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

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The IRA is looking forward to doing some heavy lifting

In a press release (March 22, 2010), the International Reading Association called for a three-step plan:
" (1) rigorous goals for students' performance, (2) assessments to monitor students' progress toward these goals, and (3) professional development that enables teachers to provide students with the needed instruction.

In other words, tough standards, tests linked to the standards, and teacher training linked to the standards and tests.

IRA President Au commented that (2) and (3) are the hardest to do and will require "heavy lifting" (see note below).

In other words, as soon as the standards are approved, we are going to spend a lot of money on developing and administering tests and designing and doing teacher training.

There is no need for this: There is good evidence that our literacy problem is largely due to the high percentage of children of poverty in our schools, far higher than in other industrialized countries. Children from high-income families do just fine in reading achievement, a fact that indicates that there is nothing seriously wrong with our current approach: Our standards are rigorous enough, we have more than enough tests (far too many), and teachers know what they are doing and don't need to be re-trained so that they will conform to a new set of standards. The problem is poverty.

Even if this were not the case, there is no evidence that tough standards and tests do any good, and there is plenty of evidence that dealing with the effects of poverty does a great deal of good.

In addition, education budgets are already in big trouble and there is tremendous under-funding in crucial areas in schools. The last thing we should be spending money on is new standards, new tests, and "training" to make sure teachers conform to the new standards.

IRA's enthusiasm for this wacky, irresponsible and incompetent plan is bewildering.

Footnote: I have seen the same statement using nearly identical language twice in the last few months:
"'Standards per se just set the destination,' says Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, in an e-mail response to questions. 'They’ve set a good one. To have a prayer of reaching that destination, however, requires – for starters – sound curriculum, effective instruction, and really good assessments. All of that heavy lifting still lies ahead.” ("Uniform academic standards for US students: draft released," Christian Science Monitor, March 10).
"Asked to explain the money's focus on developing more tests, Duncan said developing the standards themselves would be relatively inexpensive. Developing assessments, by contrast, is a 'very heavy lift financially,' Duncan said, expressing concern that the project could stall without federal backing". ("Education chief hopes stimulus will push standards," USA Today, June 14).

The press release can be found at: http://bit.ly/aJquNU


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