Education suffers from so much test-based accountability
by Dr. Jill Sunday Bartoli
When Marion Wright Edelman and the Children's Defense Fund developed the comprehensive Leave No Child Behind act in 2001, they wisely included the vital supports to ensure all U.S. children get what they need to grow up safe, healthy and educated.
This included quality early childhood education, preventive health and dental care, access to good nutrition and exercise, safe, well-maintained communities, family economic security, after-school and summer enrichment, and supportive social, emotional and educational services.
This holistic plan would have leveled the playing field, closed the achievement gap and interrupted the cradle to prison pipeline for millions of poor children in the United States (www.childrensdefense.org).
Had this thoughtful, comprehensive act been adopted, instead of the stripped-down, misguided standardized testing mandates and punishments of No Child Left Behind, we would have dramatically reduced, instead of increased, our school failure and dropout rates.
There is a simple reason our child poverty, school failure and incarceration rates are higher than any other country in the world: We have not chosen to provide the health, education and welfare supports for our poorest children that other countries have provided. Millions of youth continue to get sicker, poorer, less well educated, more depressed and angry. Meanwhile, the rest of the world looks on, wondering why we don't care for one another when we are so generous in coming to the aid of earthquake victims in other countries.
Politicians are complicit in leaving children behind when they fail to represent us and instead side with their corporate sponsors. After standing with hundreds of people at health care vigils and rallies who do want comprehensive health care for all people, I know politicians do not represent us when they say we do not.
Having talked with many parents, teachers and students, I know that politicians who push for more testing, standards and competition, rather than high quality, holistic, personalized and engaging education in our schools are not representing us.
They are selling out to profiteering testing and curriculum corporations, and obstructing the function of education, described well by the Rev. Martin Luther King: "to teach one to think intensively and to think critically ... intelligence plus character."
From John Dewey to Maria Montessori to a transformed Diane Ravitch, educators tell us that schools should be more like families, where every person is recognized for their individual gifts and talents, where cooperation leads to more sharing of resources and ideas, where experiential, motivational, inspired learning is the norm, and where everyone feels valued and cared for.
The business model of standardization and competition does not work in schools ΓΆ€” not if we want the creativity, critical thinking, innovation and teamwork that are vital for progress in the 21st century.
Social scientist Donald Campbell warned for decades that the more any quantitative measure (e.g. test scores) is used for decision making, the more it will be subject to corruption and the distortion of what it is intended to measure. Similarly, Phyllis Tashlik noted that by relying only on standardized tests, we run the risk of valuing only what we measure, instead of measuring what we value.
In a March 2 NPR interview, Diane Ravitch said the emphasis on standardized test scores has led to cheating, gaming the system, lowered standards and high profits for testing companies. School choice, serving less than 5 percent of U.S. students, has not fared much better in student learning. For-profit companies, however, have done very well, at the expense of public schools and students.
"Race to the Top" is not equal educational opportunity.
It is a race in which states race to the top to have more privatized schools, more test-based accountability, more basic skills, no emphasis on a broad curriculum for all kids and no equal educational opportunity. I think that's wrong.
Voters should beware of politicians who blame the teachers and schools who serve our poorest children. Many choose to reduce school funding, fight against more access to good health care, reduce learning to highly competitive and meaningless fill-in-the-bubble tests, and do little to support families who live in deep poverty and despair.
As reauthorizing NCLB is debated, we must inform legislators that leaving no child behind demands broader, more holistic supports to ensure equal opportunity for every child to become healthy, well educated and successful.
Tell them that what we want for our own children and grandchildren, we want for every other child. And if they do not support our beliefs and values, we will vote for others who will.
Jill Sunday Bartoli is a retired associate professor of urban education and reading.
Jill Sunday Bartoli
Harrisburg Patriot News
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