Monday, November 8, 2010

Race to Remedial Classes

I've been hard at work on pieces and posts about TFA, corporate influence in public education, the Obamas' choice of school for their children, charter schools, and teacher quality. I've got credit recovery on the brain, as well.

In the meantime, this article in Richmond Magazine by Richmond-based education journalist Chris Dovi about the toxic impact of the S.O.L.s (Standards of Learning) on the quality of public education in Virginia is definitely worth a read. It is of particular interest to me given my past experience teaching in public schools in Virginia and current one of parenting two Virginia public schoolers, but no matter where you live or work, it's a must read. Dovi's central point is that the S.O.L.s are preparing the students for the test, but only the tests. Many students who perform well on these tests get to college unprepared for the rigors of the college curriculum. These aren't struggling students he's describing; they're good students who are going to colleges like V.C.U. (Virginia Commonwealth University).

When I was in ed school at George Washington University in the late 1990s, pre-N.C.L.B. (No Child Left Behind), we often discussed the impending arrival of high-stakes standardized testing. I can't think of one professor I had who wasn't against them. They weren't against standardized tests per se, but against using them as they are currently being used, i.e., for accountability purposes, or in layman's terms, as the primary evaluator of  student learning and teacher effectiveness. Because G.W. is in D.C., we looked closely at the S.O.L.s. What Dovi describes happening in this article with the S.O.L.s  under N.C.L.B. is exactly what my professors predicted would happen and what I saw happening when I was a VA teacher.

Virginia's public education system and the S.O.L.s are held up as a model for other states. Furthermore, with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's push to renew E.S.E.A. (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which became N.C.L.B.) and the narrow focus in his Race to the Top bribery scheme on using standardized tests as the ultimate tool to evaluate student learning and teacher performance, and then tying test scores to teacher pay (and I no longer care if they're value-added since that's also problematic), we can only expect more of what Dovi describes.

Well, what's the alternative? you might ask. How about evaluating student and teacher performance this way? Or this way? In the meantime, at the very least, Dovi reports that there's talk at the Virginia Department of Education of making the standards and curriculum more rigorous and moving away from using tests with multiple-choice questions.

I used to call N.C.L.B. No Child Left Untested. In honor of Chris Dovi's account, I think I'll call it: No Child Left Behind Until They Get to College and Have to Drop Out Because They're So Unprepared. With Obama and Duncan urging a renewal of N.C.L.B. and the standardized-test accountability measures in Race to the Top, I 'm starting to run out of hope that things will change.

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