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

Monday, October 03, 2011

Three Good Anwers to Poisonous Waiver Plan: No Thanks, I Said No, and Hell No

This came to the EPATA listserv.   A letter by Coos Bay, Oregon teacher, Michelle Newsum:
I am (partially) in agreement with the Oregonian editorial board. Oregon should not pursue a NCLB waiver.  Instead we should refuse to comply with No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top and demand complete restructuring of ESEA.

School was a much better place for children before NCLB.  Kids were learning to read with great children's literature, they experienced hands-on science, they wrote across the curriculum, and math was constructive and meaningful. Music, drama and art were woven into daily studies. Class sizes were smaller. Teachers focused on individual students' strengths, interests and needs. Educators collaborated to refine their craft, and teachers enjoyed their important work.

With the test and punish policies of NCLB and Race to the Trough, frightened school districts have turned classrooms into test-prep centers.  Many children experience days full of scripted curriculum---including packets of mind-numbing worksheets and endless practice tests to prepare for the "real" tests.

Under NCLB we have spent billions of dollars on testing.Under Race to the Top we will spend billions more for what Dr. Stephen Krashen (USC educational researcher) calls, "More testing than ever before seen on the face of this planet."

The National Academy of Sciences states, "There is no research base to support high stakes testing."Yet 'reformers' continue to push excessive and expensive testing to (line publishers' pockets and) discover which schools are 'failing' and punish them. (This, by the way, hasn't worked. Reconstituted and charter schools are not benefiting our kids. Indeed, according to a recent Stanford study, 83% of charter schools did not perform better than public schools.)

So these oppressive changes have been made to improve test scores.  Has it worked?  The Oregonian claims the law "has delivered, pushing schools to focus on difficult-to-teach children, to try harder, to do more for them." However, as educational historian Diane Ravitch notes, the rate of improvement on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) slowed after the passage of NCLB. This decrease was especially pronounced among the neediest students.

Of course we need some tests. The most useful and accurate are those assessments and portfolios created and kept by teachers to inform instruction and track growth over time.  Dr. Krashen suggests we also improve and keep the NAEP.

The billions of dollars saved from unbounded testing and carrot-and-stick reforms could then be used for real solutions such as:

 * Reducing class size

(This is one of four K-12 reforms backed by rigorous evidence according to the Institute of Educational Sciences [Research arm of the Department of Education]

 * Providing prenatal care for low income women

(Low income women are currently unlikely to receive adequate prenatal care. They have a high incidence of low birth weight babies. Low birth weight babies have a much higher incidence of learning disabilities)

 * Funding public, school and classroom libraries

(Most children in high poverty areas have limited access to books)

 * Providing quality professional development for teachers
 * Including teachers, parents and students in legislative decision making

Michelle Newsum

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