Saturday, December 28, 2013

Race to the Top (RTTT)

When discussing education reform, No Child Left Behind is cited as the beginning of the end of a movement towards a more democratic public education institution. Unfortunately, regardless of the shift in executive partisan leadership, Obama and his educational initiative Race to the Top have been accused of continuing the standardized machine the leaves teachers, students, and communities on the margins. Without addressing the root cause such epidemics as the achievement gap, Race to the Top hastily favors a start from zero approach. What is seriously wrong with this approach is the appearance of a staggered start that eventually evens out. However as time goes on certain runners are asked to run more laps than others, and according to the legislation that this process still establishes a process towards democracy.

“No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, which involve high levels of solely quantitative measures of “success”; and frequent tests for preservice teachers that may or may not evaluate their abilities to teach effectively.” (Porfilio xiv) These measures are not indicative of many of the challenges students and teachers face on a day- to- day basis, due to societal issues and lack of resources respectively. Therefore an irrelevant test is manifested for a population who, to put it plainly, couldn’t care any less. 

Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education “wishes to create a system to measure the Value Added scores for graduates of teacher preparation programs and reward programs that yield high- scoring teachers and punish those who fail to make the grade.” (Duncan 2012, Porfilio 58) This may seem like a great idea, keeping teachers accountable, however Duncan himself has never taught in a traditional classroom, his credentials lie in school administration, and even though this may be great preparation for formally holding teachers accountable, it is a spit in the face of teachers who have little representation via unions, to express their countless attempts to “improve test scores”. If you are not in the class everyday, or have some frame of reference, no matter how vague, of classroom culture, it is hard to determine what exactly are suitable measures of competence in such an array of diverse class environments. All students are intelligent, yes, so therefore the objective is just a matter of identifying that intelligence, and nurturing it until the student becomes able to form a healthy self-esteem and positive self-identity. 

What gets in the way of determining these intelligences are standardized tests.
“Standardized testing is at the center of No Child Left Behind and its blueprint for reauthorization, Race the Top, the push for value added assessment, the creation of database tracking projects to longitudinally measure teacher ‘performance’ on students’ standardized tests, the linkage of teacher evaluation and pay to such standardized test-based measures, the imposition of ‘urban portfolio districts,’ legislative moves to stifle the power of teachers unions, the unbridled entry of corporate managers into school reform bypassing professional educators and educational scholarship, and the use of corporate media to frame educational problems as solutions. Standardized testing has also been at the center of the push for charter school expansion and the expansion of for profit management companies running schools.” (Porfilio 75) In addition to holding teachers accountable for things they cannot control, Race to the Top also rewards exclusive charter schools who have little proven difference in test scores then public schools, and for the ones that do better, they have very restrictive de facto regulations that closes the door on ELL and special needs students. What this may be is a resurgence of eugenic philosophies of race-based intelligence and the futile approach to equalize an inherently unequal genetic paradigm. Race to the Top therefore needs to be more inclusive and democratic, welcoming voices in and outside of the traditional and unorthodox school systems.

Left Behind in the Race to the Top: Realities of School Reform edited by Julie Gorlewski and Brad Porfilio published by Information Age Publishing Charlotte, North Carolina 2013

Sunday, December 8, 2013

They Schools by Dead Prez

No Child Left Behind (NCLB)

The results of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind act (NCLB) will soon be measured, and speaks volumes to the new direction we may need to face if we want to improve public education. As  of 2014, NCLB will be up for re-authorization and in its wake will stand a new strategy and policy known as Race to the Top.

As we have already established in our analysis of San Antonio versus Rodriguez poor communities are getting the shaft in terms of funding public education. Even though they may demonstrate more effort in paying a disproportionate amount of taxes, the gap between poor schools and wealthy ones show no sign of narrowing. “In poor communities, local taxation cannot support minimally acceptable schooling. State and federal equalization formulas rarely cover the cost differences between poor districts and wealthy districts.” (xix) A new system is in dire need “wealthier families have access to schools with more robust funding than do their poorer neighbors. Segregation by social class is the rule, not the exception.” (xix)

So the question remains, do we continue testing as outlined by NCLB to determine progress in our public schools. “While worthy standardized tests do provide teachers with much good data, they hardly provide either enough information or the balance of information necessary to assess accurately either a student’s mastery or a district’s or school’s effort. NCLB narrows, and thus profoundly distorts the problem.” (xxi) What are the other elements outside of standardized testing that show evidence of school progress. Do we need to improve resources such as technology? Do we need to get parents involved in their children’s education? Do we need to find better teachers and implement a more effective curriculum?

The main objective is “to keep alive an educational debate that can lead us toward a system of schooling which is worthy of Americans and the democracy of which its people for generations have dreamed.” (xxii)

Scholars from “The Harvard Civil Rights Project, along with other advocacy groups, has warned that the law threatens to increase the growing dropout and pushout rates of students of color, ultimately reducing access to education for these students, rather than enhancing it.” (4) Many students, especially ELL and Developmentally delayed do not have a fighting chance against the overly complicated state-standardized tests necessary for graduation. As a result many of these afflicted students will drop out. The question remains, could these students be included in our national plan if a better distribution of funds was mounted and resources available specifically to enhance education for ELLs and those that are developmentally delayed. Is the current system destined to fail due to its narrow focus on “mainstream” populations?

NCLB “will lead to reductions in federal funding to already underresourced schools and it will sidetrack funds needed for improvement to underwrite transfers for students to other schools.” (5) This spells disaster for those on the low end of the totem pole (ELLs and Developmentally Delayed)

“Although the hope is that such carrots and sticks will force schools to improve, this does not necessarily occur.”

NCLB “boosted test scores in part by keeping many students out of the testing count and making tens of thousands disappear from school altogether. The disappeared are mostly students of color.” (21) So the solution of a past policy was to simply discard those underneath the bar, and leave them to fend for themselves. This is not a strategy that ameliorates the already well known achievement gap between racial and social classes. If anything this policy will further the chasm between the haves and the have nots.

Those with little political representation and lack of resources “are forced to attend underresourced schools where they lack the texts, materials, qualified teachers, computers, and other necessities for learning.” (22) How they will thrive in such an environment is unknown to many who advocate for a better public education system.

“Determinations of school progress should be constructed to reflect a better grounded analysis of schools’ actual performance and progress rather than a statistical gauntlet that penalizes schools serving the most diverse populations.” (25)

“Accountability must be a two- way state and federal support.” (26)

“It is not hard to find urban and poor rural schools where one-third or more of the teachers are working without training, certification, or mentoring. In schools with the highest minority enrollments, students have less than a 50 percent chance of getting a mathematics or science teacher with a license and a degree in the field that they teach.” (27)

“Imagine a federal law that declared that 100 percent of all citizens must have adequate health care in twelve years or sanctions will be imposed on doctors and hospitals.” (60)

conservative Boston Think Tank: Pioneer Institute

Jackie McKenzie, former superintendent states: “NCLB is actually a cynical effort to shift public school funding to a host of private schools, religious schools, and free-market diploma mills or corporate experiments in education.” (84)

“Apart from the obvious bonanza for the giant companies that design and score standardized tests, hundreds of supplemental service providers’ have already lined up to offer tutoring, including Sylvan, Kaplan Inc. and Princeton Review Inc… Kaplan says revenue for its elementary—and secondary—school division has doubled since No Child Left Behind has passed.” (87)

conservative foundations such as the Heritage Foundation endorse vouchers and believe in the free-market. Not to forget the Hoover Institution in California, Manhattan Institute in New York, Education Reform in Washington, and many others.

Walt Haney from Boston College, progressive

Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act Is Damaging Our Children and Our Schools by Edited By Deborah Meier and George Wood published by Beacon Press, Boston 2004