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Is Obama’s call to modernize schools really necessary?

Stephen Krashen Comment:

President Obama proposed investing $30 billion for school repairs and renovations and another $30 billion to prevent teacher layoffs. There was no mention of an obvious means of saving money: Reduce testing and scrap plans to increase testing.

It is widely agreed that schools currently do too much testing, far more than is helpful or necessary, and the US Department of Education is planning to increase testing well beyond what we are doing now, without any supporting evidence.

Test development, test revision, the time spent on test preparation, administration and scoring will cost billions. The new tests will all be administered on-line, and this will cost additional billions.

New York City schools are planning to spend about a half billion to "primarily
pay for wiring and other behind-the-wall upgrades to city schools" (NY Times, March 30, 2011) so that students can take the computerized national standardized tests. Extrapolated to the entire country, this amounts to about $45 billion.

If we adopt the principle of only testing when it is helpful, this will save more than the $60 billion the president wants to invest
in schools.

by Valerie Strauss

Is President Obamaâs plan to modernize at least 35,000 public schools across the country as part of his proposed American Jobs Act really necessary?


*Research over decades shows that the condition of school facilities affects student achievement. According to a 2011 report by the 21st Century School Fund, there are clear correlations between the quality of school facilities and student and teacher attendance, teacher retention and recruitment, child and teacher health, and the quality of curriculum.

In a set of 20 studies analyzed by the fund, all but one study showed a positive correlation between the achievement of students and the condition of the school facility once student demographic factors were controlled for.

*The American Society of Civil Engineers, in its 2009 infrastructure report, gave the country's school buildings a grade of 'D.'

*About one-fourth (28 percent) of all public schools were built before 1950, and 45 percent of all public schools were built between 1950 and 1969, according to the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities. The average age of public schools is 40 years old, according to the 21st Century School Fund.

"Though there is no current comprehensive nationwide data on the condition of the country's school buildings, estimates to bring schools into good repair range from a low of at least $270 billion to more than $500 billion.

Until now, Obama's education priorities have not included school climate or how students who attend class in buildings that are literally crumbling around them are expected to learn. Instead, his school reforms have focused on so-called âaccountabilityâ for students, schools and teachers that is based on standardized test scores.

But here's what Obama said about modernizing schools in his speech Thursday night outlining the proposed Jobs Act:

"There are schools throughout this country that desperately need renovating. How can we expect our kids to do their best in places that are literally falling apart? This is America. Every child deserves a great school -- and we can give it to them, if we act now.

"The American Jobs Act will repair and modernize at least 35,000 schools. It will put people to work right now fixing roofs and windows; installing science labs and high-speed internet in classrooms all across this country."

Well, yes, every American child does deserve a great school, yet, because of deferred maintenance and repair, there are still many with unsafe drinking water, moldy classrooms, bad air quality, faulty fire alarms, poor security, broken toilets and windows and more. Imagine going to work in such conditions.

In these difficult financial times, state and local governments as well as school districts have had to slash budgets and school repair is rarely seen as much of a priority. So it's heartening to hear the issue raised in a national debate, even if it is in the context of a jobs bill.

Mr. President, better late than never.

— Valerie Strauss with Stephen Krashen Comment
Washington Post Answer Sheet





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