Parker Land, Principal:
"I've learned an awful lot. I've learned that our kids, a significant number of those kids are in crisis. And there's a level of support that's needed that we just haven't realized yet. "
Turnaround specialists, traditionally associated with turning failing or struggling companies around with the promise of cash rewards in the end are now the "hottest" trend in education reform. Their mission is to find ways for struggling schools to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) and raise test scores. This last installment in the PBS NewsHour series looks at an inner-city school in Richmond, Virginia and tracks "turnaround specialist" Parker Land's efforts to fix Boushall Middle School's troubles with discipline and incentives. The spot reveals a troubling picture and is a scathing indictment of the current sytem with its relentless focus on standardized test scores and punitive consequences.
JOHN MERROW: Park Land wasn't the only turnaround specialist to struggle. Fourteen of the program's 21 principals failed to meet federal standards for improvement this year. The turnaround specialists made three-year commitments, but already more than half have either changed schools or left the program.
Here are some more excerpts from the NewHour interview:
JOHN MERROW: Madieth Malone teaches English.
MADIETH MALONE: A lot of time is being spent on how to take tests, what kinds of questions are on tests, how to read test questions, the facts that are needed to answer questions on a test.
We usually spend time reading novels. I would love to do that, but now I need to spend my time focused on the bare necessities, those absolute things that I know will be tested.
The next couple of days, we will be doing the diagnostic tests for the entire SOL...
JOHN MERROW: Test prep had also taken over Lois Smith's math class.
LOIS SMITH, Teacher: The goal is that they've got to pass the test. Some of the kids aren't going to learn all the concepts, but if they have some of the strategies, they still can pass.
MADIETH MALONE: I can't go along with that, no. I can't support that. The goal for all of our schools -- and I guess it's the goal for schools across the country -- is to pass standardized tests, but the goal of educators is to prepare children to become responsible, contributing adults.
PARKER LAND: My vision is that there's so much more. We can be -- you know, there's so much more to these kids that needs to be developed. But, you know, the educational world is one that says, "Show me academic test scores." That's life now. So that's the way it's going to be.