Monday, March 15, 2010

Topic: Educational Reform

10-second review: Diane Ravitch says that she has changed her mind about school reform, especially school choice, charter schools and state standards or goals in reading and mathematics.

Title: “Why I Changed My Mind about School Reform.” Diane Ravitch. Wall Street Journal (March 9, 2010). Internet.

Summary: The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Law mandated that 100% of students would reach proficiency in reading and math by 2014, measured by tests given in each state.

Each state defined proficiency in its own way but NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) has revealed gloomy results in comparison to glowing reports of progress in state results. In addition, states drilled on the basic skills of math and reading and ignored everything else in the curriculum, including the arts, science, history, literature, geography, civics, foreign languages and physical education. And colleges still complain about the need for remedial skills.

17% of charter schools had higher test scores than public schools, 46% achieved the same as public schools [in spite of charter schools’ more selective school population] and 37% were significantly worse.

The idea of labeling schools as failing and firing all the teachers ignores the fact that “the best predictor of low academic performance is poverty—not bad teachers.” And in the mean time, the loss of failing schools in the neighborhood disrupts the community.

Comment: I think some good has come from No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The goal was clear. The problems in achieving it were made clearer—and the idea of states making up their own proficiency guidelines has proved to be fallible.

I think the people who originated NCLB failed to realize that the real problems in education are urban schools and to solve those problems is going to involve a great deal of social change.

I also think that since Kennedy set the goal of landing on the moon and scientists pulled together and achieved it, the assumption was made that setting any goal high would cause people to work together to achieve the goal. But the problems in science and technology that produced the moon landing are significantly different from the problems in society that so far have made NCLB very difficult. Urban problems that affect the schools are incredibly complex and difficult and so is education for children of immigrants whose native language is not English.

I think we need a different approach to problems in education. The problems need to be clearly defined, as complex as they are, and we might need to realize, as Kennedy eventually did, that reason will not solve all problems. RayS.

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