Saturday, March 31, 2012

Education Issues 2012 #2

Testing, Corporate Reform, Teacher Evaluation, Job Qualifications, ALEC, Arne Duncan,
Fiction vs. Non-Fiction

(Click on the titles below to read the complete articles.)

Testing isn't teaching
To understand how tests and learning become enemies, imagine the impact on teachers whose job security suddenly depends on the inappropriate application of a statistical model that almost all assessment experts warn cannot validly measure teachers' performance.

Coming Soon to a School Near You: Big Ed
Corporate America has given us Big Banks - banks too big to fail. Corporate America has given us Big Pharma - a pharmaceutical industry too big to fight. Coming soon to a school near you, courtesy of corporate America: Big Ed - a centralized education system too big to question its self-serving, profit-driven, intellect-destroying priorities.

Stephen Krashen on Teacher Evaluations

Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus at the University of Southern California, responds to a USA Today article about evaluating teachers using test scores.
A number of studies have shown that rating teachers using test score gains does not give consistent results. Different tests produce different ratings, and the same teacher's ratings can vary from year to year, sometimes quite a bit.

In addition, using test score gains for evaluation encourages gaming the system, trying to produce increases in scores by teaching test-taking strategies, not by encouraging real learning. This is like putting a match under the thermometer and claiming you have raised the temperature of the room.

The Tragedy of Education Transformation: Leadership without Expertise

Professional degrees in education and experience in the classroom don't matter. So say some politicians who have no professional degrees in education or experience in the classroom.
South Carolina's Superintendent of Education Mick Zais makes several claims in The State (March 25, 2012) that build on one central argument: "The most important information about teachers isn’t the degrees they have or their years of seniority. Their effectiveness in the classroom matters much, much more."

Like Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Zais has no experience teaching children in K-12 public education. This complete lack of teaching experience and degrees in the field of education is a suspect position from which to claim that these two characteristics do not matter. In fact, political appointees and elected officials sit in unique positions often above both accountability (the mantra du jour of the political elite regarding education) and qualifications—unlike the real world markets they often praise.

Lobbyists, Guns and Money
ALEC isn’t single-handedly responsible for the corporatization of our political life; its influence is as much a symptom as a cause. But shining a light on ALEC and its supporters — a roster that includes many companies, from AT&T and Coca-Cola to UPS, that have so far managed to avoid being publicly associated with the hard-right agenda — is one good way to highlight what’s going on. And that kind of knowledge is what we need to start taking our country back.

Condi Rice-Joel Klein report: Not the new ‘A Nation at Risk’
The report cites lots of statistics that paint public schools in the worst possible light, and continues the trend of comparing America’s educational system with that of high-achieving countries — but doesn’t note that these countries generally don’t do the kinds of things these reformers endorse. Its recommendations would lead to further privatization of public schools and even more emphasis on standardized testing.

Flunking Arne Duncan

Diane Ravitch gives US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, a report card.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan loves evaluation. He insists that everyone should willingly submit to public grading of the work they do. The Race to the Top program he created for the Obama Administration requires states to evaluate all teachers based in large part on the test scores of their students. When the Los Angeles Times released public rankings that the newspaper devised for thousands of teachers, Duncan applauded and asked, “What’s there to hide?” Given Duncan’s enthusiasm for grading educators, it seems high time to evaluate his own performance as Secretary of Education.

Fiction vs. Non-Fiction

Does non-fiction help children learn to read better than fiction? Maybe if you define "learn to read" as "passing a standardized test."

See also Keith Oatley's Scientific American article (Nov. 2011) Fiction Hones Social Skills.

The first article below touts a study showing that non-fiction helps students learn to read better than fiction.
Nonfiction Curriculum Enhanced Reading Skills, Study Finds

Children in New York City who learned to read using an experimental curriculum that emphasized nonfiction texts outperformed those at other schools that used methods that have been encouraged since the Bloomberg administration’s early days, according to a new study...
Howard Gardner, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, responds.
Reading Curriculums

To the Editor:

Re “Nonfiction Curriculum Enhanced Reading Skills, Study Finds” (news article, March 12): It is instructive to know that second graders who received a Core Knowledge curriculum performed better than comparison groups on measures of reading. But every choice of curriculum — and, more important, every choice of an assessment measure — entails a value judgment.

Those educators who selected a reading program that valued fictional works presumably thought that was an appropriate emphasis. It is now up to those educators to provide measures that might reveal better performances on their curriculum — for example, richer imaginations by students or a greater likelihood of reading books of any sort outside the school environment.

Cambridge, Mass., March 12, 2012
...and Neuroscience responds...
Your Brain on Fiction

Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined.

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