"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Obama Criticizes DOE Plan

On March 28, President Obama uttered the words we have been waiting for. Speaking at a Univision Town Hall, he said,
Too often what we've been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools. And so what we've said is let’s find a test that everybody agrees makes sense; let’s apply it in a less pressured-packed atmosphere; let’s figure out whether we have to do it every year or whether we can do it maybe every several years; and let’s make sure that that's not the only way we're judging whether a school is doing well.

Because there are other criteria: What’s the attendance rate? How are young people performing in terms of basic competency on projects? There are other ways of us measuring whether students are doing well or not.

....one thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching to the test. Because then you're not learning about the world; you're not learning about different cultures, you're not learning about science, you're not learning about math. All you're learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and the little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test. And that's not going to make education interesting to you. And young people do well in stuff that they’re interested in. They’re not going to do as well if it’s boring.
This is, finally, the same man who as a candidate said,
"Don't label a school as failing one day and then throw your hands up and walk away from it the next...Don't tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend too much of a year preparing him to fill out a few bubbles in a standardized test...You didn't devote your lives to testing. You devoted it to teaching, and teaching is what you should be allowed to do."
The irony of the President's newest statement, however, is that his own Department of Education is doing just what he said it shouldn't. Does he even talk to Secretary Arne Duncan? Anthony Cody asks:
Either President Obama is trying to mislead people, or he is unfamiliar with the policies being advanced by his very own secretary of education, who was seated just a few feet away from him at this event.

As someone who campaigned and raised money for Obama, I find both of these alternatives unacceptable.

Is President Obama aware:
  • that Race to the Top requires states to tie teacher pay and evaluations to student test scores? If ever there was a recipe for teaching to the test, this is it!
  • that his Secretary of Education is proposing to evaluate teacher preparation programs by tracking the test scores of the teachers they produce?
  • that his administration's plan for the new version of No Child Left Behind continues to place tremendous pressure on schools attended by the poorest students, ensuring that there will still be extremely high stakes attached to these tests? This creates the most invidious inequity of all -- where students most in need of the sort of wholistic, project-based curriculum the President rightly says is the cure to boredom remain stuck in schools forced to focus on test scores.
  • that his Department of Education is proposing greatly expanding both the number of subjects tested, and the frequency of tests, to enable us to measure the "value" each teacher adds to their students?
If he really means what he says, then we'll see a change in the direction the Department of Education is going. We'll see real progress in finding ways to evaluate students and then use the information to drive instruction, not to rank schools, close schools, fire teachers or principals, or hold students back a grade. If President Obama is serious about other criteria being used then we'll see fewer tests, not more...we'll see more time dedicated to instruction and learning rather than test-prep and testing. We'll see teachers using professional judgment and developmentally sound activities. We'll see teacher evaluations based on teaching, learning, professional development and the ability to reach students...

...and it would be nice if we could see it soon.
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