Monday, August 24, 2015

Standardized Testing Criticized in Poll - And, Zuckerberg Fails to "Fix Schools"

Edu-reformers who want to standardized test their way to "better schools" have been dealt a few blows with recent news out of Gallup polls and the great state of New Jersey. As opt-numbers shot through the roof last spring, and tens of thousands of kids refused to take the PARCC and Smarter-Balanced CCSS tests, many pro-testing reformers went on the immediate offensive, arguing that standardized tests are an integral part of any plan to "fix schools" and improve achievement because we "have to know how kids are doing." Well, there are plenty of problems with that mindset - too many to list - but it's worth addressing the current status of "test-based accountability" among parents. In a recent Gallup poll, an "overwhelming majority of Americans" oppose school accountability based on standardized tests. The Washington Post is reporting how significantly Americans are souring on the excessive use of standardized tests in public schools.

A majority of respondents — 64 percent — said too much emphasis has been placed on testing, and a majority also said the best way to measure the success of a school is not through tests but by whether students are engaged and feel hopeful about the future. Many Americans also said they think students should be judged by multiple measures, including student work, written teacher observations and grades. And they overwhelmingly think teacher quality is the best way to improve education, followed by high academic standards and effective principals. When it comes to the role of the federal government in public schools, a majority of respondents said Washington should play no role in holding schools accountable, paying for schools or deciding the amount of testing. Seven out of 10 respondents said they wanted state and local districts to have those responsibilities. Regarding academic standards, more than six out of 10 said the expectations for what students should learn is important to school improvement. But a majority — 54 percent — is opposed to the Common Core State Standards, the K-12 academic benchmarks adopted by 43 states and the District of Columbia that have been under fire by critics on the left and right.

And, in another blow to the billionaires and corporate education reformers, the news can now report that we are five years from Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg's big foray into education philanthropy, and New Jersey schools have virtually nothing impressive to show for the $100 million that Marky Mark pledged to "fix Jersey schools" and turn Jersey schools into a "national model for public education." In a fascinating bit of investigative reporting, journalist Dale Rusakoff has released a new book,  The Prize, which recounts the story of the naive efforts of Zucky, Newark mayor Cory Booker, and populist tough guy Governor Chris Christie. The story is just one more example of how corporate education reformers are too removed from the realities of education and the struggles faced by our lowest achieving students. Granted, these kids and their schools need more funding, no doubt. But the reality is that this money needs to provide food and social services and intervention programs and community support, and even then it will do little to alleviate the damaging effects that poverty have on these kids. Rusakoff has recounted much of the story in a great piece for the New Yorker.

In Newark, the solutions may be closer than either side acknowledges. They begin with getting public-education revenue to the children who need it most, so that district teachers can provide the same level of support that SPARK does. And charter schools, given their rapid expansion, need to serve all students equally. Anderson understood this, but she, Cerf, Booker, and the venture philanthropists—despite millions of dollars spent on community engagement—have yet to hold tough, open conversations with the people of Newark about exactly how much money the district has, where it is going, and what students aren’t getting as a result. Nor have they acknowledged how much of the philanthropy went to consultants who came from the inner circle of the education-reform movement.

Shavar Jeffries believes that the Newark backlash could have been avoided. Too often, he said, “education reform . . . comes across as colonial to people who’ve been here for decades. It’s very missionary, imposed, done to people rather than in co√∂peration with people.” Some reformers have told him that unions and machine politicians will always dominate turnout in school-board elections and thus control the public schools. He disagrees: “This is a democracy. A majority of people support these ideas. You have to build coalitions and educate and advocate.” As he put it to me at the outset of the reform initiative, “This remains the United States. At some time, you have to persuade people.” 

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