Debunking Some Myths About Public Education

Gerald Bracey, one of the smartest, not to mention frankest, voices in the discussion of American education reform, lines up nine myths about public education and flattens them.

It’s all good stuff that should be front and center in the debate but my favorites are these:

2. Schools alone can close the achievement gap. This is codified in the disaster known as No Child Left Behind. Most of the differences come from family and community variables and many out-of-school factors, especially summer loss. Some studies have found that poor children enter school behind their middle class peers, learn as much during the year and then lose it over the summer. They fall farther and farther behind and schools are blamed. Middle class and affluent kids do not show summer loss.

8. Test scores are related to economic competitiveness. We do well on international comparisons of reading, pretty good on one international comparison of math and science, and not so good on another math/science comparison. But these comparisons are based on the countries’ average scores and average scores don’t mean much.

The bottom line of Bracey’s essay is that there will be little improvement of public schools until we accept the fact that education is not something that exists in isolation, and that it must be considered in the overall context of American society.

Advice For The New Secretary

For the Monday morning education page of the Post, editors asked some experts for advice they would offer to the new Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, whose confirmation hearing is tomorrow.

My favorites come from “The Author”, Alfie Kohn:

Theory, research, and practice all suggest that carrots (merit pay for teachers, cash rewards for students) and sticks (public shaming, threatening to close down schools that need help) are as ineffective as they are insulting. But a wrong-headed strategy becomes far worse if the criterion for success or failure consists of the scores on fill-in-the-bubble exams. Thus, lesson #1 for the new secretary: Standardized tests measure what matters least. Mediocre schools can often manage to jack up these scores, in part by eviscerating meaningful learning opportunities for students. Terrific schools, meanwhile, may have unimpressive test results because they’re busy helping students to think not memorize isolated facts or waste time practicing test-taking skills.

“The Critic”, Gerald Bracey:

Education doesn’t need reformers. It needs renewers. There’s nothing renewing about charter schools, merit pay or, especially, No Child Left Behind. When’s the last time anyone spoke about “love of learning” rather than raising test scores?

I’d like to see President Obama set in motion a means of establishing forums at the local level, certainly no larger than at the state level to debate what educative experiences children should have to help them become engaged in and responsible for their own learning and become citizens in a democracy (which we nearly lost in the last 8 years). Right now, we’re just teaching them to be passive which is what some believe corporate America wants but it won’t say so.

And “The Professor”, Diane Ravitch, professor of education at New York University.

You have a chance to make a historic difference by abolishing the No Child Left Behind legislation. Signed into law in 2002, this law has turned our schools into testing factories, narrowed the curriculum to the detriment of everything other than reading and math, and prompted states to claim phony test score gains.

The law’s remedies don’t work. The law’s sanctions don’t work. The goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014 is ludicrous; no nation or state has ever reached it.

I can only hope our new national education leaders will listen to them.

Side note: In the dead tree edition of the paper, all of the short pieces of advice were in one article, occupying one newspaper column. For the online version, they posted each segment on a separate page, not even linked in a thread. I suppose that produces more ad impressions, but it doesn’t establish any continuity for the theme and is very, very annoying.