When I was a post-doc, I once advised a student who definitely needed some remedial language skills help (since then, said student has gone on to be a very successful doctor–I take no credit for the student’s success, but I just want to note that this student was very bright). What I learned is that, while additional resources are necessary for remedial education, they are not sufficient. That funding needs to be placed in the hands of competent teachers. Which leads me to this excellent point about remedial education by Bob Somerby (italics mine; bold original):
Throughout this report, [NY Times reporter] Dillon promotes a simple notion: A school which produces higher test scores is automatically better. But depending on the children involved, that ain’t necessarily so. Let’s leave [parent of students] Kendra Williams in charge of her kids, and assume that we have two of our own. Let’s say we’re guardians for two seventh-graders–one white, one black–who come from low-income, low-literacy backgrounds. Let’s say that our kids are eighth-graders by age, but are in the seventh grade because they repeated a grade in the past. And let’s say they’re reading on third-grade level. The nation’s struggling low-income schools are full of deserving kids like this–kids who are struggling with a very difficult academic profile. And no, it isn’t necessarily the case that they will be better off in a “higher-performing” school–in a school which has better test scores.
Guess what, everybody? It’s hard to know how to help kids who are struggling with that profile. Seventh-grade textbooks are too hard for them; a great deal of normal seventh-grade instructional programming will be too hard for them too. It takes special kinds of skill and savvy to help kids with this profile; success for these kids is the exception, not the rule. And there’s no reason on earth–no reason at all–to assume that a “high-performing” school will know how to help our two kids achieve. There’s no reason to think that our kids will achieve well just because they’re now in a school which has higher test scores.
Why do some schools have good test scores? Usually, for an obvious reason–because good students attend them! These schools don’t score well because the teachers are smart–they score well because the kids are! The teachers who work in those high-scoring schools may be good, hard-working professionals. But that doesn’t mean that they will know how to help two children like ours. Most likely, they haven’t been teaching kids with our kids’ profiles. Most likely, they will have no more ideas how to help our kids than the teachers may have at a school with low test scores–at the school our two kids may have left.
That said, it’s galling to read reports like Dillon’s–reports which seem to derive their world-view from the 1960s, when concern about urban schooling was new. If only we get them in “better schools”–or as long as we give them “better teachers”– the kids will flourish, we all thought back then. But over the years, it just hasn’t been that easy. It’s hard to help kids from low-literacy backgrounds. Our kids–reading on third-grade level–have a very hard row to hoe. It isn’t clear that anyone knows how to help them prosper.
….In which of Tuscaloosa’s schools would our seventh-grade students do well? The answer is obvious: Perhaps in none! But rather than confront this problem, the Times would get them into a high-scoring school, a school which might have no solutions for them. Then, the Times would boast and brag about the good thing it had done.
Quite probably, low-scoring kids in Tuscaloosa will flounder and fail in those high-scoring schools. We didn’t know that in the 1960s. The Times doesn’t know it today.
A while ago, I asked how merit pay, of all things, would help science teachers do a better job of teaching science. In the same vein, our current obsession with academic testing obscures the obvious: testing isn’t teaching. Even without the tests, I don’t think it’s too hard to recognize failing schools and students. Too bad we didn’t put those resources into training teachers and developing curricula for these students.