A "conversation" with the Dept of Education: Are we participants or just an audience?
I just participated in the "conversation" between members of the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) and the US Dept of Education. It was supposed to be a conversation, and we had interactive software set up.
It wasn't a conversation. Even though only a few people were involved, maybe a dozen or so (not counting staff members), there was apparently no time for any interaction. The feds wasted a half hour telling us what we already knew, that is, what was in the Blueprint, then discussed (at length) a few of the questions that were sent in that they had selected. They even took time to discuss a question that wasn't sent in that a staff member thought was interesting.
I send in my questions in advance, as requested. None were answered.
I resent them during the session, as requested. None were answered.
I "raised my hand" electronically three times and got no response. Each time, my "raised hand" was electronically shut off.
None of my questions significantly overlapped with those chosen.
I asked how the feds could justify so much testing, more than we have ever had before.
I asked if they were aware of the evidence showing that the real problem in American education is poverty, not a lack of standards and tests.
I asked why there was such a push for STEM when we clearly have a surplus in these fields and are doing quite well in technology and science.
I asked why there was so much focus on college, why a high-school diploma will soon be a certificate of qualification for college when college is not for everybody: people have different interests, different talents.
Full version of the questions I sent in:
According to the Blueprint for Reform, released by the US Department of Education, the new standards will be enforced with new tests, which will include "interim" tests in addition to those given at the end of year.
No Child Left Behind only required reading and math tests. The Blueprint recommends testing in other subjects as well. The Blueprint also insists we measure growth, which could mean testing in the fall and in the spring, doubling the number of tests.
This means billions of dollars will be spent on test construction, validation, revision, etc. at a time when school are already very short of funds, when many science classes have no lab equipment, school libraries (those that are left) have few books, many school bathrooms lack toilet paper, school years are being shortened, and teachers are losing their jobs.
How can this increase in testing be justified, in light of the fact that schools are so short of money, and the fact that there is no evidence that increasing testing increases learning?
Do we have to test every child every year to see how our schools are doing? When you get a check-up, they don't take all your blood, just a sample.
The current administration is insisting on college for everyone. The standards are clearly college-prep oriented and a high school diploma will soon certify the completion of a college prep program.
This will have the effect of making a high school diploma irrelevant for all those who are not interested in college, who have different interests, talents and career paths. It will also mean a continuation of the decline of vocational classes of all kinds, and a disrespect for vocational education.
Former US Cabinet member John W. Gardner pointed out that we all lose when we lose respect for non-academic work: "The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water."
Has the administration considered this? Have they considered the data showing that most new jobs will not require a college degree (see J. Steinberg's recent article in the NY Times summarizing this data, ("Plan B: Skip College" May 16).
The administration has assumed that education in the US is in trouble, based on student performance on international tests. This is not so.
Students from well-funded schools who come from high-income families outscore all or nearly all other countries on international tests. Only our children in high poverty schools score below the international average. The US has the highest percentage of children in poverty of all industrialized countries (25%, compared to Denmark's 3%). Our educational system has been successful; the problem is poverty.
If this is true, our first priority should be to deal with poverty and to help schools give high-poverty children at least some of the advantages middle class children have: e.g. nutrition and access to books. Our first priority should not be more "rigorous standards" and tests.
Is the administration aware of this?
One of the major priorities of the Race to the Top is to "Prepare more students for advanced study and careers in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics." There is, however, no shortage of STEM-trained professionals in the United States. In fact, studies show that there is a surplus.
In addition, the US ranks at or near the top of the world on all categories related to STEM education and availability of expertise: According to the World Economic Federation, the US ranks 5th out of 133 countries in "availability of scientists & engineers," second in "quality of scientific research institutions" and first in "university-industry research collaboration."
Why the push for STEM?