The education policy debate is at a crossroads.
The Obama/Duncan/Klein iteration is an accountability-driven system. National Core Standards, an impressive regimen of testing, collection of storehouses of student achievement/teacher value-added data, rigid school and teacher accountability driving a “carrot” (RttT, SIG, i3, Title 1, etc.) and a “stick” (school closings, linking student achievement to teacher evaluation) approaches.
New York City has been the poster child for this philosophy.
The recently released NYS test scores are a disaster for the Obama/Klein acolytes, the leaders of the NYS state education system announced that prior test scores had been inflated by 20% and Regents exams “dumbed down.”
Half of the states have graduation rates for Black male students below the national average. The report highlights concerns that New York’s graduation rate for its Regents diploma is only 25 percent for Black male students. New York City, the district with the nation’s highest enrollment of Black students, only graduates 28 percent of its Black male students with Regents diplomas on time. Overall, each year over 100,000 Black male students in New York City alone do not graduate from high school with their entering cohort.
At the peak of the administration pyramid is Common Core Standards, if only all teachers in all states would teach to the same standards. Whether in North Dakota, or Texas, or the South Bronx, teachers should be teaching the same core standards and at the national/state/local levels skills/knowledge acquisition can be tested.
An Ed Week article rejects the concept of Common Core Standards, the underpinning of national educational policy.
Standards-driven education removes decisions from teachers and students and renders classrooms lifeless and functional, devoid of the pleasure and personal value of learning, discovering, and coming to be.
Common standards also begin by assuming that the content is all that matters in learning. To create a standard body of knowledge is to codify that the students themselves do not matter—at least in any humane way. The standards movement envisions children as empty vessels to be filled by the prescribed knowledge chosen for them—certainly a counterproductive view of humans in a free society.
If National Common Core Standards are not the apex of the pyramid, where should we look? Professor Thomas hits the nail on the head,
A call for national standards ensures that we continue doing what is most wrong with our bureaucratic schools (establish-prescribe-measure) and that we persist in looking away from the largest cause of low student achievement: childhood poverty.
A call for national standards is a political veneer, a tragic waste of time and energy that would be better spent addressing real needs in the lives of children—safe homes, adequate and plentiful food, essential health care, and neighborhood schools that are not reflections of the neighborhoods where children live through no choice of their own.
The Obama brain trust has attacked poverty through the health care bill, and other policies that may impact reducing poverty, but, steers away from the central issue: in inner city communities around the country a subculture exists, a culture perpetuated from generation to generation. The only voice calling our attention to this tragedy has been Bob Herbert, the NY Times op ed columnist. Decade after decade unemployment and underemployment, crime, substandard health, the pathologies of poverty have survived.
Do a little exercise: pick a school on the “persistently lowest achieving” list in any city, match it with the poverty by zip code rankings. Low and behold, the lowest achieving schools, schools that have been redesigned time and time again fall into the highest poverty zip code areas.
A few years ago Mayor Bloomberg, to great fanfare announced a program, families would be paid to take advantage of a range of social services, the program would link these families with schools; it was touted as a proactive approach to making inroads into persistent high poverty neighborhoods. Very quietly the Mayor announced the end of the program. A lack of commitment doomed the program.
The EduJobs bill was initially opposed by Obama, and finally reluctantly, then, enthusiastically endorsed. As the clock ticks to November 2nd the democrats need as many allies as possible.
As the President courts Randi Weingarten and her 1.5 million members the message has not trickled across to Arne. Representatives of districts containing the “persistently lowest achieving schools” are increasingly suspicious. The reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education act (ESEA) fka, No Child Left Behind, languishes in committee as more and more legislators, democrats and republicans have grave doubts.
In a month or so the 3 + billion in Race to the Top $$ will be in the mail, governors will be jubilent, teachers suspicious.
In November the Congressional democratic majorities will shrink dramatically, or disappear.
When the election autopsies are completed it will be a lack teacher minions knocking on doors that made the difference.
As the vaunted NYC school miracle becomes a trompe d’oeil, a mirage, a chimera, I wonder whether Mayor Bloomberg will jump off the band wagon. Whether he will abandon Joel and look towards Pedro Noguera, or Barbara Byrd Bennett, whether he will craft his own education path, a path more amenable to parents, teachers, social activites, scholars, those who try to speak for the silenced.
Everyone wants a legacy.