Last week the Aspen Institute issued a report suggesting that what the country needs is more of the same: tougher standards, harsher penalties, more private ownership of public schools. No major publication questioned whether or not tougher standards have been scientifically proven to raise test scores.
No major publication questioned whether or not scientific studies show that tougher sanctions for failing schools helps those schools improve.
No major publication questioned the science behind the Aspen report's call for "failing" public schools to house private tutoring firms.
There isn't any.
No major publication questioned the Aspen report’s attack on teachers, as if teachers are the only problem in America’s schools.
The members of the Educator Roundtable recognize the fact that our schools and our teachers need attention and help, but we believe that blaming teachers alone for poor academic development allows certain segments of our population to ignore some rather large problems.
For example, the same week the Aspen Institute launched its national attack on America’s teachers UNICEF issued a report entitled "Child Poverty in Perspective." The report ranks developed nations according to the best place to live for children. Out of 21 countries, we scored 20th. The Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland were the top four. It should come as no surprise to readers that those four countries repeatedly outscore the United States on international tests. Is it just a matter of teaching, as the Aspen Institute argues, or is something else going on?
No Child Left Behind was supposed to narrow the "achievement gap" between black and white students. According to the Harvard Civil Rights Project, it has not done so, and may in fact be exacerbating the issue as highly qualified teachers leave failing schools, unwilling to work in oppressive, high-stress environments.
Rather than focus exclusively on the achievement gap in our schools, we might ask what NCLB has done to close other gaps that certainly result in poor educational development. Has NCLB closed the healthcare gap? The homeowner gap? The wage gap? The children living below the poverty line gap?
Simply lowering the poverty rate by 2% would result in test scores rising across the board, even if we did nothing to improve schools or teachers. But the real issue isn’t test scores, despite what test companies would like Americans to think.
Education in a democratic republic such as ours must focus on preparing children to become critical, engaged, and reflective participants in their classrooms, their communities, and their country. As NCLB sucks the life out of schools, as thousands of teachers are telling us, it undermines the development of a citizenry capable of maintaining this country in a state of integrity and worth.
The most pressing issue facing our schools today is that our frantic race to ratchet up test scores has turned schools into oppressive institutions that dehumanize and miseducate. Many of our children are learning to hate learning. As school districts across the country jettison history, civics, science, the arts, and foreign languages, they do away with many of the subjects that lead students to a better understanding of who they are and where they are going. The ultimate price for this miseducation is a society populated by hard workers but shallow thinkers.
Rather than forcing all public schools to adopt one model of reform, something tried unsuccessfully by the Soviet Union years ago, we believe genuine educational reform should encourage local choice in deciding on curriculums and instructional strategies that are grounded in best practices, practices defined as such by teachers, researchers, and the professional associations that represent various disciplines.
In appreciation for the diversity, innovation, and creativity that have made this country great, we should also allow states and districts to build assessment systems with local and national components that use multiple measures and multiple methods, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach that fits no one. Such assessment systems would assess understanding, application, and factual knowledge for personal growth and future economic success, rather than simply measuring the retention of desiccated facts that are irrelevant to prospering in the 21st Century.
Finally, in an effort to begin closing the multiple gaps facing America’s children, we believe America must develop a focused school ecosystem intent on building and nurturing the intellectual, civic, physical, and emotional health of all children. This requires making the improvement of struggling schools an integral part of family and community infrastructure, support and rebuilding, rather than pretending that student development and school achievement are independent of family income and community health.
These are truly radical proposals, but they would require no new taxes, as schools systems would be free to use tax dollars as they see fit, rather than being forced to spend them on tests that do little more than tell us what we already know: America must treat its most precious resource better.