Monday, March 19, 2012

Public Education is too much about score manipulation

Paul Karrer,
Ten years of No Child Left Behind have left an educational wasteland, a privatized public school system, a further gap between the haves and the have-nots. A demoralized teaching force. And a new rule in the land. Students can't fail, only teachers can.
Yet our president uttered the words, "We can't tolerate teaching to the test anymore."
But all educators can do is teach to the test. They have to. Just ask your children what they do at school all day — test prep.
How can it be that soon, nearly 90 percent of California schools will be considered failing? Answer — they aren't. But the measure for failure is so flawed, even the neo-cons who once touted it now turn their backs on NCLB.
In Monterey County, we have one of the highest murder rates in California. We have an obscene level of child poverty. Unemployment is off the charts. Livable-wage jobs are decreasing. An economic recovery might be on the horizon, but it will be a jobless recovery. Deficits and the fear of underfunded budgets throw terror into educational boards, which then increase class sizes, reduce class offerings and impose furlough days.
Yet teachers are expected to overcome these "challenges" and pretend they have no impact on test outcomes.
Many states are forcing furlough days on teachers. Furlough days are school closure days, but the all-important state testing still takes place with fewer actual learning days. The demands are the same: an impossible requirement of 100 percent proficiency. Schools labor under the eyes of state and federal watch groups while parasitic consultants herd teachers like sheep dogs.

The bite of No Child Left Behind is its requirement for annual testing and proof that students of every grouping are making adequate yearly progress. One of the biggest problems: there are too many ways to fail, even when a school is moving in the right direction
Sinking state standards are not the only unintended consequence. Because the law holds schools accountable only in reading and math, there is growing evidence that schools are abandoning other subjects. In a survey of 300 school districts conducted by the Center on Education Policy, 71percent of local administrators admitted this was the case in their elementary schools.
The decline of science and social studies is often much steeper in schools struggling to end a record of failure. At Arizona Desert Elementary in San Luis, Ariz., students spend three hours of their six-hour day on literacy and 90 minutes on arithmetic. Science is no longer a stand-alone subject.
"We had to find ways to embed it within the content of reading, writing and math," Principal Rafael Sanchez said with regret. Social studies is handled the same way. The payoff for this special attention to reading and math and the dismissal of other subjects is the school went from failing in 2004 to making AYP and earning a high-flying "performing plus" designation by the Arizona department of education last year.
Public education has become all about score manipulation, test preparation, and goosing scores of students in low- performing categories to the exclusion of gifted children.
The president makes a mockery of what is actually happening when he says, "We need to end teaching to the test." His Race to The Top initiative forces schools, teachers and administrators to do that and nothing else.
Moving a child from proficient to advanced gives a school a very small number of points. The only thing that matters in many districts now is AYP and the only way for it to go up is to raise the scores of the "far below basic" and "below basic" students. Consequently, some schools ignore the proficient and advanced students and eliminate extra programs for them.
Teachers are pressured into spending all of their spare time with the students at the bottom. Sports have been eliminated in places, academic competitions declining and teachers no longer have the time to run clubs or anything fun on campus. Teacher time is spent tutoring children who can give the biggest bang for the buck and those are not the honors kids. Teachers have steadily watched more children move into the proficient category for two reasons: the lower ones are moving up but the advanced kids are moving down.
Paul Karrer teaches in Castroville and writes about educational issues for this page.

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