Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ravitch: Did anyone explain a failed Nashville education policy to Obama?

Education historian Diane Ravitch points to the self-contractions of the White House education policy and mentions Metro Nashville Public Schools as a cautionary tale:

Teachers must have been excited when they heard what the President said then because he showed that he really understood the dangers of high-stakes testing. He said:

"So what I want to do is—one thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching to the test. Because then you're not learning about the world; you're not learning about different cultures, you're not learning about science, you're not learning about math. All you're learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and the little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test. And that's not going to make education interesting to you. And young people do well in stuff that they're interested in. They're not going to do as well if it's boring."

Teachers must have been jumping for joy when they heard this, because they know that states and districts have been reducing the time available for the arts, history, civics, physical education, everything other than the tests of reading and mathematics. That excellent teacher-blogger Anthony Cody pointed out in his review of his speech that the President was "blasting his own education policies."

Do you think that President Obama just doesn't understand that Race to the Top has encouraged states to double down on high-stakes testing? Maybe he doesn't realize that the strategies of his administration rely totally on test scores. Do you think no one from the U.S. Department of Education has explained that merit pay has been tried again and again and has never succeeded? Did anyone tell him about the Vanderbilt study of 2010, in which Nashville teachers were offered bonuses of $15,000? Did anyone tell him that those big bonuses didn't lead to higher test scores?

Don't wait for anyone at the Nashville Chamber of Commerce or One Nashville to explain this to the President of the United States. I am sure that they're dumbfounded that the profit motive did not automatically transform teachers into magicians who could increase test scores like market ratios. Testing in Tennessee assures that our children learn at less profound and sustainable levels. Putting the onus all on teachers ignores the systemic problems that stifle childhood learning.

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