Diane Ravitch‘s article today, “The reform movement is already failing,” is one of the best I’ve read highlighting both the misdirected agenda and LACK of research support for the GW Bush / Obama / Bill Gates / Jeb Bush / “Waiting for Superman” crowd of educational reformers. Ravitch writes:

We are in the midst of the latest wave of reforms, and Steven Brill has positioned himself as the voice of the new reformers. These reforms are not just flawed, but actually dangerous to the future of American education. They would, if implemented, lead to the privatization of a large number of public schools and to the de-professionalization of education.

As Brill’s book shows, the current group of reformers consists of an odd combination of Wall Street financiers, conservative Republican governors, major foundations, and the Obama administration. The reformers believe that the way to “fix” our schools is to fire more teachers, based on the test scores of their students; to open more privately-managed charter schools; to reduce the qualifications for becoming a teacher; and to remove job protections for senior teachers.

Note the breakdown of this misdirected education reform agenda. We have prominent politicians in Oklahoma advancing these policies now:

  1. fire more teachers, based on the test scores of their students
  2. open more privately-managed charter schools
  3. reduce the qualifications for becoming a teacher
  4. remove job protections for senior teachers

Wealthy corporations and individuals continue to chant, “More charters, more charters,” despite the fact research (which Ravitch cites) persuasively shows charter schools are NOT categorically better than traditional public schools. The June 2009 Stanford report, “Multiple Choice: Charter School Performance in 16 States” (PDF) is one highlighted study. This research was funded by the “pro-charter Walton Family Foundation and the Dell Foundation.” Are we data driven and research-based today in American educational politics? Not much.

Just as important in the article is Ravitch’s explanation of how wealthier U.S. students continue to do GREAT on [traditional] international comparative tests, while poorer students don’t. The biggest problem we need to address in our nation with respect to educational outcomes is POVERTY, not testing or bad teachers. She writes:

The last international test results were released in December. Our students ranked about average, and our leading policymakers treated the results as a national scandal. But here is a curious fact: low-poverty U.S. schools (where fewer than 10% of the students were poor) had scores that were higher than those of the top nations in the world. In schools where as many as 25% of the students were poor, the scores were equal to those of Finland, Japan and Korea. As the poverty rate of the schools rose, the schools’ performance declined.

An objective observer would conclude that the problem in this society has to do with our shamefully high rates of child poverty, the highest in the developed world. At least 20% of U.S. children live in poverty. Among black children, the poverty rate is 35%.

Educational leaders: listen up. As citizens and taxpayers, we’re fed up with they way you manipulate data to paint teachers, unions, and public schools as “the enemy.” These groups are NOT the enemy. Poverty and illiteracy are our enemies. We need you to provide leadership to our nation on educational issues and reframe our discussions. Let’s declare war together on poverty. Let’s champion and support teachers who are in the trenches. Let’s support school administrators who focus on relationships with kids and parents, good instruction, and student engagement. Let’s stop pretending everything that matters in school can be measured on a bubblesheet. Let’s “shift our schools” not only to focus on digital literacy skills, but also to focus on the importance of student/teacher relationships. Let’s focus on strong school leaders who CARE for professional educators as well as the constituents we serve. Let’s stop bashing the educational profession and pretending that anyone with a heartbeat and college degree (regardless of training or preparation) can make a wonderful professional educator. Let’s get to work. There’s a lot to be done, and we need to stop the destructive course of privatization and professional teacher demonization which is popular with the “not-so-new reform crowd.”

[END OF RANT]

'NCLB -- Unintended Consequences' photo (c) 2010, Mike Licht - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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