress. I'm skeptical.

I will daily (with a few exceptions for vacation and the like) seek and report on educational stories around the world. I'll look for signs of positive change, for networks of concerned educators who resist the standardization of education. And I'll also report the negative stories: of corruption, testing, the dumbing down of curriculum, school violence, and outdated pedagogical practice. It'll all be represented here.
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