is Just to Say:
NLCB & Race to the Top
Leave Education Behind
the main object of this, our didactic, be as follows: To seek
and to find a method of instruction, by which teachers may teach
less, but learners may learn more.
Comenius, The Great Didactic, 1649
training a child to activity of thought, above all things we must
beware of what I will call inert ideas--that is to
say, ideas that are merely received into the mind without being
utilized, or tested, or thrown into fresh combinations.
Alfred North Whitehead, The Aims of Education, 1929
studies in perception indicate, we do not get meaning
from things, we assign meaning
.In other words, whatever
is out there isnt anything until we make it something, and
then it is whatever we make it.
Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, Teaching As a Subversive
U.S. presidents assigned meaning to Americas schools with
their No Child Left Behind and "Race to the Top
programs -- two linear metaphors, one horizontal, the other vertical.
Bush's NCLB suggested that though some schoolchildren were moving
forward toward something, others who were not must join them.
President Obama's Race to the Top now calls upon children to speed
competitively to the top of something. Education, viewed as synonymous
with schooling, appears to be a terminal event in both metaphors.
E.g., Bush was not left behind, but moved forward to Harvard,
while Obama sped, also to Harvard, where both men got
about NCLB (1/8/09), President Bush said, Testing is important
to solve problems. You can't solve them unless you diagnose the
problem in the first place.
problem does this excerpt (and others like it) from a National
Assessment of Educational Progress test aim to solve?
NAEP Civics, Grade 12, 2006
Question 1: The
following question refers to the poster below, which was produced
by a government agency during the Second World War. This black
and white poster is titled "Save Freedom of Worship."
The next line is superimposed
over the side perspective of people who appear to [be] praying:
to the dictates of his own conscience." The bottom of the
poster has the artist's
name, Norman Rockwell, and the statement "Buy war bonds."
the poster you can tell that
there was little support for the Second World War in the United
government wanted Americans to be part of the war effort
American citizens knew little about the Second World War
government was afraid to ask the people for help in the war effort
in the United States has been hijacked by the obsession with standardized
tests. A tool that was supposed to help measure a narrow band
of academic outcomes has morphed into the primary purpose of schooling
these days. The result: a terribly constricted view of education
that often keeps teachers from doing the best work they can do.
Tom Roderick, Executive Director, Morningside Center
for Teaching Social Responsibility, conference remarks, 5/22/10
Washington Post asked President Obama: Your predecessor
was famously identified with the phrase that summed up his education
agenda, No Child Left Behind. And it could be explained in a single
sentence Test all students every year to hold schools
accountable for closing achievement gaps. What phrase could
sum up your education agenda? And if you had to pick it, what
single sentence could explain it?
president obliged: We want to challenge all the stakeholders
-- parents, teachers, unions, school administrators -- to not
only raise standards, but make the changes that are required to
actually meet those standards, by having the best teachers and
principals, by having the kind of data collection that tells us
whether improvements are actually happening, and tying student
achievement to assessments of teachers, by making sure that there's
a focus on low-performing schools, by making sure that the standards
that have been set are ones that mean a kid who graduates can
compete at the international level. (www.washingtonpost.com,
what standards? Having the best teachers and principals.
All opposed, raise hands. Collection of what data (besides test
results) to determine improvements in what? Evidence for the validity
of tying student achievement to assessments of teachers?
the latter view might lead was dramatized in February when all
93 teachers and other staff members at Central Falls High School,
Rhode Island were fired after the teachers union rejected
a plan for a longer school day and after-school tutoring because
it viewed the pay inadequate.
president approved the firings. "If a school continues to
fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn't show
signs of improvement, then there's got to be a sense of accountability.
And that's what happened in Rhode Island last week at a chronically
troubled school, when just 7 percent of 11th-graders passed state
math tests -- 7 percent."
and other staff members were rehired following a union-Board settlement.
Obama administration "has embraced some of the worst features
of the George W. Bush era. Obamas Race to the Top competition
dangled $4.3 billion before cash-hungry states. To qualify for
the money, states
had to agree to create data systems making
it possible to evaluate teachers by their students test
.Judging teachers by test scores is wrongheaded because
students scores are affected not only by what the teacher
does but by such important factors as poverty, student motivation
and family support. Yet only teachers will be held accountable.
Diane Ravitch, a writer and a research professor of education
at New York University, Why I Changed My Mind, The
schoolwork is obviously affected by a number of factors, those
cited by Ravitch and, among others, student language facility,
home environment, and health. Obama sees teacher accountability
as essential for a chronically troubled school, but
mentions nobody and nothing else that might contribute to conditions
in Central Falls, a poor community with a large immigration
population. (New York Times, 3/6/10)
day after Obamas single sentence sum-up, Education Secretary
Arne Duncan launched Race to the Top, underlining its economic
aims and firing the first shot in a speech, The Race to
the Top Begins: The president recognizes that America
needs urgently to
elevate the quality of K-12 schools, not
just to propel the economic recovery but also because students
need stronger skills to compete with students in India and China.
Calvin Coolidge: After all, the chief business of the American
people is business. (1/17/25)
Civics, Grade 12, 2006
The following question is about federalism.
A way of organizing a nation so that two or more levels of government
have authority over the same land and people. Which fact about
American government reflects the above definition of federalism?
Power is divided among legislative, executive, and judicial branches.
organizations in the United States do much of the work that is
performed by local governments in other countries.
in the United States are subject to both state and federal laws.
in the United States have a right to protection from intrusion
into their private
The merely well-informed man is the most useless bore on
& Weingartner: The elimination of conventional tests
necessary because, as soon as they are used as judgment-making
instruments, the whole process of school shifts from education
to training intended to produce passing grades on tests. About
the only wholesome grounds on which mass testing can be justified
is that it provides the conditions for about the only creative
intellectual activity available to studentscheating. It
is quite probable that the most original problem-solving
activity students engage in school is related to the invention
of systems for beating the system.
adult creators of state tests to measure student achievement who
dumb them down to beat the system.
analyses for reforming schools spray generalities--diagnose,
problems, test, "standards,
changes, data collection, achievement,
improvement. Top-down reformers, the presidents are
short on operational meanings, even shorter on learning what actual
teachers might say about needed school reforms, and assume their
testing programs are not only essential, but also valid and reliable.
nation has become high-achieving by sanctioning schools based
on test-score targets and closing those that serve the neediest
students without providing adequate resources and quality teaching.
The implementation of Race to the Top has not required states
to equalize funding to underresourced schools or even to maintain
their existing commitments to these schools, many of which have
had to slash budgets deeply, laying off tens of thousands of teachers,
raising class size to more than forty in some cases and cutting
Linda Darling-Hammond, professor of education at Stanford
University and author, Restoring Our Schools, The
Writing, Grades 8 & 12, medium difficulty, 2007
that you have just come into your kitchen and that the poem below
is a note left for you on the kitchen table. Who wrote the note?
How do you feel? What do you do? Write a story about what happens
IS JUST TO SAY
is another word for refrigerator.
1960s, frustrated after suggesting various characteristics required
for a person to be a great writer, failing to get agreement, and
trying one more time : Isnt there any one essential
ingredient that you can identify?
Hemingway: Yes, there is. In order to be a great writer
a person must have a built-in, shockproof crap detector.
question for This Is Just to Say: What is your assessment
of the NAEP assignment?
How do you define quality teaching?
Meier: Teaching that engages or reengages kids and
their curiosity about the world, gets them asking questions and
subjecting their own and other people's ideas to tough testing,
that calls upon the best habits of mind and imagination, that
makes perseverance seem obvious and natural, that widens their
horizons in terms of subject matter, people, and places.
Deborah Meier, founder or a number of public elementary
and secondary schools in New York and Boston for predominately
low-income African-American and Latino students, author of many
books and winner of a MacArthur Genius Award (http://voices.washingtonpost.com)
Wagner has spent the last two years researching and writing a
new book about the skills our students need to getand
keepa good job as well as what skills are needed
for citizenship today and whether these educational goals
[are] in conflict. Wagner is the Co-Director of the Change
Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
In an early interview with Clay Parker, president of the Chemical
Management Division of BOC Edwards, Wagner was surprised by Parkers
answer after being asked about the skills he looks for when he
hires young people:
and foremost, I look for someone who asks good questions. Our
business is changing, and so the skills our engineers need change
rapidly, as well. We can teach them the technical stuff. But for
employees to solve problems or to learn new things, they have
to know what questions to ask. And we cant teach them how
to ask good questionshow to think. The ability to ask the
right questions is the single most important skill.
thinking and problem-solving topped Wagners list of vital
skills after interviews across the country with executives at
such firms as Dell Computer, Siemens, and Cisco.
course, critical thinking and problem-solving, along with other
good things Wagners interviewees named, like collaborative
skills and effective oral and written communication,
have a long history of entombment in curricula nationwide.
Dewey discussed how to help students learn to use their minds
and think critically in How We Think (1933): Thinking
is not a case of spontaneous combustion; it does not occur just
on general principles. There is something that occasions
and evokes it. General appeals to a child (or to a grown-up) to
think, irrespective of the existence in his own experience of
some difficulty that troubles him and disturbs his equilibrium,
are as futile as advice to lift himself by his boot-straps
can think reflectively only when one is willing to endure suspense
and undergo the trouble of searching.
is inquiry, investigation, turning over, probing or delving into,
so as to find something new or to see what is already known in
a different light. In short, it is questioning
art of conducting a recitation is, then, very largely the art
of questioning pupils so as to direct their own inquiries and
so as to form in them the independent habit of inquiry in both
of its directions; namely inquiry in observation and recollection
for the subject matter that is pertinent and inquiry through reasoning
into the meaning of the material that is present. (1933)
to schooling adherents would be Deweys view that never
in the life of the farmer, sailor, merchant, physician or laboratory
experimenter, does knowledge mean primarily a store of information
aloof from doing and Myles Hortons view that Education
is what happens to the other person, not what comes out of the
mouth of the educator. (quoted in Ted Sizer's Horaces
Compromise and Horton's The Long Haul, respectively)
as Dewey wrote, Let us admit the case of the conservative;
if we once start thinking no one can guarantee where we shall
come out, except that many objects, ends and institutions are
doomed. Every thinker puts some portion of an apparently stable
world in peril and no one can predict what will emerge in its
place. (Experience and Nature)
is why school reform actually signals more of the same,
writes Alfie Kohn, author and lecturer on education. Almost
never questioned, meanwhile, are the core elements of traditional
schools, such as lectures, worksheets, quizzes, grades, homework,
punitive discipline and competition. That would require real reform,
which of course is off the table. (www.thenation.com)
essay was written by Alan Shapiro for TeachableMoment.Org, a project
of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We
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