Wednesday, August 31, 2011

So-called education "reform" is a failure and scam

If the proper goals of education reform are the privatization of public schools, the enrichment of education corporations and the de-professionalization of teaching, then Louisiana's effort to remake public education is a screaming success.

But if the goals are to educate children and create a more knowledgeable citizenry, then not so much.

That is the conclusion drawn by Diane Ravitch in this Reuters blog entry. "The reformers," she writes, "believe that the way to 'fix' our schools is to fire more teachers, based on the test scores of their students; to open more privately-managed charter schools; to reduce the qualifications for becoming a teacher; and to remove job protections for senior teachers."

Those are the wrong prescriptions for what ails education in America. The single best way to improve education in our nation is to reduce poverty.

The so-called reformers scoff at that, saying that public education supporters are simply trying to shift the blame onto society at large.

But the facts do not support that viewpoint. In the most recent international comparisons, Ravitch writes, "low-poverty U.S. schools (where fewer than 10% of the students were poor) had scores that were higher than those of the top nations in the world. In schools where as many as 25% of the students were poor, the scores were equal to those of Finland, Japan and Korea. As the poverty rate of the schools rose, the schools’ performance declined."

Citing research with unquestionable pedigrees, Ravitch demonstrates that the nostrums prescribed by the current crop of reformers don't work. Charter schools do not perform any better than their fully public counterparts. Family life plays a greater role in student achievement than even the best teachers.

"Typically," Ravitch writes, "economists estimate that teachers account for 10-15% of student performance; non-school factors influence about 60%."

Her conclusion, and her sad prediction for the current wave of reform, is here:

If we are serious about improving education, we would work to improve both
schools and society. We would invest in the recruitment and preparation of
career teachers and make sure that every child has a curriculum that includes
the arts, history, civics, foreign languages and other subjects. We would also
invest in prenatal care so that every child is born healthy and invest in
high-quality early childhood education, so that children arrive in school ready
to learn. We would stop the budget cutting that is now increasing class sizes
and reducing needed services to children.

Unfortunately, such research-based strategies are not part of today’s
reform movement, which is why it will most assuredly end up in the dustbin of
history, like so many others.

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