Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Teaching for the Test Machine

The US Department of Education (under the leading of Arne Duncan, previously Daley admin - and non-educator - appointed to head the Chicago Public Schools into privatization and union-busting), is sponsoring a program called Race to the Top, wherein state educational systems prove that they are worthy of extra funding by acquiescing to centralized standards of education.

Not a bad idea actually, if it weren't for the wider context that these changes are happening under.

When No Child Left Behind entered the scene some years ago, the entire game changed. Many progressive educators that were hopeful that the underfunded, largely ignored urban education field was finally going to get the attention it desperately needs felt betrayed to find that it was more about the business of the standardized-testing industrial complex and the business-ification of teaching than about the business of teaching and the implementation of more accurate learning assessments.

Alas, high-stakes standardized tests are the new rules now. Art, music, literature: subjects that can actually further learning and creativity (which is also learning) are being removed wholesale to double the time in reading and math. Not that I have anything against the latter classes being taught or emphasized, but the constant repetitive action of teaching test-taking skills has an adverse effect on burgeoning desires to learn.

If we can agree that children are naturally curious (certainly anecdotal evidence backs this up), and most children leave the educational system devoid of intellectual curiosity, then it must be acknowledged that there is a prime problem in the way we are schooling our children. Our goal should be to leave our students with nourished but growing curiosity, because the world that they inhabit is larger than any one schema can grasp, no matter how we try to pigeon-hole the squares of their minds.

But then I'm encouraged by the site of students themselves taking action and saying that the goals of reform aren't where they should be.

Students draft a lesson plan of their own:

Amara Brady's academic life changed when she transferred to Mother McAuley High School on the Southwest Side last year. She got better books, more passionate teachers and access to postsecondary education information she'd never had.

"The schools aren't on a level playing field. And some systems are just set up for failure," said Brady, 16, who lives in the North Lawndale neighborhood, where many teens are faced with drugs, violence and a rising dropout rate.

Deciding she wanted to do something about it, Brady joined World Vision's Youth Empowerment Project (YEP), which gives young people a voice to become what they call "agents of change." World Vision is a Christian organization dedicated to fighting poverty...

After five months of community mapping, interviews, surveys and debate, the Chicago-area students from both public and private schools had a clear choice for this year's issue: education. They wanted to find a way to keep kids in school.

The students presented their proposal to local representatives in Washington this week...

A recent study from the U.S. Department of Education shows that less than 75 percent of students nationwide got high school diplomas within four years.

"The dropout rate is about violence, but it's also people, the teachers, the schools and the neighborhoods," said Howard.

The students' proposal, which they presented to community leaders in Chicago last week, had four key recommendations:

The first is to level the playing field for all schools in Chicago by updating the facilities and materials. Howard said one of his friends is still using Windows 98 and a Math Busters program from the 1980s at school.

The students also proposed that schools increase social support by asking for more parental involvement and adding extracurriculars.

Carol Beal, chairman of the Block Club Association, who was present at the students' presentation last week, understood.

"If you have nothing to do, you find something ignorant to do," Beal said. "If you don't want it to lead to trouble, it still might. They need resources and activities to occupy their time."

Feedback from students in the form of quarterly and annual surveys was another suggestion. Both could help identify problems such as inedible food and inadequate teachers, students said.

Access to information on post-secondary education, which Brady found at Mother McAuley, is the final point. The teens want counselors who can provide students information on everything from the PSAT to how to fill out a job application.

Lack of funding and budget cutbacks are an issue, say some school officials...

Better funding is part of the students' requests to Washington officials this week. They are also lobbying for the Youth PROMISE Act, legislation that advocates for more resources for preventive programs in education. The bill has 234 co-sponsors in the House.

The Rev. Joe Huizenga, of Roseland Christian Ministries, said hearing the students tell their own stories had a huge impact.

"The kids talked about friends who got into gangs, dropped out of school and missed the window. They all wanted to change this. They told us just how much they believed in it. It was pretty remarkable," he said...

Local advocacy group Logan Square Neighborhood Association is also among a growing group of orgs critiquing the Washington-based reforms as "top-down experiments that disrupt schools and communities."

"You have to give resources to support students and families, and build trust in schools. If you don’t have that, none of your other reforms matter," says Bridget Murphy of [LSNA].
This on the heels of a larger policy report they compiled with several other local urban community development groups nationwide, Our Communities Left Behind: An Analysis of the Administration's TurnAround Policies. Included in that report is this research analysis gem from The Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice:
It is recommended that policymakers refrain from relying on restructuring sanctions (takeover, private management, charters and reconstitutions) to effect school improvement. They have produced negative by-products without yielding systemic positive effects.

1 comment:

  1. Yep to YEP. :) Thank you for exposing the rest of us to them. Hope to get them and students in Lawndale where I teach connected if they're not already.


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