Critics say administration’s blueprint is too similar to NCLB

Rothstein also foresees problems in trying to measure growth from one year to the next.

“NCLB insisted that annual tests must be given early enough in the year so that they could be scored in time to design interventions for the next school year,” he said in an interview with eSchool News. “The blueprint will need a similar requirement if Challenge schools are going to be ‘turned around’ the following year. Yet if tests are given, say, in March, which teachers are to get credit for students’ gains, or lack of them—the teacher who had the students from September to March, or the teacher who had the students from the previous March to the previous June? And how can such ‘growth’ models account for learning, or lack of it, that takes place during the summer?”

He added: “There’s a lot of research now that shows that low-income kids gain as much during the school year as middle-class kids. Then, in the summer, they fall behind; middle-class kids fall behind much, much less. The gap grows in the summer. So if you’re measuring year-to-year changes, you’re measuring the differences in summer experiences.”

Common core standards

Common core standards, lauded by many as a way to ensure that all the nation’s students are held to the same rigorous educational requirements, present another hurdle—and a tall one at that.

Ravitch said it will take years to develop and implement the new common core standards, and much time until educators know whether those new common standards increase student performance.

“In the meantime, schools will be evaluated on the basis of the old assessments that are now recognized as unsatisfactory. In the meantime, the testing culture will remain intact, and thousands of schools will be closed,” she said.

“Where will the states find 5,000 principals to staff the closed schools? Where will they find hundreds of thousands of teachers to staff them? Will they be better than those who were fired? Or will they play musical chairs? Why will this improve American education? Will 5,000 additional schools be closed every year? If so, this sounds like the ingredients of a cultural revolution.”

Ravitch said one approach to the debate that is sure to arise over the common core standards would be for ED to “fund demonstration projects in several states, so that the standards can be implemented at specific sites and the rest of the nation can see what happens. If they product strong improvement in student knowledge of English, language arts, and math, other states will hurry to adopt them. It seems premature to adopt standards that have never gotten a fair trial.”

Effective teaching

The blueprint proposes a focus on effective teachers and principals that would call on states and districts to develop systems for evaluating and supporting these individuals, based on student growth and other factors. The plan also calls for a new program that would support efforts to recruit, place, reward, retain, and promote effective teachers and principals and enhance the teaching profession.

Ravitch recommended several new ways of thinking about teachers in particular.

  • Teacher preparation: All future teachers should master two academic subjects, she said.
  • Teacher entry to the profession: Teachers should pass examinations in the subjects they intend to teach.
  • Teacher evaluation: Evaluation should involve human judgment, not just test scores.

“We need educators who are more professional, not amateurs who have always wanted to be a superintendent, a principal, or a teacher. Other nations with successful school systems rely on professionalism, not amateurs. We need a strong curriculum that stresses the arts, science, history, literature, foreign languages, government, and civics: not because they are tested, but because they are important elements in a good education. Other nations aim to build a system, not a marketplace. It is not too late to embark on serious reforms, but we should start now, not eight years from now,” Ravitch said.

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Laura Ascione

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