Testing can be effective when used for diagnostic purposes, “but when testing becomes the focus of high stakes for kids and for teachers and for administrators, it has very harmful consequences,” she said. “To judge a teacher or a student based on a test score is like judging a baseball player on one at-bat; Babe Ruth struck out a lot more than he homered.”
Ravitch, who is a research professor at New York University, said she has looked at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores of both charter and public schools since 2003 and has concluded that charter schools don’t outperform public schools on average.
Charter schools are “skimming off the best kids in the poorest communities, and that’s why they get better results,” she said. “They’re not taking a proportional amount of English language learners, special-ed kids, homeless kids. … Sure, if you cherry-pick the kids, you get better results.”
There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that school choice isn’t going to improve education, she concluded—and, given that struggling schools lose the funding that accompanies students who opt out for other institutions, “it might actually be very harmful to public education.”
The ‘wrong policies’?
Speaking to school superintendents during the AASA conference, Duncan identified three principles that he said would guide the current administration’s approach toward rewriting NCLB: (1) higher standards, (2) rewarding excellence, and (3) a “smarter, tighter federal role” in ensuring that all students succeed.
He also sounded like someone who understood many of the law’s failings.
“I’ll always give credit to NCLB for exposing achievement gaps and advancing standards-based reform. But better than anyone, you know [the law’s] shortcomings,” Duncan told the assembled education leaders. “NCLB allows, even encourages, states to lower their standards. In too many classrooms, it encourages teachers to narrow the curriculum. It relies too much on bubble tests in a couple of subjects. It mislabels schools, even when they are showing progress on important measures.”
Although Duncan and Obama acknowledge NCLB’s problems, their approach does not go far enough in addressing these issues, critics argue.
“Both President Obama and Secretary Duncan talk about the narrowing of the curriculum,” Rothstein said in an interview with eSchool News. “But the policies they’re implementing … are all about improving the quality of math and reading tests. Now, there’s nothing wrong with improving the quality of math and reading tests—but if [that’s] all we do …, [then] we [will] continue, and even exacerbate, this distorted emphasis on only one part of the curriculum.”
Like Ravitch, Rothstein sees huge flaws in the administration’s approach to education reform. He’s part of a group of policy experts called “A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education”, which advocates a different kind of accountability system for the nation’s schools—one that doesn’t rely on test scores as the primary indicator of student achievement and doesn’t create incentives to narrow the curriculum.
The group is hoping to pressure Congress and the administration “to abandon the failed, test-driven policies of the last decade,” he said.
Click below to watch Rothstein’s interview with eSN on eSN.TV
Federal education policy in the United States today “is driven by a climate of opinion that assumes our schools have been failing,” Rothstein said—and one that assumes teachers are inadequate and have low expectations for their students. Policy makers have come to this conclusion, he explained, by looking at the achievement gap between black and white students, which “hasn’t really budged very much.”
But what they fail to acknowledge is that there has been “phenomenal improvement in both black and white student achievement over the last generation,” he said. “Black student achievement has risen so much in the last 20 years that it’s now higher than what white student achievement was 20 years ago.”
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