The American education system has never been better, several important measures show. But you’d never know that from reading overheated media reports about “failing” schools and enthusiastic pieces on unproven “reform” efforts. Fri., March 30, 2012.
By Paul Farhi
Senior contributing writer Paul Farhi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a reporter for the Washington Post.
Fareed Zakaria is worried about the state of American education. To hear the CNN host and commentator tell it, the nation’s schools are broken and must be “fixed” to “restore the American dream.” In fact, that was the title of Zakaria’s primetime special in January, “Restoring the American Dream: Fixing Education.” Zakaria spent an hour thumbing through a catalog of perceived educational woes: high dropout rates, mediocre scores by American students on international tests, inadequate time spent in classrooms, unmotivated teachers and their obstructionist labor unions. “Part of the reason we’re in this crisis is that we have slacked off and allowed our education system to get rigid and sclerotic,” he declared.
This is odd. By many important measures – high school completion rates, college graduation, overall performance on standardized tests – America’s educational attainment has never been higher. Moreover, when it comes to education, sweeping generalizations (“rigid and sclerotic”) are more dangerous than usual. How could they not be? With nearly 100,000 public schools, 55 million elementary and secondary students and 2.5 million public school teachers currently at work in large, small, urban, suburban and rural districts, education may be the single most complex endeavor in America. Continue reading
Scores of professors and researchers from 16 universities throughout the Chicago metropolitan area have signed an open letter to the city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and Chicago school officials warning against implementing a teacher evaluation system that is based on standardized test scores.
This is the latest protest against “value-added” teacher evaluation models that purport to measure how much “value” a teacher adds to a student’s academic progress by using a complicated formula involving a standardized test score.
Researchers have repeatedly warned against using these methods, but school reformers have been doing it in state after state anyway. A petition in New York State by principals and others against a test-based evaluation system there has been gaining ground.
Here’s the Chicago letter:
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, and the Chicago School Board
Regarding Chicago’s Implementation of Legislation for the Evaluation of Teachers and Principals
Chicago Public Schools CPS plans to implement dramatic changes in the 2012-2013 school year. As university professors and researchers who specialize in educational research, we recognize that change is an essential component of school improvement. We are very concerned, however, at a continuing pattern of changes imposed rapidly without high-quality evidentiary support. The new evaluation system for teachers and principals centers on misconceptions about student growth, with potentially negative impact on the education of Chicago’s children. We believe it is our ethical obligation to raise awareness about how the proposed changes not only lack a sound research basis, but in some instances, have already proven to be harmful. Continue reading
Efforts to revamp public education are increasingly focused on evaluating teachers using student test scores, but school districts nationwide are only beginning to deal with the practical challenges of implementing those changes.
Only an estimated 30% of classroom teachers in the U.S. work in grades or subjects covered by state standardized tests. Currently, most states test students only in math and reading in third through eighth grades and once in high school, as mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Few states test students in other core subjects, such as science and social studies, and for many other subjects there is no testing at all.
Rolling out systemwide tests and devising ways to measure educator effectiveness require additional spending for states and districts, many already low on cash. And some parents and teachers complain that the effort has translated into more testing for children, taking away from classroom learning. Continue reading
Marin County educators gathered this week to imagine a world without standardized tests, one in which teachers would teach less and students would study less — yet score near the top on international tests of math, reading and science.
Teaching would be a highly regarded profession in this world, and decisions about curriculum and other aspects of education would be made at the school — rather than the state or county level. The “achievement gap” between rich and poor schools would be unknown, as all schools would provide their students with a high level of education, along with free meals, counseling and health care.
This mythical world of teachers’ dreams has a name: Finland. Continue reading