Saturday, March 5, 2011

There Are No Silver-Bullets in Education Reform

"The Obama administration’s Race to the Top program intensified the demonizing of teachers, because it encouraged states to evaluate teachers in relation to student scores. There are many reasons why students do well or poorly on tests, and teachers felt they were being unfairly blamed when students got low scores, while the crucial role of families and the students themselves was overlooked.

Teachers’ despair deepened last August when The Los Angeles Times rated 6,000 teachers in Los Angeles as effective or ineffective, based on their students’ test scores, and posted these ratings online. Testing experts warn that such ratings are likely to be both inaccurate and unstable, but the Times stood by its analysis.

School reformers create a seductive narrative for the media and lawmakers alike. Foundations are lured to support radical changes because they promise radical results. It’s much more glamorous, after all, to put money into shiny new charter schools than to give those dollars to school districts. School choice and accountability sound good on paper, and films like The Lottery and Waiting for Superman pull on our heartstrings and paint pictures of selfish teachers lobbying hard against their own students. These films ignore not only the external factors leading to school failure – including poverty, lack of funding, and other societal issues – they also gloss over the many failed charter schools and choice programs across the country. Advocates of choice and accountability and the modern charter-school movement brush off the wildly varying results found from one charter school to the next. Like traditional public schools, charter schools with a higher percentage of white and Asian students and lower numbers of ESL students and other disadvantaged students fair much better than those with more mixed populations....

The accountability movement has shifted the focus away from American ingenuity and creativity in favor of strict testing regimes in an attempt to compete with Japan and Finland. This is the wrong approach. As our nation grows in wealth and technology, American public education should be a reflection of these changes. American schools may have been founded along industrial lines, but accountability efforts only entrench this attitude. If anything, we should be looking for ways to make education more creative and diverse, and to make American students more well-rounded and independent. The current reforms achieve just the opposite."