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

That kind of phenomenal improvement is “not consistent with the story of teachers sitting on their rear ends, having low expectations of disadvantaged children,” he said—and schools could have closed the achievement gap long ago if white students hadn’t made their own vast improvements at the same time.

When we develop policies based on a flawed analysis of the data, “we necessarily develop the wrong policies,” Rothstein asserted, “and that’s what’s going on in Washington today.”

Besides narrowing the curriculum, the climate of high-stakes testing and accountability is detrimental to schools because “it takes no account of the fact that one of the primary drivers of student achievement is the social and economic conditions that children come to school with,” Rothstein said. “Again, both Obama and Duncan acknowledge this; they talk about it frequently—yet their current policy takes no account of this.”

The administration’s plan to stem the dropout rate, for example, seeks to identify the bottom 5 percent of high schools in the country to intervene and turn them around. Yet, given the social and economic conditions that most students from these schools face, “many of these schools are not low-performing at all,” Rothstein said. “They [actually] add great value to the performance of these children.”

Outputs vs. inputs

Arizona State’s Berliner agrees with Rothstein’s assertion that the federal testing and accountability policies that continue under President Obama fail to acknowledge the enormous influence of socio-economic factors on student achievement.

“We have people who say teachers are terrible, or teachers are great, and they’re taking nothing into account about the context those people are working in,” he said. “Out-of-school matters matter.”

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

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Berliner said the U.S. has shifted from a focus on providing equality in the “inputs” of education—family environment, community conditions, and so on—during the Johnson administration to a focus on providing equality in the “outputs” of education (the achievement gap) under the Bush administration, and this approach continues under Obama.

“We stopped worrying about inputs,” he said—and yet, “what’s coming out of schools is still a function of those inputs.”

A key problem with the high-stakes testing approach to education, Berliner added, is that when people’s jobs are on the line, the people get corrupted—and so do the indicators. That’s why we’re seeing schools supply test answers to students, and states lower their standards, and so on.

“If I’m going to lose my job, and I can change a score—I have a family to support, I’m going to change the score,” he said. “If you put people into that position, you’ve messed up one of the goals we have for an American educator, which is to provide a moral compass for our youth—and you’ve set them up to do things that are not good.”

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Dennis Pierce

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