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Yesterday Education Week reported the results of a study by the National Center for Education Statistics that calls into question the efficacy of state educational assessments required by the No Child Left Behind legislation. In part, Education Week wrote:

Many of the states that claim to have large shares of their students
reaching proficiency in reading and mathematics under the No Child Left
Behind Act have set less stringent standards for meeting that threshold than lower-performing states, a new federal study finds.

The
study drew an immediate and strong reaction from many public officials
and education advocates, who said it laid bare states’ vastly divergent
standards for testing students.

The report judges states’ reading and math tests against a common yardstick: the proficiency standards used by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as “the nation’s report card.”

Released last week by the National Center for Education Statistics,
the analysis appears to back up the suspicions of those who have cast a
skeptical eye on state data showing high percentages of students
reaching the “proficient” level in reading and math.

But researchers who were asked by the Council of Chief State School Officers
to review the study’s methodology cited what they see as flaws in
comparing two dissimilar sets of exams: NAEP and those administered by
states.

Even so, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret
Spellings called it “sobering news” as the nation seeks to raise
academic demands on students.

States “must do their part by
setting high standards and expectations,” she said in a statement. “I
hope this report will be a catalyst for positive change.”

The
study was issued June 7, two days after a separate report by an
education policy group showing that student scores on state tests have
risen since the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act, which
President Bush signed into law in January 2002. (“State Tests Show Gains Since NCLB,” June 6, 2007.)

There are many reasons that state testing shows greater gains than that of the NAEP scores, not the least is mentioned above, that the tests are dissimilar and therefore do not measure similar things. That, however, is a straw man when it comes to practical significance. Policy makers and both liberal and conservative think tanks have used comparisons of state testing and NAEP over and over to make their case that NCLB is flawed or is working just fine (it all depends on one’s political lens). What is clear, however, is that there is a discrepancy between NAEP scores, which remain flat and state tests, which show an increase in student performance since 2002, the year NCLB went into effect.

The emphasis in NCLB policy on annual performance growth has altered the face of educational practice in the United States. School children and their teachers now spend more time in preparation for testing where they learn formulas for appropriate performance on testing instruments designed by state boards of education. In some estimations, in a 180 day school year, students and teachers spend between 80 and 100 full days preparing for testing. This amounts to fully half of the school year spent in preparing for the state tests. Even of this estimate is on the high side (let’s reduce it by 1/2) the fact still remains that children are spending 25% of their academic year learning formulas for passing the test so the school’s AYP passes the muster of NCLB.

Because schools spend so much of their time engaged in test preparation, little time is left for rigorous academic inquiry. Students no longer study the arts, engage in social studies education and science instruction is somewhere on or near the back burner. What counts is reading and mathematics. But, reading about what? Math in relationship to what? Teaching reading and math (by the way it is not really mathematics that is being taught rather it is arithmetic) in isolation does nothing to provide a context for either reading or math. These subjects become tasks to do, something like doing the laundry. They get done because one must do them but one does not necessarily have to like doing them.

High-stakes testing provides a climate in which students and teachers must focus on the testing and not on instruction or learning. In a recent conversation with a focus group of high school juniors that I recorded as part of a study I am currently working on, I asked the students about their recent performance on a written take-home exam. The results of the papers that the students turned in was disappointing. The writing was formulaic, showing no creative thinking but sticking closely to conventions and structural components that are appropriate on state mandated tests. One of the students said, “I really don’t know how to write any other way. That’s all I’ve ever been taught. All my life I learned the 5 paragraph essay and now, sadly, i have to learn a whole new way to write.” Another member of the focus group wondered, “Why do you teach us this style for so long and then tell us we have to go beyond. I’m confused.” My point is simply that these students clearly can and, when given a chance, do articulate significant problems with high-stakes testing and NCLB.

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Education Week reported on June 8th:

House Democrats want to put their own stamp on federal education spending by increasing Title I and other programs they favor and slashing Reading First and other priorities set by President Bush.

In the $56 billion fiscal 2008 spending bill for the Department of Education unveiled by the Democrats, No Child Left Behind Act programs would receive a $2 billion increase, with the Title I program for disadvantaged students receiving $1.5 billion of that.

But the $1.03 billion Reading First program—which the Bush administration points to as one of its biggest accomplishments under the NCLB law—would take a cut of $630 million, or 61 percent. What’s more, the administration’s latest proposals for private school vouchers and new mathematics programs would not be funded at all.

“This [Reading First] cut will not be restored until we have a full appreciation of the shenanigans that have been going on,” said Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Reports by the Department of Education’s inspector general and congressional investigators have outlined management and ethical questions involving the program.

Republicans voiced no objections to the Reading First cuts or other spending levels during the June 7 session of the appropriations panel’s Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee. The subcommittee approved the Democratic plan in a unanimous voice vote.

“If I were chairman,” said Rep. James T. Walsh, R-N.Y., the subcommittee’s senior Republican, “I don’t know that I would have made the bill a whole lot different.”

This should come as no surprise given the recent questions about how the DoED administered the Reading First program. Surrounded by questions of improper ethics and outright fraud when it came to forcing DIBLES on school districts large and small, draining much needed funds away from the classroom, the bipartisan support of this spending cut makes a great deal of sense.

The DoED, like other embattled Bush administration departments, is keeping a stiff upper lip claiming no ethical violations and that the Democrats are undermining the ability of the urban poor to learn. What they forget is that this legislation will most likely leave the committee with full bipartisan support. Republicans as well as Democrats have simply had enough of this scandal ridden White House. Of course, it is easy to take a stand when those directly effected by that stand are not voters.

Where is this kind of bipartisanship when it comes to the blatantly political Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales? But that is for another post…

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David Berliner and Sharon Nichols, both well respected educational researchers, claim that NCLB is causing substantial harm to children, to schools, to teachers and to administrators of those schools that has the chilling effect of placing the Nation at Risk.

Limiting their remarks to only the high-stakes testing requirements of NCLB, Berliner and Nichols said:

The stakes are high when students’ standardized-test performance results in grade retention or failure to graduate from high school. The stakes are high when teachers and administrators can lose their jobs or, conversely, receive large bonuses for student scores, or when humiliation or praise for teachers and schools occurs in the press as a result of test scores. This federal law requires such high-stakes testing in all states.

More than 30 years ago, the eminent social scientist Donald T. Campbell warned about the perils of measuring effectiveness via a single, highly consequential indicator: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decisionmaking,” he said, “the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” High-stakes testing is exactly the kind of process Campbell worried about, since important judgments about student, teacher, and school effectiveness often are based on a single test score. This exaggerated reliance on scores for making judgments creates conditions that promote corruption and distortion. In fact, the overvaluation of this single indicator of school success often compromises the validity of the test scores themselves. Thus, the scores we end up praising and condemning in the press and our legislatures are actually untrustworthy, perhaps even worthless.

Campbell’s law is ubiquitous, and shows up in many human endeavors. Businesses, for example, regularly become corrupt as particular indicators are deemed important in judging success or failure. If stock prices are the indicator of a company’s success, for example, then companies like Enron, Qwest, Adelphia, and WorldCom manipulate that indicator to make sure they look good. Lives and companies are destroyed as a result. That particular indicator of business success became untrustworthy as both it and the people who worked with it were corrupted.

Similarly, when the number of criminal cases closed is the indicator chosen to judge the success of a police department, two things generally happen: More trials are brought against people who may be innocent or, with a promise of lighter sentences, deals are made with accused criminals to get them to confess to crimes they didn’t commit.

When the indicators of success and failure in a profession take on too much value, they invariably are corrupted. Those of us in the academic world know that when researchers are judged primarily by their publication records, they have occasionally fabricated or manipulated data. This is just another instance of Campbell’s law in action.

We have documented hundreds of examples of the ways in which high-stakes testing corrupts American education in a new book, Collateral Damage. Using Campbell’s law as a framework, we found examples of administrators and teachers who have cheated on standardized tests. Educators, acting just like other humans do, manipulate the indicators used to judge their success or failure when their reputations, employment, or significant salary bonuses are related to those indicators.

clipped from www.edweek.org
In his 2007 State of the Union address, President Bush claimed success for the federal No Child Left Behind Act. “Students are performing better in reading and math, and minority students are closing the achievement gap,” he said
But, as with Iraq, a substantial body of evidence challenges his claim.
We believe that this federal law, now in its sixth year, puts American public school students in serious jeopardy. Extensive reviews of empirical and theoretical work, along with conversations with hundreds of educators across the country, have convinced us that if Congress does not act in this session to fundamentally transform the law’s accountability provision, young people and their educators will suffer serious and long-term consequences.
We note in passing that only people who have no contact with children could write legislation demanding that every child reach a high level of performance in three subjects, thereby denying that individual differences exist.

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Another Peace Poster

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Here is another peace poster. This one I find even more ironic. Here we have the education president bombing Iraq back to the stone age while the DoED is engaged in the Reading First scandal and NCLB is under significant attack from independent researchers across the country. Time to stand up and be counted.

clipped from www.brushstroke.tv

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I believe schooling must be authentic in order to have any value to the student. By authentic I mean 1) that all work assigned and all assessment tools must have value to the student beyond merely the four walls of the classroom, 2) that all work assigned and all assessment tools must be academically rigorous, and 3) that all work (including assessments) must have an audience beyond the teacher. In other words, all school work must have value, be rigorous and have an broad audience.When students feel the need to cheat it is because one or more elements of authentic schooling has gone missing. Often the only piece present is academic rigor that is attached to some form of high-stakes assessment. When this is the case, students, especially the ‘good’ students, feel the need to enhance their performance–something like athletes and steroids.

If principles of authenticity are followed the need for high-stakes assessment is diminished. Teachers can and do find low-stakes approached to assessing students rather than to brow-beat them into compliance with external demands on their brainpower. If principles of authenticity are followed, even the high-stakes assessments attached to No Child Left Behind will not be problematic and may even provide schools and districts with some really valuable data.

As the system now stands, however, cheating is the norm rather than the exception; a norm created by the interference of misguided legislation and misinformed adults.

Authenticity makes education engaging and fun. It makes education the responsibility of the learner, guided by a competent adult in the classroom. Without authenticity, education is alienating and a cauldron for adolescents to conjure ways to beat the system. Which would you rather have?

clipped from www.chicagotribune.com
MERIDIAN, Idaho —
Banning baseball caps during tests was obvious — students were writing the answers under the brim. Then, schools started banning cell phones, realizing students could text message the answers to each other. Now, schools across the country are targeting digital media players as a potential cheating device.
Devices including iPods and Zunes can be hidden under clothing, with just an earbud and a wire snaking behind an ear and into a shirt collar to give them away, school officials say.
“It doesn’t take long to get out of the loop with teenagers,” said Mountain View High School Principal Aaron Maybon. “They come up with new and creative ways to cheat pretty fast.”
Mountain View recently enacted a ban on digital media players after school officials realized some students were downloading formulas and other material onto the players.

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While the DoED is praising the outcomes of Reading First through an internally funded study, the House Education and Labor Committee is investigating potentially criminal behavior at the DoED surrounding Reading First.

Rep. Miller scolded Mr. Doherty at one point.

“Was your mantra, ‘Mistakes were made’?” Rep. Miller said. “You don’t get to override the law because you’re turning the law into a program.”

Mr. Doherty responded: “We thought then, and we think now, we did abide by the law.”

The hearing was the first of two that are expected in Congress in the wake of reports by the Education Department inspector general and the Government Accountability Office that found federal officials had mismanaged the program.

“We found that the department obscured the requirements of the statute by inappropriately including or excluding standards in the application criteria,” Mr. Higgins told the committee.

Ms. Lewis noted that one of the consultants providing assistance during the grant-review process had financial ties to the assessment, the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, or DIBELS. Kentucky was asked to revise its Reading First grant proposal three times.

“We were repeatedly advised to replace our current assessment tool with DIBELS,” Ms. Lewis said.

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., the ranking Republican on the education committee, has introduced legislation that would require the Education Department and its contractors to screen Reading First peer reviewers for potential conflicts of interest, among other provisions.

Rep. McKeon was much less hostile to the witnesses connected to the Reading First program than Mr. Miller and some of the other committee Democrats.

“I want to thank you for your service,” he said. “I’ve been here almost 15 years, and I’ve seen a lot of people get crucified, and I’m really getting sick of it.”

But after hearing some four hours of testimony about alleged missteps and wrongdoing in the implementation of the federal program, Rep. Miller said he would consider making his own request for a criminal investigation.

“I think this process was cooked from the very beginning,” he said.

clipped from www.edweek.org

“We found that the department obscured the requirements of the statute by inappropriately including or excluding standards in the application criteria,” Mr. Higgins told the committee.
The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Education has referred some of the information gathered in a lengthy audit of the Reading First program to federal law-enforcement officials for further investigation, he said during a lengthy and contentious hearing today before the House Education and Labor Committee.
The former director of the Reading First program denied in the April 20 congressional hearing that there were conflicts of interest in the implementation of the $1 billion-a-year federal initiative. He also denied that he and other officials and consultants had overstepped their authority in directing states and school districts on the curriculum materials and assessments that would meet the strict requirements of the grants awarded under the program.

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The DoED press release clipped in part below is interesting, though not complete. There are also questions of trustworthiness of the report. One must never take a single study as being true on its face. Rather serious critical questions must be raised about why one should trust the results. Questions like:

+ Who funded the study?
+ Is there independent evidence to corroborate the findings?
+ What is the purpose for undertaking the study?

In the case of this work, the study is internally funded by the DoED and, therefore, is suspect. It is sort of like trusting a study whose findings advise parents to delay toilet training for their children that was funded by the manufacturer of Pampers. The investigators have a bone to pick because their patrons have a bone to pick.

Is there independent evidence to corroborate the findings in this study. The fact is no, there is not. In fact, there is a wealth of evidence that is in direct conflict with the results of this particular study.

One can only assume that the DoED funded this study in order to show how good Reading First and NCLB really is. This is not an independent reason for conducting such a study. Rather it is further evidence that the discredited notion that educational progress can be determined by reducing all learning to a single test score number causes teachers to teach to improve that number no matter what impact that teaching might have on the students they teach.

Sorry, but I have to dissent from the DoED. Reading First and NCLB are flawed policies and must be significantly revised.

clipped from www.ed.gov
Washington, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Education today released new state-by-state data on the effectiveness of Reading First, indicating that students who receive instruction through the program achieve strong gains in reading proficiency. Another measure of the program’s success since its launch in 2002, the state-by-state data demonstrate that Reading First is working to help our nation’s neediest kindergarten through third-grade students significantly improve their reading skills.
The data released today reinforce the positive indicators from the Reading First Implementation Evaluation interim report released in July 2006. According to the interim report, Reading First students receive on average 100 extra minutes per week of proven, research-based instruction from teachers, tutors and reading coaches.
Secretary's CornerNo Child Left Behind

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“These results are yet another confirmation that Reading First is working on behalf of our children,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary Amanda Farris

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While I might want to argue that NCLB’s goals are neither laudable nor effective, the real point is that NCLB is fundamentally flawed and must be revised in meaningful ways.A movement to return the conversation about curriculum to the forum in which it belongs, the local school level with mitigation from the district but not mandates from above, is one place to begin to rethink schools and schooling. NCLB has effectively cut that conversation off at the knees causing schools and students to suffer. There is a great deal of evidence emerging from study after study, some even funded by the Department of Education, that demonstrate that reducing knowledge to a single test score is counterproductive.

The NEA offers only one approach. There are others. My point is that these alternatives must become part of the national discourse or we and our children shall be doomed to mediocrity

clipped from www.nea.org
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), renamed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, established laudable goals — high standards and accountability for the learning of all children, regardless of their background or ability.
However, the law must be fundamentally improved and federal lawmakers need to provide adequate funding if NCLB is to achieve its goal. Congress has to reauthorize the legislation in 2007, offering an opportunity to make it more workable and more responsive to the real needs of children.
NEA is in the forefront of the effort to improve the No Child Left Behind Act. We have developed a comprehensive Positive Agenda for the ESEA Reauthorization�that spells out detailed recommendations to make the law better. (Read more.)

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Just a couple of things here. First, it is difficult to blame teachers for teaching in compliance with the law. NCLB stresses basic skills and not problem solving, Furthermore, NCLB places an inordinate stress level on teachers, so much so that they have little time to attend to things teachers traditionally attended to such as emotional support.Secondly, bashing teachers is unproductive. The profession is hard enough without someone standing over one’s head with a cudgel ready to strike a final blow.

If we are serious about quality education then we need to rethink educational policy so that standards are used to guide conversations about curriculum and curricular decisions, that these conversations are supported by policy and law, that they engage teachers in both horizontal and vertical planning, and that teachers be valued as professional members of the educational team. Otherwise, we are just in for more of the same.

clipped from www.edweek.org
The quality of instruction in elementary classrooms has little to do with whether teachers have the credentials that meet their states’ definitions of “highly qualified” under the No Child Left Behind Act, a federally sponsored study suggests.
Detailed observations of 5th graders in 20 states show that students in classrooms overseen by teachers labeled as highly qualified spent most of their time in whole-group or individual “seatwork,” focused on basic skills rather than problem-solving activities, and may or may not have received emotional and instructional support from their teachers.
“This pattern of instruction appears inconsistent with aims to add depth to students’ understanding, particularly in mathematics and science,” write the authors of the study, led by Robert C. Pianta, an education professor at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville. “

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Žižek suggests that choice is available only within the boundaries of the overlap of conflicting interests. Only when ideas are in competition is there a need to make a choice. If everyone agrees with each and every premise then there is no need to make a choice. But, it is clear that each of us is faced with significant opportunities to make informed choices because we do not live in the bubble of the same.

In schools, where curriculum is a central issue, there are three competing interests that are often in conflict with one another. There is, of course, the district, the governing body that oversees the delivery of educational efforts to students within the oversight boundaries of the district itself. In the case of the district the goals for curriculum are driven from the top down. Districts, no matter how large or how small, are driven by the need to seek standardization, to centralize the decision making process, and to control, to the best of its ability, the outcomes of the process of teaching and learning. In direct competition with the district, and at the other end of the continuum is the classroom. Classroom teachers spend their day in direct contact with children and are, therefore, far more prone to devote their energies into understanding the context within which they work. Classroom teachers understand the need to decentralize schooling and to approach the classroom with an open and flexible attitude if they are to be successful. Stuck in the middle is the school itself. School administration is, in fact, stuck in the middle, having to contextualize yet retain administrative control. This paradox of leadership leads to understanding curricular continuity and negotiating curriculum design through professional conversations within the school. See fig 1 below.Curriculum Design

NCLB has usurped the possibility of understanding curriculum development as a meaningful conversation by successfully defining the conversation as one that is driven from the top, a conversation that is immune to considerations of context or negotiation. By establishing management parameters the professionalism has been removed from teaching and leadership roles removed from the principal’s office.

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This week the American Educational Research Association is holding its annual meeting in Chicago. This important conference brings together researchers and teachers from all areas of the spectrum of education and, as such, is one of the more exciting places to be as a professional educator. In this post I am going to summarize some of the more important points I heard today.

David Berliner spoke about the state of education in the United States today as a political space in which the ENDS of education have been taken away from professional educators and the MEANS of education have been corrupted by the reduction of knowing to a single test-score number. As test scores become the ENDS of education, primarily due to NCLB, then the MEANS of education become teaching to the test. When knowledge as an END is replaced by test scores then the only thing worth knowing is “is that going to be on the test?”

Another speaker argued that there is simply too much policy, policy layered upon policy upon policy. Fossilized reforms are something like geological layers as legislators fail to review either old policy prior to passage of new policy or evidence in support of policy legislation in the first place. The result is a web (more like a rabbit warren) of overlapping policies and legislation that boggles even the least capable minds.

Perhaps my favorite speaker argued that we do not live in an age of educational uncertainty. Quite the contrary, NCLB has placed a strangle hold on certainty. Schools are certain as to what programs count and what to teach in order to avoid the degradation of being labeled low performing. The problem is not certainty but faulty logic. NCLB is based on a confused logical structure where knowledge is reduced to test scores, schools are expected to solve social problems, and reading and math instruction are scripted and uniform across irregular contexts. This speaker called not for evidence based teaching as NCLB does, rather he argued that there ought to be EVIDENCE BASED LEGISLATION. I suggested to a colleague sitting next to me that perhaps those that pass the laws ought to be subject to the consequences of their own legislation. Congress ought to be forced to sit for say the 12th grade test. It was also suggested that no legislation be passed that does harm to anyone.

Finally, a speaker argued that education cannot be reduced to a model that corresponds in any way to producing widgets in a factory. By that logic FedX Delivers–Teachers Teach holds supreme. The fact is, however, that teachers do not exist, only teachers in a context exist and only in that context can teachers navigate through the murky waters that make up the classroom. Teaching is not something that can be planned except in broad brush terms if only because the unexpected is bound to happen at any moment of the day. Teachers are not tutor technicians preparing their students for tests. In the end, high stakes testing is blocking effective implementation of curriculum that encourages students to solve problems, to think about difficult problems, to rigorously reflect on ideas and concepts, and to remain curious about the world in which we all live. American educators for years have been critical of the centralization of European and Asian educational systems. The irony is that Europe and Asian nations are becoming decentralized as the United States moves toward a centralized national system of education.

I expect to be NCLB’d out by the end of the week. More to come later.

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From Time.com

The first three months of the new Democratic Congress have been neither terrible nor transcendent. A Pew poll had it about right: a substantial majority of the public remains happy the Democrats won in 2006, but neither Nancy Pelosi nor Harry Reid has dominated the public consciousness as Newt Gingrich did when the Republicans came to power in 1995. There is a reason for that. A much bigger story is unfolding: the epic collapse of the Bush Administration.

The three big Bush stories of 2007–the decision to “surge” in Iraq, the scandalous treatment of wounded veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys for tawdry political reasons–precisely illuminate the three qualities that make this Administration one of the worst in American history: arrogance (the surge), incompetence (Walter Reed) and cynicism (the U.S. Attorneys).

I want to comment on the arrogance, incompetence, and cynicism of the Bush administration from a slightly different point of view. While Time focuses arrogance on the Bush insistence on the surge strategy, incompetence on the Walter Reed scandal, and cynicism on the Gonzalez flap over the sacking of US Prosecutors, I want to suggest that all three attributes are contained within the Bush policy on education.

Bush and his appointees at the Department of Education (both Rod Paige and Margaret Spellings) are all three–arrogant, incompetent, and cynical–all rolled up into one neat package. At the core of the issue is the impact on the next generation of Americans.

I begin with arrogance. The Bush administration marches forward with the zeal of reform that is (and never could be) bothered by the facts. I suggest that the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation is fatally flawed because of the arrogance of the policy. For example, it is statistically impossible to have all children reading at grade level simply because grade level is an expression of the mean, the arithmetic average, for any given assessment. To obtain a mean score means that there must be at least half of the tested population performing below the mean score. It is arrogant to suggest that test scores can be improved so that all children perform above a mean score. Of course, it is very appealing to the uninitiated.

Incompetence at the DoED is most apparent in the case of incentives offered by student loan companies in order to be placed on a college or university’s “preferred” lender list. Examples cited in the New York Times article included an all-expense paid trip to the Caribbean for university officials and their spouses, gifts such as iPods, and bonuses that are based on how much students borrow. Bush’s lack of control over those that work in his administration whether at Walter Reed Hospital or the DoED is striking. This incompetence was tolerated by the Republican Congress that refused to exercise any oversight over the Bush administration.

Finally, the Bush policy on education is cynical at its core. The failure to pay attention to critical research done by respected members of the field, while arrogant to be sure, demonstrates a degree of cynicism in that the leadership is focused only on their ideas and will push them, right or wrong, to the end. If, by cynical we mean believing the worst of human nature and motives; having a sneering disbelief in the actions and thoughts of others, then this failure to address issues raised by others critical of the administration head on is a fine example of cynicism.

The problem with the Bush education policy is that it relegates an entire generation of American children to second-rate experiences in the classroom. The Bush policies destroy curiosity, the desire to know school based knowledge. This is not to suggest that children do not learn things. Just that what they learn comes from outside the schoolhouse. So much research points to the dangerous effects of NCLB and the Bush policies on education, but there he is giving his marching orders to Secretary Spellings to oversee the reauthorization of this flawed act. Arrogance, incompetence, and cynicism all rolled up into a single package…654 more days to go for this, the worst president this country has ever had.

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The issue is important enough to simply present FAIR TEST’s plea for action on the part of all concerned citizens. So here it is. PLEASE TAKE ACTION on this one. Save the children, save the entire next generation from a life of basic skills ignorance.

The Bush Administration and its Congressional allies are trying to push through fast-track renewal of the fundamentally flawed “No Child Left Behind” law without the public debate it requires. Now is the time for assessment reformers like you to act. Contact your U.S. Senators and Representative today. Tell them NCLB should not be reauthorized unless all these issues are addressed. Ask them to contact the Education Committee and press for adoption of the reforms listed here.

End arbitrary and unrealistic “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP) requirements used to punish schools not on track to having all students score “proficient” by 2014. AYP should be replaced by expectations based on real-world rates of improved student achievement. Academic progress should be measured by multiple sources of evidence, not just standardized test scores.

Reduce excessive top-down testing mandates. The requirement that states assess each student every year in grades three through eight (and once in high school) should be reduced to once each in elementary, middle and high school. Over-testing takes time away from real teaching and learning.

Remove counter-productive sanctions. Escalating punitive consequences, which lack evidence of success, should be eliminated. These include requirements to spend money on school transfers and tutoring, as well as provisions calling for the replacement of teachers or privatizing control over schools.

Replace NCLB’s test-and-punish approach with support for improving educational quality. This includes holding schools accountable for making systemic changes through locally controlled professional development and family involvement programs. Federal funding should be more than doubled so that all eligible children receive support.

The thrust of this approach is outlined in the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB with details in Redefining Accountability: Improving Student Learning by Building Capacity. http://www.fairtest.org/FEA_Home.html.

Members of Congress are in their home districts during the first half of April. Take advantage of this opportunity to make your views heard. Personal calls, letters, faxes and visits are much more effective than email. Addresses and phone numbers are available at http://www.house.gov and http://www.senate.gov.

Please take action today. The U.S. will continue to leave many children behind unless your voice is heard.

FairTest Home

FEA Website

FairTest’s FEA Page

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Study Says Tools Don’t Raise Scores
This report from the Washingtonpost.com

Educational software, a $2 billion-a-year industry that has become the darling of school systems across the country, has no significant impact on student performance, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Education.

The long-awaited report amounts to a rebuke of educational technology, a business whose growth has been spurred by schools desperate for ways to meet the testing mandates of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law.

Oh my, another chink in the armor of NCLB. I am not surprised. Technology is worthy of many things–a teacher it is not! Without technology this blog would not be possible, critical exploration of deep space, research into drug development, and so much more would simply not be possible. But, sitting a child in front of a computer to do drill and kill is no different than handing the same child a worksheet. It numbs the brain. It kills curiosity.

Not too very long ago my then 6 year old grandson was visiting me from his home in Phoenix. Because he was missing a couple of days of school, his 1st grade teacher supplied him with multiple worksheet assignments. He balked at doing this homework. When I asked him why he said, “Poppa, it is really stupid work. I know how to do it all so it is just a waste of my time–time I could be spending with you and grandma.” Aside from the fact that he will grow up to be a diplomat, his analysis was right on. In fact, it was a waste of his time. If a 6-year-old child knows this and can articulate his knowing this well something tells me the DOE did not have to pay for an expensive study.

We have known for some time that drill and skill worksheets don’t work at any age for any topic. What does work is to engage children as curious, inquiring learners. It is a grand Deweyan myth but he could have said this, “If you want kids to learn about volume and container size, send them out to the sandbox with different size buckets and have them play in the sand. Then come back to the classroom and discuss what they did in the sandbox.” Learning through experience works. It engages kids in ways that involve their natural curiosity so that what is learned is retained. Beating them over the head with drivel simply gets lost as the children get lost in the process.

But NCLB pushes notions of basic skills for reading and math. Curiously, nothing is ever said about what one does with the skills acquired. What are the real world applications of having a set of skills that one has not been able to internalize because they hold no interest.

If technology is to be effective as a classroom tool then it must be seen as interactive, messy, and authentic. Not some pre-programmed worksheet model that crushes children in the process.

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BBC NEWS | UK | Education | Tests ‘stopping children playing’

Five-year-olds are being prevented from engaging in traditional play as they are under too much pressure from the national tests, teachers have warned.

With lessons geared towards assessment, children are bored from the moment they begin formal schooling, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers warned.

What is this world coming to? British kids at 5-years of age are already bored with school from the moment they begin formal education. The sad fact is that school policy in Britain and the United States violate the most important maxim of teaching: TO DO NO HARM TO CHILDREN!

Children need to play, need to get their hands dirty, need to explore the world they live in on their terms with guidance from adults that are well educated and understand the relationship of play to learning. To metaphorically strap children to their seats at age 5 is to literally beat curiosity out of them, to make them passive and, in doing so, dull their minds so that an entire generation of children will be lost to intellectual pursuits. This is an egregious breech of faith with younger people, a retreat from adult responsibility to educate our children to be productive citizens of the world. To bore and not to challenge is frightening; a reminder of Orwell’s conception of his future from the point of view of the 1950’s when he wrote 1984. The world, in Orwell’s terms was turned on its head–Peace is War, Love is Hate and so on–so that life no longer made sense.

What will happen to these 5-year-old children as they reach adulthood in a mere 13 years? Will they be so deprived of curiosity, of the ability to think for themselves, of the ability to form responsible opinions, that they will understand the world in Orwellian terms? It is a truly upside down world we inhabit today.

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I have attached an important paper the addresses issues of the pressure placed on students by NCLB high stakes testing requirements. Among the findings is that high-stakes testing pressure leads to increased school drop-out rates and that there is no credible evidence that points to increases in NAEP test scores in 4th and 8th graders. It is worth the read in spite of its length.

The time has come to rethink the harm being done to children in United States public schools as a direct result of this administration’s education policy. Based on the “Miracle in Texas,” another failed educational policy, NCLB is destroying a generation of children. Let sanity prevail.

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This post recently appeared on the National Education Association’s web site. It is worth a close look.

NCLB AYP: Fail Now or Fail Later
Study Predicts Most Great Lakes Schools Will Be ‘Failing’ by 2014

Most schools in the Great Lakes region will labeled “failing” by 2014,
according to a study released by the Great Lakes Center for
Educational Research and the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University.

“The Impact of the Adequate Yearly Progress Requirement of the Federal No Child Left Behind Act on the Great Lakes Region,” (PDF, 551KB, 70 pages) is
the first multi-state research to use actual state data to predict how
schools will fare under the No Child Left Behind law’s current Adequate
Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements.

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In a stunning article in Educational Theory, Tyson E. Lewis (2006) argues that contemporary schooling in the United States, through policies of zero-tolerance, lockdown, and No Child Left Behind policies, separates and isolates students from the body politic by creating ambiguities that emerge from the complexities of disciplinary procedures and high-stakes assessment policies prevalent in inner-city schools that serve low-income, minority students. Lewis relies on arguments made by Italian political philosopher, Giorgio Agamben, and Critical Theorist, Theodor Adorno to make his case.

According to Lewis, Adorno makes the case that schooling creates the precondition for fascism to take hold due primarily to the undemocratic nature of the classroom. In Western education the classroom is often understood as a place of discipline and punishment, of separation and separating, of execution and executioner that is implicit in the student-teacher dialectic of power and passivity. School is not understood, in the main, as a place for developing autonomy, critical decision making, or self- and communal-response-ability; this in spite of rhetoric to the contrary. Lewis seems to understand the difference between language and the Real (Žižek, 2002).

Agamben, according to Lewis, presents a case for the Nazi death camp as the paradigmatic case of the creation of exceptional space, space removed from the principal political space of the community yet existing within that space without visibility or recognition. This form of exceptional space extends to many institutions found in the Western idea of Global Capitalism such as airports, hospitals, and credit bureaus. Lewis argues convincingly that schools must be included in this exceptionality as well. When such exceptional space is created “life is held in suspension, neither inside nor outside the polis, neither fully alive or dead. Stated differently, life is made to survive in legal limbo” (Lewis, 2006, p 161). Schools, create space that is inherently undemocratic. Student’s lives are suspended while dependent upon the whims and fancies of outsiders, political and administrative demands, that place their lives in suspension where survival in legal limbo is, perhaps, all that can be expected.

What is destroyed in the process is not dignity, rather it is control or the illusion of control. When placed in survival mode, life is reduced to the bare necessities, to what Agamben (1998) has labeled homo sacer, literally, sacred life, but in Agamben’s terms is defined more metaphorically as bare life. In the paradigmatic exceptional space, the Nazi Death Camps, homo sacer collides with the ordinary citizen, one surviving in limbo, outside of the borders of the political system and one entrenched within the borders of that system; one powerless, the other holding the key to ultimate power—life and death.

The United States is not exempt from creating borderless states of isolation. Native American people have lived in isolation on reservations for a hundred years or so, isolated as sovereign nations within a sovereign nation, a euphemism that is intended to hide the source of Real power. During World War II, Japanese Americans were herded into internment camps, isolated in the California desert and the Great Basin where they could be separated from Real Americans. More recently, the detention camp at Guantanamo place the lives of enemy combatants in limbo under the watchful eye of the military. Each of these instances, including the paradigmatic case, fall into what Agamben (1998) calls biopolitics.

Lewis extends this argument to schools, labeling the activity of schools and schooling as biopedagogy. Students are placed in a position of being homo sacer in the sense that because they are subject to nothing but external rules, to not being able participants in the decisions that directly and indirectly impact their lives, schools are places where students necessarily collide with those that choose to control them. Schools isolate, separate, and punish sometimes just because they can. The real tragedy is that this all appears to be normal to the rest of us.

 References

Agamben, G. (1998). Homo Sacer: Sovereign power and bare life (D. Heller-Roazen, Trans.). Sanford, CA: Sanford University Press.

Lewis, T. E. (2006). The school as an exceptional space: Rethinking education from the perspective of the biopedagogical. Educational Theory, 56(2), 159-176.

Žižek, S. (2002). Welcome to the desert of the real: Five essays on September 11 and related dates. London: Verso.

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