Monty Neil:My organization, FairTest, also endorsed Save Our Schools. True, in time more specifics are needed, but the most fundamental task is to save our schools from the education ‘deformers’ who have decided that tests (the standards don’t really matter except for the tests) and punishments are the core of a ‘solution’ to the very real problem that too many students do leave school not having learned enough to be effective citizens. It is a destructive ‘solution.’ California Rally and March Saturday, July 30, 11am-3pm State Capitol Building 1315 10th Street, SacramentoJoin other Californians on the Capitol steps to support public education. Sponsored by California supporters of the Save Our Schools March, National Call to Action .
Finland, by contrast, decided to build a system based on having high-quality teachers who would be prepared well (not a BA and short training course, a la TFA), engage in ongoing shared professional learning, and be largely in charge of the shape of schooling. They have brief national standards, but those are not imposed through tests. Finland does far better than the US, which chose a disastrous detour through testland. Finland also has a child poverty rate under 5% while the US is now well over 20%. Finland is more homogeneous, but has growing numbers of immigrant students (15% if memory serves) with 43 different languages. But of course US poverty is an ‘excuse’ to the deformers, who have managed to simultaneously promote damaging education ideas while deflecting attention from massive poverty.
There are many reasons why the basic framework, the paradigm, of federal and state laws and policies must be changed – I use the US failures and Finnish success simply to highlight how a different approach has produced markedly different results, though the underlying social structures and poverty also matter.
Still, schools should do as well as they can with the resources they have. Which raises the issue of those specifics you asked for, John. The Forum on Educational Accountability (www.edaccountability.org), which I chair, has developed many specifics, from a 2-page summary for ESEA reauthorization to detailed legislative language. The Forum for Education and Democracy has a rich range of good ideas. And that’s just for federal policy – there are many more applicable to curriculum, instruction, assessment, public reporting and accountability, as well as good ideas addressing the well-being of the whole child.
The problem is not an absence of concrete ideas, it is that the dominance of test-and-punish either makes the good ideas impossible to implement or turns them into their opposite (e.g., ‘formative assessment’ becomes an endless array of centrally-controlled mini-tests). So, the frame must change for real positive practices to flourish, while pointing to good practices, in the US and internationally, should help us with the re-framing as well as provide benefits to students lucky enough to be in a school or program that manages to do well — despite the so-called “accountability” system.