Information Age Education Blog
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Poverty and Testing: Two Major Educational Problems
In a recent mailing to his email distribution lists, Jerry Becker recommended the following video:
Defies Measurement (Shine on Productions, 2013). 1:05 video. Retrieved 4/6/2015 from https://vimeo.com/user20632266/defiesmeasurementfilm.
Jerry Becker of Southern Illinois University is one of the leading math educators in the United States. Via his distribution lists he has become a major source of publications about the perils of our testing system. So, as might be expected, this video comes down hard on the various testing initiatives that are now driving our precollege educational system.
The funding for this video was via a Kickstarter with over 200 contributors as well as support from Making Movies, Inc., Nevo Foundation, and Shine on Productions.
The video focuses on Chipman Middle School in Alameda, California. It traces some of the history of this school from 1996 as it was changed by state and national efforts to produce a model school in terms of meeting goals in No Child Left Behind. As presented in the video, this is a very sad story with an unhappy ending.
In addition, the video contains a large number of short clips by a wide range of well-known educational leaders as well as some general information about poverty, testing, and international comparisons. Here are a few tidbits from some of the leading educators featured in the video.
Harvard Professor Howard Gardner is well known for his work in multiple intelligences. In the video he notes that “intelligence” has at least nine major components, of which math/logic and verbal/linguistic are but two. However, our testing system focuses very heavily on these two, and that has shaped our educational system in a manner that Gardner believes to be quite wrong.
Math and reading are relatively easy to measure on national (CCSS) and international (TIMMS, PISA) assessments. The goal to score high on the TIMMS and PISA tests is now driving education throughout the world.
David Berliner is an Emeritus Professor of Education at Arizona State University. He began criticizing the school reform industrial complex when he co-authored The Manufactured Crisis 17 years ago. In the video he argues that poverty is the number one problem in American schools.
Berliner’s clip in the video makes an interesting argument about the relationship between the poverty of American school children and the U.S. performance on international tests. More than half of American students are from families living at or below the poverty line. In the 2012 PISA test of 15-year-olds, the U.S. ranked 36th among countries taking the test. However, if one only counts U.S. schools with poverty rates of less than or equal to 10%, the U.S. would have ranked number one in the world. Indeed, if one only counted U.S. schools with poverty rates less than or equal to 25%, the U.S. would have ranked number three. Click here for a detailed analysis by David Berliner of this poverty situation and the PISA assessment.
Several short segments in the video are excerpts from talks given by Linda Darling-Hammond. She is the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, where she launched the School Redesign Network, the Stanford Educational Leadership Institute, and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education.
She places strong emphasis on “human relationships” in education and is very supportive of teachers. Quoting her from a PBS interview:
I actually think there are two big problems in the way that we run schools today. One is that the schools we have now are constructed as though teaching doesn't matter, and secondly they're constructed as though relationships don't matter. We have this idea that if we just give them the textbooks to follow and the test to give and the procedures to, you know, pursue, that the kids will just magically get taught adequately, without realizing that teaching, when it's good teaching, is reciprocal. What the kids do determines what the teacher needs to do; the teacher needs to know a lot in order to be able to do that. She needs to know a lot about children, about learning, about subject matter, about curriculum and how to build it so that it's in some kind of a logical order, and so on.
Diane Ravitch is an historian of education, an educational policy analyst, and a research professor at New York University. Previously, she was a U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education. She blogs frequently about her disagreement with our CCSS and other national tests, and is quoted several times in the video.
She presents a history of the IQ tests developed for use in WWI to sort military personnel into categories. These and other “sorting tests” have become a widely used component of our educational system. We see this, for example, in the “red birds, blue birds, and yellow birds” reading groups or math groups that have become so common in our elementary schools. She notes, “It’s a very simple correlation. The kids who have the most [home financial] advantages have the highest test scores and the kids who have the least [home financial] advantages have the lowest test scores.” Alfie Kahn presents the same message in his segments of the video.
Three Large Change Movements
The video explores three significant change movements in our educational system: Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in Math and English Language Arts; Charter Schools; and Teach for America. The Gates Foundation has contributed substantially to the CCSS project, the Walton Family has contributed substantially to the Charter Schools movement, and the Board Foundation has contributed substantially to the Teach for America project.
Rather than exploring the merits and the lack thereof in these three school reform efforts, the video presents ad hominem ("to the man" or "to the person”) disparaging remarks about the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family, and the Board Foundation. Here, I must disagree with the approach that is taken, as I believe this approachis demeaning to the overall message ofthe video.
In brief summary, the video paints a picture of the effects of poverty, too much testing, a “blame it on the teacher” mentality, and strong influences from businesses and large philanthropic foundations. Much of the reform movement effort focuses on improving national and international test scores, rather than on providing children with an education that will best serve their current and future needs.
There are many well-intentioned people and stakeholder groups working to improve our educational system. They are finding that achieving any significant improvement is very difficult and is not being accomplished well by our current approaches. I do not think that bashing any group of people or foundations as is done in the video can be helping matters. It moves the problem and the search for possible solutions away from working on the actual planning and implementation that will be able to accomplish some major, long-term improvements.
I believe the video is well worth viewing, regardless of your current position on current school reform efforts.
What You Can Do
Think about your current understanding of the various school reform (education improvement) efforts, and what you are doing to help improve the education of children. Become a more informed and active participant in these efforts. Talk about these reform efforts with children and adults. If you are actively engaged in teaching children and/or have children in school, seek their opinions about what is going on.
Suggested Readings from IAE
Moursund, D. (3/5/2015). Education for the coming technological singularity. IAE Blog. Retrieved 4/9/2015 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/education-for-the-coming-technological-singularity.html.
Moursund, D. (January, 2015). Education for students' futures. Part 17: Folk computing and folk mathing. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 4/9/2015 from http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2015-154.html.
Moursund, D. (9/18/2014). Disruptive innovations in education. IAE Blog. Retrieved4/9/2015 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/disruptive-innovations-in-education.html.
Moursund, D. (May, 2014). Education for students’ futures. Part 6: The second machine age. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 4/9/2015 from http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2014-137.html.
Moursund, D. 5/2/2014). Hungry children—America’s shame. IAE Blog. Retrieved 4/9/2015 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/search/hunger.html.
Sylwester, R. (October, 2014). Credibility and validity of information. Part 1: Introduction. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 4/9/2015 from http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2014-147.html.
Boschma, J. & Browstein, R. (2/29/2016). The concentraion of poverty in American schools. The Atlantic. Retrieved 3/4/2016 from http://www2.smartbrief.com/servlet/encodeServlet?issueid=F311180F-B898-43FC-84E1-0379C436F5AA&sid=601124dd-6efc-49ce-bb2d-4460d5a4893b. Quoting from the article:
In almost all major American cities, most African American and Hispanic students attend public schools where a majority of their classmates qualify as poor or low-income, a new analysis of federal data shows.
This systemic economic and racial isolation looms as a huge obstacle for efforts to make a quality education available to all American students. Researchers have found that the single-most powerful predictor of racial gaps in educational achievement is the extent to which students attend schools surrounded by other low-income students.