"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

As the Testing Results are Tabulated . . .

News stories abound this time of year with test score news, some praising, some lambasting, some mixed. As we move closer toward 2014 and the impossible dream of 100% proficiency in math and reading, we are likely to see much more lambasting than praise, which has always been a primary goal of the education privatizers now installed in the White House and the Dept. of Ed. The strategy has been from the get-go to weaken support of public education by making demands that are impossible to reach, thus throwing open the doors to corporate welfare MacSchools that will take public money to privately manage education. I take this opportunity to quote from a presentation I did recently on this subject:

No Child Left Behind is different from all the other educational reforms that have preceded it—this time the reformers are assured of a win. If schools are able to achieve the impossible and attain the 100 percent math and reading proficiency by 2014 that the legislation requires, then the reformers will have threatened and shamed their way to educational success. If the more likely scenario develops, however, and a large majority of American schools are clear failures or on the “watch-list” in 2014, then the road to school privatization will be clear sailing. By then, American parents will be shell-shocked and willing to try anything to avoid another one of those Federally-mandated letters telling them that their children are failing because their schools are failing. And state legislatures, broken financially and in spirit by then from the burdens of NCLB implementation, will be eager, perhaps, to turn the whole effort over to an education industry that will be ramped up, ready and waiting to accept public dollars to create the MacSchools of the 21st Century. And never mind that Johnny’s reading teacher will be outsourced to Ireland or Sri Lanka and connected by an Internet link.

What separates the current reform efforts from all others in American history is the degree to which millions of American children are suffering, are dropping out, are HAVING self-efficacy CRUSHED, and are being labeled as failures at an early age in ways that will forever leave them behind in disenfranchised worlds of poverty that no standard or test or crassly-disguised ideology can touch. Beyond the utter and tragic realities at Alpha and the thousands of other schools like it, there is a deeper tragedy still: for were we to achieve the impossible as required by NCLB and its 100 percent testing proficiency requirement, we will have by then narrowed the focus of the school curriculum and the purposes of school to the confines of that which is tested. Regardless of how valid those tests are likely to be, this will sadly and tragically leave us even more unprepared to deal with the changing world events and challenges that will assuredly come, more unaware and unappreciative of our own diversity and democratic potential that our future will require, and more blinded to our imaginative and critical capacities that have thus far assured our cultural and scientific eminence in the world of nations. Is this the educational success to which we aspire? If so, then what should we call failure?

There is no doubt that these continuing waves of testing reforms help to move attention away from the more powerful and more blameworthy reasons for our social, economic, or moral quandaries. As Deborah Meier pointed out recently at a Teachers College symposium, here we are demanding that schools be accountable for closing the achievement gap between the poor and the wealthy at the same time the Federal government works overtime to phase out estate taxes and to give more advantages to the wealthy. At the same time, NCLB continues to play upon the secular faith of the American people in the power of schooling, while diverting attention from the Law’s shortcomings by attacking any opponents of the Law as bigots, as exhibiting the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” If I had to subscribe (which I do not) to the binary thinking that this criticism embodies, I would certainly choose the soft bigotry of low expectations over the implacable racism exhibited by demanding the impossible from those least able to deliver and most vulnerable to the savagery that is being leveled against them.

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