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Critics: Obama’s ed policies no better than Bush’s

Ravitch, Rothstein, and Berliner gang up on Obama's approach to education, charging the new policies are just as bad as his predecessor’s were

Critics: Obama's ed policies no better than Bush's
Critics are saying that the 'new' NCLB is nothing new at all.

A trio of education experts take on high-stakes testing and accountability in interviews with eSchool News.

When it comes to education policy, President Obama is repeating the most grievous errors of his predecessor, charge a trio of venerable education policy analysts, including one—Diane Ravitch—best known for her past support of conservative positions on testing, accountability, and choice.

As Congress begins to rewrite No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the Obama administration has offered its own vision for how the revised law should look, including a focus on tougher academic standards and more flexibility for schools. But a growing chorus of critics contends that too many of the administration’s policies follow the same punitive cycle of high-stakes testing and accountability ushered in under the presidency of George W. Bush—and that these policies are actually hurting students.

Both President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have acknowledged the need for better standards and assessments to ensure that students graduate from high school ready for college or 21st-century careers. But critics of their approach toward education reform say it continues to rely on a flawed system of high-stakes exams and accountability measures that has narrowed the curriculum, fails to take into account the various social and economic factors that influence a child’s learning, and does a disservice to those students it purports to help most.

Rather than tinkering around the edges of NCLB, they say, policy makers should rethink the very assumptions that underlie the nation’s education law.

Such concerns over high-stakes testing and accountability aren’t new; they’ve existed since NCLB became law in 2002. But what is new is that the chorus of critics now includes some unlikely characters—including education historian Diane Ravitch, who worked in the Education Department under President George H. W. Bush and was a staunch supporter of the younger Bush’s policies as well.

Ravitch has a new book out called The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. Its thesis marks a radical departure from her earlier views on education—and in an interview with eSchool News, she explained what transpired to change her mind.

“This represents a big change for me, because for many years I have been associated with things like testing, accountability, charter schools, merit pay, et cetera,” Ravitch said. “But as I saw the evidence accumulating, I began to think … that I was wrong.”

She added: “The Obama administration, although it promised change when it came to office, in effect has picked up precisely the same themes as the George W. Bush administration, which are testing and choice—and I think we’re on the wrong track.”

Click below to watch Ravitch’s interview with eSN on eSN.TV

Ravitch was one of several education experts who spoke out last month during the American Association of School Administrators’ National Conference on Education against the Obama administration’s continued reliance on high-stakes testing and accountability to drive school reform. Other critics of the president’s policies included Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute and former education columnist for the New York Times, and David C. Berliner, Regents Professor of Education at Arizona State University.

Under the nation’s current accountability system, Ravitch said, “we’re only measuring what we can, and not what matters most.” As a result, she said, we’ve narrowed the curriculum to the exclusion of other important subjects by focusing primarily on making adequate yearly progress in reading and math.

If you look at what is working in other successful nations, “it tends to be a far more holistic approach to schooling than what we are doing now” in the United States, she declared.

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Comments:

  1. fedup52

    March 15, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    Money doesn’t buy love or happiness. Why would you think it would buy excellence in teaching? Teachers who are there for the money seem to dominate the teaching scene. In Florida they administer the test “FCAT” three months before the school year ends. The teachers have said “there will be material you have not covered”, and then teach how to give it your best guess! Oxymoronic and remember it was educated people who devised all of this. The system is all about protecting it’s mechanisms; not about the students. Elementary schools operate outside the system, they acknowledge they are working with children. Once those same children enter middle school, bam they are young adults who should emulate adult behavior in every aspect. Did I say they were educated people running the show? Testing is necessary or you just end up giving everyone a pass, but the federal mandates have exceeded common sense. States and local government should go back to running their own schools. Teachers should have a bigger input but they need to be accountable up to being able to terminate those that should not be teaching because they don’t know how.

  2. fedup52

    March 15, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    Money doesn’t buy love or happiness. Why would you think it would buy excellence in teaching? Teachers who are there for the money seem to dominate the teaching scene. In Florida they administer the test “FCAT” three months before the school year ends. The teachers have said “there will be material you have not covered”, and then teach how to give it your best guess! Oxymoronic and remember it was educated people who devised all of this. The system is all about protecting it’s mechanisms; not about the students. Elementary schools operate outside the system, they acknowledge they are working with children. Once those same children enter middle school, bam they are young adults who should emulate adult behavior in every aspect. Did I say they were educated people running the show? Testing is necessary or you just end up giving everyone a pass, but the federal mandates have exceeded common sense. States and local government should go back to running their own schools. Teachers should have a bigger input but they need to be accountable up to being able to terminate those that should not be teaching because they don’t know how.

  3. qcscied

    March 19, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    Here are a few suggestion for Arne Duncan and the DOE:

    1) Ask teachers for their ideas on how things can be improved instead of bashing them and imposing your own ideas on them. Work with teachers and support them.
    2) Instead of focusing on standards and assessments, think about how we can help every student reach their potential. Focus on the positive. Instead of threatening teachers and students, help them. Find out why they are not succeeding and try different strategies to help them improve.
    3) Instead of a “Race to the Top” , why not build a community of teachers, students, parents and community members dedicated to helping our students and teachers succeed? Assessments and standards are fine, but honestly, they are not the most important things to focus on. If teachers and students are discouraged and demoralized, all the standardized tests and standards in the world are not going to make a difference.
    4) It is still very possible to turn things around and bring about positive changes in the educational system of the U.S. but the government needs to change its approach. The experts who can fix this are in many schools and classrooms, all you need to do is ask.

  4. qcscied

    March 19, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    Here are a few suggestion for Arne Duncan and the DOE:

    1) Ask teachers for their ideas on how things can be improved instead of bashing them and imposing your own ideas on them. Work with teachers and support them.
    2) Instead of focusing on standards and assessments, think about how we can help every student reach their potential. Focus on the positive. Instead of threatening teachers and students, help them. Find out why they are not succeeding and try different strategies to help them improve.
    3) Instead of a “Race to the Top” , why not build a community of teachers, students, parents and community members dedicated to helping our students and teachers succeed? Assessments and standards are fine, but honestly, they are not the most important things to focus on. If teachers and students are discouraged and demoralized, all the standardized tests and standards in the world are not going to make a difference.
    4) It is still very possible to turn things around and bring about positive changes in the educational system of the U.S. but the government needs to change its approach. The experts who can fix this are in many schools and classrooms, all you need to do is ask.

  5. cburchfiel

    March 26, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    I am a nuteral party here. I deal with the teachers and IT departments mostly.
    From a outsider looking in it seems to me there is no unity in our school systems.
    Administrators do not unify with teachers and teachers do not unify with Administrators. Both sides point the fingure at the other not to say that all of our schools are like this but i have been in alot that are and it is sickning to see this.
    The Unions would hate me because if a team cannt play as a team then you get rid of the problem.
    It would be great if some one bold enough to prove my theory. I say we let teachers teach that is what they specialize in the Administrators are there to support the teachers and the staff is there to support the Administrators. I think we make this very complicated and there really is no reason for it.
    I think this is why Priviate schools are so effective. Teachers i feel for you, you are the front lines with very little support, we need to get you the support so you can do your jobs and support our students. This means that the Administrators need to teach the parents to support the teachers, Parents have to be taught that our schools are not childcare facilities that they are learning instutuions.
    Maybe if the parents are held accountable, teachers might have less behavioral problems with the students.
    I see alot of labs where the teacher is instructing and there are students who need a attitude adjustment, that tells me that the parents are disrepectful also.
    I would like to see more team work in our schools between Administrators and teachers and IT departments our teachers need support from both.

  6. cburchfiel

    March 26, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    I am a nuteral party here. I deal with the teachers and IT departments mostly.
    From a outsider looking in it seems to me there is no unity in our school systems.
    Administrators do not unify with teachers and teachers do not unify with Administrators. Both sides point the fingure at the other not to say that all of our schools are like this but i have been in alot that are and it is sickning to see this.
    The Unions would hate me because if a team cannt play as a team then you get rid of the problem.
    It would be great if some one bold enough to prove my theory. I say we let teachers teach that is what they specialize in the Administrators are there to support the teachers and the staff is there to support the Administrators. I think we make this very complicated and there really is no reason for it.
    I think this is why Priviate schools are so effective. Teachers i feel for you, you are the front lines with very little support, we need to get you the support so you can do your jobs and support our students. This means that the Administrators need to teach the parents to support the teachers, Parents have to be taught that our schools are not childcare facilities that they are learning instutuions.
    Maybe if the parents are held accountable, teachers might have less behavioral problems with the students.
    I see alot of labs where the teacher is instructing and there are students who need a attitude adjustment, that tells me that the parents are disrepectful also.
    I would like to see more team work in our schools between Administrators and teachers and IT departments our teachers need support from both.