The Empress Has No Dress
It is curious to watch this Secretary of Education giving advice to Connecticut. Her advice amounts to a dumbing down and cheapening of a high standards testing program. Connecticut's testing program assesses children, schools and teachers less frequently than the Secretary's simplistic, bargain basement approach, but it is superior in many respects.
Connecticut uses open ended questions and requires a substantial writing sample - quality measures the Secretary has suggested dropping in order to remain within budget.
While paying lip service to quality, the directives imposed from Washington actually promote lower standards and a testing program that will deliver a narrow curriculum and lowered aspirations. Cloaked in a curious mixture of smooth talk and heavy handed threats, the NCLB rules and regulations do the opposite of what the Secretary claims.
The New Values: Feet to the Fire
These autocrats must believe that their crude forms of accountability are the best ways to improve student learning; yet, there is no evidence to support this strategy.
If you strip away the fine words and the packaging, the main change strategy employed by these people is thinly disguised bullying. Accountability sounds less ominous, but it merely cloaks a more sinister reality.
"Hold their feet to the fire and children will become better readers!"
Accountabilty and frequent testing have become the Empress' new dress.
Threadbare and lacking in substance, this testing tactic is "see through" fashion at its worst.
- "We are prepared to work closely with you on the other issues outlined in your April 22 letter, including . . . the development of assessments based on modified achievement standards."
- Source: May 3 Letter from Secretary Spelling to Commissioner Sternberg.
This is code for dropping the high quality, open ended response items that Connecticut prefers while falling back to mere multiple choice testing as was suggested by Assistant Secretary Ray Simon during the session with Connecticut in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Simon's track record for giving advice? He ran the Arkansas Department of Education for six years before leaving for Washington in 2003.
"Arkansas has some of the highest percentages in the nation of public schools categorized as academically troubled on the basis of student test results," according to a new report compiled for the Education Commission of the States.
"Twenty percent, or 233, of Arkansas 1,159 public schools are classified this year as being in Year 1 of the School Improvement program mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. That puts Arkansas in a tie with Nevada as the fourth worst-performing state in that category. Similarly, 6 percent of Arkansas schools 69 are categorized as being in Year 2 of School Improvement, putting the Natural State in a tie with California for the third-worst ranking in the nation."
(Quotes from Arkansas Democrat Gazette, entitled, "State's Schools Rank Poorly in National Report", 3-29-05.)
Capacity Building Should Be The Focus of Reform
These Washington bureaucrats are ignoring what we know about making real change in schools.
Capacity building should be the focus of reform, not testing and bullying.
Research supports the value of capacity building. When teachers and schools are given the professional development and support that increases their ability to strengthen student performance, schools get better. When the society provides the social support systems and decent jobs that sustain healthy families and secure childhoods, student prospects improve.
The Feds' focus on annual testing is an ideological obsession that distorts the educational agenda and ignores what we know about winning sustained improvement in schools.
If states do not stand up and say "No!" to this bullying as Connecticut, Utah and others have, they run the risk of experiencing the same kind of faux-miracle that took place in Texas. To some of these folks, appearances are everything. They are satisfied with lowered drop out rates unmatched by lowered attrition rates. They are satisfied with state testing results that cannot stand up to rigorous national testing.
The imposition by Beltway bosses upon the states of testing programs, reading programs and change strategies is unconstitutional and wrong-minded.