"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

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Most Important Speech on Education in Years

The Opportunity to Learn Campaign (OTL) is
...a national movement to create a stronger, safer, more prosperous America now by closing the opportunity gap in public education. The campaign connects advocates across the country to ensure every child’s fundamental civil right to a high-quality public school education, regardless of where they live.
This year, the OTL Summit featured Diane Ravitch as one of the keynote speakers. Dr. Ravitch's presentation was titled Whose children have been left behind? The Daily Kos calls it the "most important speech on education in years." I agree. It is important. The Daily Kos blogger (teacherken) wrote:
You can read the entire text here (pdf).
You should.
You should pass it on.
I did, and I will. Here...

On NCLB
We have had a full decade of No Child Left Behind, and we now know that the law has been a disaster....it has documented the shocking gaps in passing rates between different groups of children, but it has done nothing to change the conditions that cause those gaps. We know the gaps are there; actually, we knew about the gaps long before NCLB was passed. Yet Congress is still patting itself on the back for identifying a problem and doing nothing meaningful to solve it.
Now we know the results of this absurd law. More than 80% of our schools have been labeled failing schools. By the year 2014, nearly 100% of our schools will be considered failures. Has any other national legislature in history ever passed a law guaranteed to label every single one of its schools a failure?...Let’s be clear about what NCLB has really accomplished: It has convinced the media and major philanthropies and Wall Street hedge fund managers that American public education is a failure and that radical solutions are required. The philanthropists and Wall Street hedge fund managers and Republicans and the Obama administration and assorted rightwing billionaires have some ideas about how to change American education. They aren’t teachers but they think they know how to fix the schools.
The Achievement Gap between Rich and Poor
...we now know that there has been very little change in the gaps between the children of the rich and the children of the poor...Meanwhile our policymakers say we need higher standards, more rigorous standards, and more testing. How exactly will that help children who are struggling to read and do math? Or, in some cases, struggling to read and speak English? Or in the case of children with disabilities, how are they helped by harder tests? This is like saying, “if these children can’t jump over a four-foot bar, let’s lift the bar to six feet and see how they do.” Do you know how they will do? It seems obvious to me.
Competition and the Free Market
We know—or we should know—that poor and minority children should not have to depend on the good will and beneficence of the private sector to get a good education. The free market works very well in producing goods and services, but it works through competition. In competition, the weakest fall behind. The market does not produce equity. In the free market, there are a few winners and a lot of losers. Some corporate reformers today advocate that schools should be run like a stock portfolio: Keep the winners and sell the losers. Close schools where the students have low scores and open new ones. But this doesn’t help the students who are struggling. No student learns better because his school was closed; closing schools does not reduce the achievement gap. Poor kids get bounced from school to school. No one wants the ones with low scores because they threaten the reputation and survival of the school.
Testing
The entire current reform movement rests on a fanatical belief in standardized testing. Yet testing experts warn us that the tests should be used for diagnostic purposes, not to fire teachers and close schools. The basic rule of testing is that a test should be used only for the purpose for which it was designed. A test of fifth grade reading tests whether students can read at a fifth grade level; it is not a test of teacher quality. Testing experts warn that tests are subject to statistical error, measurement error, and human error. Sometimes the answer is wrong. Sometimes the question is wrong. Sometimes a thoughtful child will pick the wrong answer because it sounds plausible.
One thing we know for certain about standardized testing. Poor and minority kids consistently get lower test scores than white and privileged kids. So why would we make testing the most important measure of education? Why would we take the technology that is most discouraging to children in the bottom half and then insist that it matters more than anything else? Why would we give more credibility to standardized tests than to teachers’ and parents’ judgments about children’s potential?
Suggestions

A common response from the "corporate reformers" is that their critics complain but don't offer suggestions. Ravitch has suggestions for them.
  • Every pregnant woman should have good pre-natal care and nutrition so that her child is born healthy. One of three children born to women who do not get good prenatal care will have disabilities that are preventable. That will cost society far more than providing these women with prenatal care.
  • Every child should have the medical attention and nutrition that they need to grow up healthy.
  • Every child should have high-quality early childhood education.
  • Every school should have experienced teachers who are prepared to help all children learn.
  • Every teacher should have at least a masters degree.
  • Every principal should be a master teacher, not a recruit from industry, the military, or the sports world.
  • Every superintendent should be an experienced educator who understand teaching and learning and the needs of children.
  • Every school should have a health clinic.
  • Schools should collaborate with parents, the local community, civic leaders, and local business leaders to support the needs of children.
  • Every school should have a full and balanced curriculum, with the arts, sciences, history, civics, geography, mathematics, foreign languages, and physical education.
  • Every child should have time and space to play.
  • We must stop investing in testing, accountability, and consultants and start investing in children.
Our Choice
Do we want to be a decent society or a decadent society? Do we want to nurture, protect and inspire all of our children? Do we want children who are leaders or followers? Do we want to make sure that this generation of young people is prepared to sustain our democracy? Do we want citizens prepared to ask questions or just to answer questions posed by authorities?
We must stop the trash talk about our public schools and dedicate ourselves to making every one of them a school that is just right for all our children. Yes, it will cost more, but ignorance and neglect are much more expensive.
You can read the entire keynote speech at http://www.ucc.org/justice/public-education/pdfs/NatlOTL.pdf.

You should read the whole thing.
You should pass it on.

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