Mike the Mad Biologist

…too bad MA Governor Deval Patrick, and for that matter, President Obama, don’t. The recent educational regression reform plan in Massachusetts and the Obama Administration’s educational proposals both seem to misunderstand what has made Massachusetts’ educational system one of the best in the world (and that does far better than would be expected by demography):

1) Content-based standards that teachers can actually use.
2) Rigorous evaluation of whether those standards are being met.
3) A testing/evaluation regime that has been continuously refined and that is well understood, and that has not been dumbed down for political reasons.
4) Retention and training of teachers, not just for ‘good’ schools, but for all schools.
5) Not relying on charter schools, or other subdivision gimmicks to improve test scores (MA has the lowest percentage of students in charter schools in the U.S., and the highest achievement. Go figure).

But as Diane Ravitch notes, the proposed educational reforms are based on faulty premises:

…schools, on average, do not outperform regular public schools. Charter students have been tested by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2009, and they have never done better than regular public schools. Charters have the supposed advantage of deregulation, non-union teachers, longer hours, longer years–and, in some cases, the extra money contributed by generous philanthropists, yet they have not outscored regular public school students on NAEP, which is the gold standard of educational testing. One sector or the other may get a blip one year, but there has been no sustained advantage for students in charters, be they black, Hispanic, low-income, or residents of urban districts, compared to their peers in regular public schools.

Nor has test-based accountability produced genuine improvement in education. The era of NCLB has been marked by lowered state standards, cheating, and widespread gaming of the system. While the states claim big leaps forward, NAEP shows very little improvement. In math, the gains were larger before NCLB than after it was implemented. On eighth grade reading, there have been no gains at all since 1998, even though these are the students who grew up with NCLB.

And too many ‘progressives’ have misunderstood the Massachusetts Miracle (italics mine):

When I was asked, at the meeting where you heard me speak, about educational progress in Massachusetts, I said that it is a stellar example of what can happen when a state adopts genuine curricular standards and provides the professional development for teachers to learn to teach the improved content knowledge in the standards. Massachusetts also introduced entry exams for teachers, which weeded out poorly prepared candidates….Massachusetts, by the way, has relatively few charter schools; it has earned its high marks the old-fashioned way, by improving its curriculum, testing incoming teachers, and sponsoring assessments far superior to those in most other states.

Ravitch adds:

You describe the reform “consensus,” but the consensus seems to exist mainly inside Beltway think tanks, corporate suites, foundation offices, editorial boards, and at the highest levels of government.

Another group I would add are neo-liberal progressives, who think a simplistic economic framework should be applied to everything. Hopefully, I’ll have some time to write about that.

Comments

  1. #1 Paul Orwin
    March 23, 2010

    In other words, treat teachers like they are professionals, with dignity, respect, and high expectations, and they respond positively! Treat them like cogs in a machine, and watch what happens… Whodathunkit?

  2. #2 joemac53
    March 23, 2010

    As this is written, MA students are taking the MCAS (required for graduation exam). This test was a dog when first introduced, but has been improved over the years. The biggest complaint about the test now is the amount of time it takes out of classroom instruction. Test prep has been woven into the curriculum

  3. #3 BaldApe
    March 23, 2010

    As a high school science teacher, may I make two impassioned pleas?

    First, if you aren’t going to teach them any science in elementary and middle school, at least don’t tell them all that crap that just isn’t true. Blood in your veins is not blue. The moon does have gravity. The difference between plants and animals is not that plants don’t move…….

    Second, throw away the calculators and make the kids learn arithmetic. I’m so sick of my students being unable to divide by 2 or 3 without a calculator. I’m so sick of them entering the numbers backwards in a percent composition problem and telling me that some compound is 450% copper. Calculators are wonderful when they have already learned the math concepts.

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