Advocates from 91 Countries Call on Governments to Stop Education Profiteers | Peri Global

“Contrary to the right to education, the Education for All goals, and years of civil society campaigning — including that of RESULTS volunteers — to abolish school fees, the practice and acceptance of charging fees for primary school has crept back into the global education landscape. This trend has largely been driven by corporate providers, with some governments and donors now diverting funds towards fee-charging private schools rather than to quality improvements of free, public education systems.

In this context, the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) and its members, including RESULTS, are calling on governments to effectively and responsibly take up their roles as the primary duty-bearers in education. This week at the GCE World Assembly, a global event that saw the gathering of 190 education advocates from 91 countries gather in Johannesburg, the GCE movement passed a motion demanding governments to protect education from for-profit private companies, cease the channeling of public funds to private entities, and regulate private sector involvement in education.”

For more information, see: Advocates from 91 Countries Call on Governments to Stop Education Profiteers | Peri Global.

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Let’s Change the Debate and Encourage the Right Kind of Charter

I hear Diane Ravitch’s critique of charter schools, but as a special education and ESL teacher at public charter school in DC I feel I must defend the work that I do. In her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining EducationDiane Ravitch opposes the establishment of charter schools, privatization, and school choice/voucher systems. She argues that charter schools continue to foster segregation by using funds to create increasingly specialized and selective programs that outperform public schools on assessment. As a result, traditional public schools are forced to operate with increasingly limited funds. In addition, they serve students who are often categorized as special education or English Language Learners. According to Ravitch, the real failure of education reform poverty and segregation.

I am certainly no expert on the national implications of the charter school movement. However, I do know that currently 40% of schools in DC are charters, and there is little chance of that percentage disappearing. So rather than continuing to beat on the drum of charter school failures, or debating whether or not charter schools should exist, I think we should encourage charter school possibilities.

We need to recognize the variation among charter schools. In many ways it is easier to make broad, sweeping statements against charter schools rather than to defend them. I agree with Ravitch that there is a real danger when educational reform is led by business-like, exclusionary charters that can quickly turn students into commodities driven by the desire to meet standardized accountability measures. Many, including Ravitch, may argue that this is the function of most charter schools. Maybe it is. But, just like traditional public schools, for all those poor charter schools, there are a few excellent charter schools. Drawing from my own experience, we should reconsider how charters can use their autonomy to granularly address the root causes of the achievement gap — segregation and poverty — at school.

For example, my charter school population is extremely diverse with a mix of races and affluent and low-income students. According to the book, A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education, by Richard Kahlenburg and Halley Potter, evidence shows that diverse student populations with socioeconomic integration and a balance of several ethnicities helps raise student achievement. Kahlenburg has been previously critical of charter schools but explains that they could be an avenue of ameliorating patterns of segregation if their enrollments are diverse.

Charter schools also have the autonomy to change narrative on equity and equality. Patterns of American history show all major civil rights shifts began as grassroots movements. So with a nuanced approach, a charter school (with less bureaucracy and increased flexibility) can generate a localized shift in discourse. I experience this each day. Not only do we have extensive equity training but continually think beyond quantitative measures. We care about student success as well as test scores. Yet, we simultaneously offer a variety of wraparound

services, promote collaboration, maintain inclusive practices, and support children’s ongoing social-emotional development. In fact, bettering inclusivity and building social skills to improve academic learning in early childhood basically sums up the entire purpose of my job. As Soo Hong explains in Cord of Three Strands: A New Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools, rather than dwell on dysfunction, the core to school reform is the induction, integration, and investment of the community, no matter how impoverished. Through this approach, a single school can stimulate dialogue built on relational trust and equalized distribution of power. If a charter school can develop an inclusive, reflective and equity-driven school culture, then the benefits of a well-run charter outweigh the detriments.

Sources

Ravitch, D. (2010). The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Kahlenburg, R. & Potter, H. (2014). A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education. New York, NY: Teacher’s College Press.

Hong, S. (2011). Cord of Three Strands: A New Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Undermining the Teaching Profession

Teachers are at the center of the discussion on education reform and most will agree that teachers are a vital part of education and that the role of the teacher impacts learning in the classroom. At the heart of the testing and standardization movement, central to education reform, is how to determine whether teachers are effective and positively impacting student learning. Several approaches have attempted to “solve” this problem using data revolving around student test scores. However, defining highly effective teaching and teachers proves to be a complex problem that is not easily solved with numbers and statistics. In The Life and Death of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch argues that the push to assess teachers based on student test scores and to apply punitive consequences or rewards based on these scores is debasing the teaching profession and undermining education.

Diane Ravitch convincingly argues that well-trained professional principals who hire, evaluate, and give tenure to well-trained professional teachers should run schools. She contends that teaching is one of the few professions that allows for people outside of the field to evaluate effectiveness of the professionals in the field. Few would agree that doctors or lawyers could be hired, evaluated, and fired by someone with no medical or law training. Yet, this is what is happening in schools. Yet, it is not only the question of who is responsible for the evaluation of teachers, but also what even defines a highly effective teacher and how this could be measured.

While some argue that the way to ensure that education is filled with highly effective teachers is to hire anyone with a college degree, but no teaching credentials, and retain teachers who increase test scores, Ravitch contends that improving teacher training programs and equipping teachers with a cadre of support and coaches would elevate the profession of teaching and bring highly educated teachers into the field. Linda Darling-Hammond, a scholar and leader in the field of teacher education, supports the view that teachers need to be seen as professionals and should be supported, educated, and well trained and that the era of data, testing, and standardization are eroding education.

In fact, nations that lead in international test scores, such as Finland, Singapore, and South Korea support a respected teaching profession with high standards for entrance into teacher training programs, and extensive pre-service experience and mentoring in classrooms. While these aspects of the teaching force in these countries are acknowledged, many countries, which are looking to reform their education systems, including the United States look to easier solutions such as standardized curriculum, or simply claim that the success of these education systems are a mystery. Addressing the field of teaching and teacher training programs is a more complicated approach to improving teacher effectiveness than the assumed, and misleading, straightforward approach of using student test scores to determine who are “ineffective” teachers and firing them.

The reality is that those who are most effective at assessing teachers are those who were formerly teachers themselves and have moved into administration. What is lacking is respect and trust in the experience of principals to hire, support, assess and fire, if necessary, teachers. As Ravitch points out, test scores of students are unreliable as they vary from year to year, and when test scores are used as the only measure of teacher effectiveness, teacher success varies from year to year. There is no single measure to define teacher effectiveness. Teaching is dynamic and many of the ways that teachers support and teach students cannot be measured on a standardized test. To look for a single quick fix to education alienates and undermines excellent teachers and the field of education.

References

Ravitch, D. (2010). The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education. New York: Basic Books.

Education and the Element of Creativity: a response to Diane Ravitch

As I sat in my chair listening closely to the famous scholar Diane Ravitch speak about education in United States, I could not help but agree with most of, if not, all of what she had to say in regards to the flawed educational system presently established in the United States. For example, she confessed that the reason behind the inadequate test scores of students across the United States has less to do with their individual ability and more to do with inadequate funding and a dependence on standardized testing which is supplemented by a faulty curricula. She first highlighted that poverty is a main cause of low test scores because it influences all aspects of a student’s life, then explained that standardized testing combined with the continuous reliance on the Common Core Initiative has negatively influenced the growth of students, as well as the perceived occurrence of bad teachers.

Instead of constantly over-testing students, Ravitch believes that we must begin to foster the type of student who asks the right questions and questions the right answers. These students should not be assessed based on whether they filled in the correct answer, but, instead, on whether they are kind, creative, and willing to think differently.

In response to her empowering beliefs, I found a strong connection between her perspective of education and Ken Robinson’s (2009) notion of the Element. Robinson explains that the element is the manifestation of one’s potential that is individually unique yet a universal variable that exists among those who discover what they love to do and what they are good at (p. 27). By examining the individual journeys of notable societal figures such as Matt Groening (creator of the Simpsons), Paul McCartney (member of the Beatles), and Gillian Lynne (accomplished choreographer), Robinson emphasizes the need to educate children not through a rigid hierarchical formula that elevates the importance of socially compliant behavior and standardized content but rather using a flexible, individualized framework that favors creativity and divergent thinking to help find that special, life-enriching element. As Ravitch explained during her lecture, as well as in her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, we must provide universal childhood education, reduce class sizes, provide a well-rounded curricula that emphasizes the arts, must teach more and test less, and allow teachers to decide the standards for standardized tests.

In her response to the Common Core Initiative, Ravitch (2011) believes that instead of emphasizing the vague notion of “analytical skills required for success in college, career, and life”(par. 2, Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2015), it is more important that “A well-educated person has a well-furnished mind, shaped by reading and thinking about history, science, literature, the arts, and politics. The well-educated person has learned how to explain ideas and listen respectfully to others” (p. 16). As she touched on during the lecture, music can be an ideal tool for accomplishing this goal because it promotes the need for individual improvement and work ethic, working as a group to achieve a single goal, and allows for experimentation and creativity.

Based on my personal experience of having been nurtured in a local school district, but also taking part in my high school marching band, I absolutely agree with Ravitch’s claim. After graduating high school, I believe that music has improved my work ethic and further fostered creativity to a far greater extent than the rigid schooling framework I experience within the Common Core curricula. In the end, as both Ravitch and Robinson emphasize, education should foster creativity in the development of one’s character and the goal of education should be shaping an individual who is not only capable of thinking critically but unafraid of thinking differently. Therefore, I agree with their perception of education to the highest degree. 

Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2015). English Language Arts Standards. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/ 

Ravitch, D. (2011). The death and life of the great American school system: How testing and choice are undermining education. Basic Books.

Robinson, K., & Aronica, L. The Element: How finding your passion changes everything (2009), pg 15. New York (USA): Viking.

Schooling Vs. Education on Reservation Schools

Education has been an essential element in all cultures throughout history; education, however, has not always looked like schooling. Today education has become synonymous with the western form of education, schooling. Diane Ravitch (2010) similarly argues that schools are often a place where “children are being trained, not educated” (110).

Education can shape our ideals and help us become better human beings– people who are compassionate, critical thinkers, dedicated, and knowledgeable about many things. Education can teach us that we have a voice. Education can teach us how to use that voice to stand up for others and ourselves, and to fight for what we believe is important. Education teaches us to value and celebrate those who are different than us, while realizing we may not be all that different than those we label as “other.”

Schooling on the other hand is not equitable and has historically marginalized those not in the dominant culture. Schooling does not teach students to question the system they are required to be a part of. Schooling does not teach students that there are many kinds of knowledge and many ways of knowing, and that they are all valuable. Schooling does not teach students that their voices are just as powerful and as important as teachers and textbooks, and does not teach to students to question the texts they read.

This disparity between education and what modern schooling looks like today with mandated curriculum and an overemphasis on standardized testing became a clearer reality during my two years of teaching on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. Historically, schools have failed Native Americans through missionary schools and federal boarding schools. These schools attempted to assimilate Native students, replace their native language with English, replace their indigenous ethics, convert them to Christianity, and ultimately kill the culture of a people.

Devastatingly, I realized the reality of schools on Native reservations today have not changed very much. Students are rarely provided the same opportunities as their peers who go to schools off the reservation. Also, students are rarely given the opportunity integrate their native culture with their education. Culturally relevant teaching is often replaced with standardized test preparation. As a teacher on the reservation, I began to understand this present disparity between schools on Native land and those on state land and the reality it brought for my students. The conclusion I drew from this experience was that the students at my school and those of other reservation schools were continuing to be schooled whereas the students in town were being offered a more equitable and relevant education.

David Skeet Elementary in Vanderwagen, New Mexico on the Navajo Nation received an ‘F’ for the 2012-2013 school year based on New Mexico standardized test scores. Using another standardized measurement, Discovery Education Short Cycle Assessment data, 4th graders at David Skeet Elementary ranked 11/18 in reading and 12/18 in math on the final spring test. Just 16 miles north of David Skeet in Gallup is Red Rock Elementary. Red Rock Elementary received the school grade of ‘C’, with its 4th graders ranking 1/18 in both reading and math. I visited Red Rock Elementary to get a firsthand account of what was going on at this high performing school and found 4th grade students having a science fair. While the students at Red Rock were presenting science fair projects they had conducted completely at home with their parents, I couldn’t help but think about my own 4th graders who had no time for science worked into their daily schedule, but instead were given extra reading and math lessons for remediation as well as very strict standardized test preparation. The test scores of my previous school district were publicized; some schools just as Red Rock Elementary were glamorized whereas reservation schools such as David Skeet were reprimanded. Rather than addressing many of the economic needs of the community and school, the district attempted to solve the problem of low test scores with more test preparation, forced curriculum, and reprimanding teachers through extra work and extensive test score accountability.

One of the most troubling aspects of this disparity between reservation and town schools, however, is that these two groups of students are brought into the same middle schools where the disparity widens. The counseling office at the middle school that my students attend uses 5th grade New Mexico standardized test scores to place students on different tracks-– A, B, C, D, E, and F. These letter names are not just representative symbols, but indications of how students did academically in elementary school on these standardized tests; students who score advanced will be placed together on the ‘A track’ while those who score beginning steps will likely be placed together on the ‘E track’. The ‘F track’ is considered the inclusion track for students who have specific learning needs. Typically students from David Skeet find themselves placed between the ‘C-F tracks’. Students on the A and B track are predominately nonnative students who live in town.

Today education has been replaced with schooling for many children around the United States. Knowledge and creativity has been replaced with test taking strategies. Science, art, and music classes have been replaced with reading and math remediation. While this is a reality for many children in the United States, it is increasingly prevalent among schools on Native reservations. Nicole Bowman (2003) argues that this is also revealed through the amount of Native students attending postsecondary schools. Many students face barriers such as economic difficulty, difficulty adjusting to the culture of university, lack of mentors, and discrepancies between Native worldviews and postsecondary worldviews (93). I believe that these are not just issues students face in postsecondary but also in elementary and middle school. Rather than addressing these barriers and implementing the suggestions of many native leaders such as building cultural identity of students, more student-centered and experiential learning, and appreciation for formal and informal education, many districts opt to increase testing and teacher accountability. This is a tragic reality because it is not true education for our students.

 

References

Bowman, N. (2003). Cultural differences of teaching and learning: A native american perspective of participating in educational systems and organizations. American Indian Quarterly. 27 (1-2), 91-102.

 

Ravitch, D. (2010). The death and life of the great american school system: How testing and choice are undermining education. New York: Basic Books.

Beware of American education “solutions”! Reflecting on the applicability of Diane Ravitch’s ideas in the Latin American context

When Diane Ravitch came to Lehigh University on February 10, 2015, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Having read her book, The Death and life of the great American school system, the week prior to her arrival, I was sure that she would touch upon three hot topics: charter schools, the voucher system, and No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Her writing style was both understandable and captivating, and I was sure that her in-person speech would be no different. However, the level of passion and ferocity with which she delivered her speech nothing short of shocked me. Diane Ravitch blended humor and gusto with her scholarly work and decades of experience, and I would describe her as nothing short of revolutionary. Ravitch excited and enthused the crowd, providing not only statistics and research regarding the current state of American education, but also suggestions for positive change.

The point that struck me most in Ravitch’s entire “debate” (which was essentially a solo performance, as her opposition did not attend) was her claim that poverty is the cause of poor education. She informed the audience that the United States has one of the highest, if not the very highest, level of child poverty of any developed country. The US education system, in turn, is failing these impoverished children because options such as charter schools are luring away the most motivated students and most creative teachers away from public schools. Though impoverished families are technically given equal opportunity to send their children to specialized or nontraditional schools, they frequently must provide transportation to this, say, charter school which is likely to be further from their homes. Ravitch cites this segregation – the encouragement of creative, motivated students from financially stable families to attend schools other than their local public school – as the partner to poverty in destroying the public school system. While the intentions of charter schools are noble and aim to provide healthy competition, they essentially leave behind the less motivated and less fortunate students in this supposed era of No Child Left Behind.

Because I am extremely passionate about Latin America, I tried to put some of Ravitch’s debate points into a Latin American context. First, I extended her claim that poverty causes poor education in the afflicted individuals to a national context. A Figure below from a World Bank statement on Latin America’s situation relative to the rest of the globe expresses how countries’ GDP relates to the investment in higher education; these two variables are shown to have an obvious positive correlation. Every single Latin American country included in the Figure (Paraguay, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Argentina) was not only at the bottom half countries in regards to GDP, but also in regards to money spent on higher education. These seven countries constitute 90% of Latin America’s population as a whole and therefore these statistics are representative of the entire region (The World Banks, 2005, p. 341). Paraguay, Peru, and Colombia have the lowest GDP and lowest investment in higher education of all the countries studied. This expands Ravitch’s point that impoverished people and impoverished countries are at a disadvantage when it comes to education. Because these Latin American countries have limited financial capital to invest in higher education, a large portion of their populations will not have the opportunity of pursuing a degree in higher education, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty and undereducated youth.

As I mentioned, Ravitch closed her “debate” with suggestions for positive change in the American school system, from which Latin America would certainly also benefit. Two of these suggestions very directly address the recurring issue of poverty inherent in the school system. Interestingly, her very first suggestion to improve public education was to provide and improve upon prenatal care because poor women do not receive it, which leads to increased likelihood of disabilities among their children, giving them an additional disadvantage to their already impoverished background. Another suggestion she offered was broader and entailed reducing the toxic combination of segregation and poverty. She offers plenty of other suggestions such as reducing class size, promoting a well-rounded curriculum, increasing teacher standards, and decreasing standardized testing, but the most relevant suggestions for the Latin American context, according to the World Bank data, were those involving the provision of resources for impoverished families, as those would benefit a large portion of those countries’ populations. The applicability and pertinence of Diane Ravitch’s entire lecture, and her entire book for that matter, shows its relevance not only in an American context, but in a global context. As curriculum and education practices are being borrowed and lent from country to country, these problems will also prove to be transferrable, as well as the solutions Ravitch proposed. I think it would be opportune for educators in foreign countries, especially those trying to emulate the American or Western school system, to be aware of the points Ravitch makes in order to prepare for the effects of its implementation.

income figure

 

References

The World Bank. (2005). The Latin American Way: Trends, Issues, and Directions. In Higher education in Latin America: The international dimension (chapter 11).

Vote for Ravitch: Goal for U.S. Education Renaissance

Last week, I was fortunate to attend a talk “Reign of Error: the Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools” led by Dr. Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education at NYU, historian of education, educational policy analyst, and author of best-selling books on #AmericanEducation, #standardizedtesting, #publicschool, #charterschool. Thank you to Professor Iveta Silova who bought tickets to all CIE403 students!

Professor Ravitch was previously a policy maker. Between 1991 and 1993, she served as Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush. Assistant Secretary Ravitch led the federal effort to promote the creation of voluntary state and national academic standards. In 1997-2004, she was a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federal testing program. Today, returned from “dark side” in the policymaking world, Dr. Diane Ravitch criticizes current U.S. education policies, leads an army of educators promoting equality, human rights, racial diversity, cultural diversity, and curriculum diversity, while striving to re-think and turnaround education reforms.

7 PM Lehigh Zoellner Arts Center, Baker Hall was full of school teachers, administrators, professors, scholars, and students. Lehigh College of Education Dean Sasso introduced us to our distinguished guest. Dr. Ravitch organized her lecture as a dialogue between her and Mr. Reformer. We witnessed how solutions to problems of education are found on the surface not in the root: “Low test scores – fire teachers”, “low test scores – pay more for good scores.”

Diane Ravitch concluded her talk with a set of recommendations:

  • Increase funding.
  • Reduce class size to 20 or less students.
  • Offer full curriculum, including Arts and Physical Education.
  • Support highly-prepared and motivated teachers (at least 10 year higher education)
  • Teach more, test less.
  • Fund schools with psychologists, librarians, and nurses.
  • Ban charter schools by law.
  • Reduce segregation.
  • Reduce poverty.
  • Change public perception of the teaching profession, raise quality, and raise standards.

I truly agree and support reforms proposed by Ravitch and I find them universal and applicable to any country. It is not too late to stop, recognize failures and mistakes, it is not late to change, to adopt and implement new reforms. Why do we need standardized mandatory tests? What do test scores prove? This international race should find an end for children are our future.

Reforms proposed by Ravitch sounded like a good platform for an election run. I do not know whether she will decide or not to return to politics, but I have no doubt that Dr. Diane Ravitch will find support in thousands of people who share and support her views and ideas. So, Vote for Ravitch when time comes!

Photo Feb 10, 8 17 18 PM

The Downward Spiral of the American Education System

I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in Adolescent Education and Social Studies from St. John’s University in Queens, New York in May 2011 and was excited to find a full-time teaching position for the upcoming school year. After endless interviews, I received the phone call I had been waiting patiently to hear. I was offered a full-time teaching position for a public high school in Brooklyn, New York. I was full of excitement and enthusiasm as well as nervousness at the realization that I was about to be in charge of my own classroom and hundreds of adolescents. I was ready to take on the challenges that would ensue as I tried to make a difference in children’s lives and prepare them for their futures. I had always felt that some sacrifice on behalf of the teacher was necessary to ensure student success; however, I was completely unprepared for the realities of being a full-time teacher and the extent of sacrifices I would have to make for students, particularly in an inner-city school.

After the first few days of school, I was in complete shock and baffled by the education system in which I was teaching. I did not quite understand the circumstances in which I found myself. I had thirty-four students in each class composed of gifted students, on-level students, below-level students who were unclassified, students with disabilities of varying types and degrees, and English language learners who had multiple first languages and whose English abilities ranged from extreme beginner to advanced. I was trying to teach students who literally had no interest in learning and whose absenteeism was abysmal. Student behaviors portrayed a complete lack of respect for authority figures as well as peers, and undermined all efforts by the teacher to educate students who truly desired to learn. Parental involvement was almost nonexistent. I was supposed to prepare students for college and career readiness, but the majority of students had basic elementary level literacy skills. Additionally, hardly any students had been exposed to computers or any form of educational technology. Lastly, my administration and colleagues offered no support or guidance in how to teach this vastly diverse set of students. I came home everyday and cried due to the frustration and intense level of stress I was under.

I looked back upon my own education and acknowledged that I had been sheltered in some way from the realities of the world. Perhaps while growing up there were students who I attended school with that were not interested in learning; that had high rates of absenteeism; that did not complete their homework; that did not study for exams; that had behavioral issues and interrupted the learning experience for their peers; and that had no parental support at home, but I was never exposed to these types of students. I was on the advanced track in school. I took honors classes as well Advanced Placement and college-credit courses. I virtually spent my entire education with the same forty students who were similar to me, and perhaps, were all from the middle class, where resources were in abundance and parental support was the norm. We were chastised for our bad behaviors and bad marks in school and were taught to perform well in order to secure a successful future for ourselves. None of what I had known and experienced throughout my own education was apparent in the system in which I currently taught. I was bewildered and confounded.

Here I am, three years into teaching, and I contemplate leaving the profession. The American education system values conformity over individuality and self-expression. As Sir Ken Robinson stated in his talk Changing Education Paradigms, the American education system has become a factory system where we dole out students who are unable to think for themselves, but could state facts verbatim. Each student is expected to master the same reading, writing, and mathematical skills, but not to find passion in other subjects, which are now neglected in schools, such as the arts and trades. The curriculum encompasses a “one-size-fits-all” model, but each child is unique and should be taught to strengthen and foster their individual talents. Few of my students in Brooklyn fit this “one-size-fits-all” model that the American education system has created.

Diane Ravitch further supports the holistic education of children in her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, where she stated, “We must make sure that our schools have a strong, coherent, explicit curriculum that is grounded in the liberal arts and sciences, with plenty of opportunity for children to engage in activities that make learning lively” (p. 13). The No Child Left Behind (2001) movement has taken the liveliness out of learning in favor of standardized testing that further alienates students who do not do well on these types of exams as well as teachers who are held fully accountable for students’ results. In my opinion, the Common Core Curriculum Standards do not accurately represent the student body of America today. The standardized tests and the new national curriculum merely reflect the goals and abilities of the elite, who have access to resources and parental support. These exams do not reflect the melting-pot culture of America, but merely the culture of our forefathers and colonial America. The American education system needs to reflect the changing times and experiences of current learners, like those who make up my inner-city public school in Brooklyn. How will America help all children excel in education, and not just the elite or native-born citizens? Reforms to education are needed, but not the type of reforms that critique and punish teachers who devote their lives to mentoring students and preparing them to become successful citizens. In its current state, the American education system is a downward spiral with no turnaround in sight, and it is our children who continually suffer the mistakes of bureaucrats who have never experienced the teaching side to education, yet tell educators how to teach.

Sources:

Changing Education Paradigms by Sir Ken Robinson. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCbdS4hSa0s

Ravitch, D. (2010). The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education. New York: Basic Books.

Some thoughts on Vietnamese education after listening to Diane Ravitch’s talk at Lehigh University

The talk by Diane Ravitch at Lehigh University made me reflect on Vietnamese education system. Though I have been working as a teacher in Vietnam for 12 years, attended numerous training courses, and listened to a myriad of talks about education reform in Vietnam, I have never had an opportunity to listen to any educators who can vehemently express disapproval of the current education policies. What I heard about school reform in the US in Diane Ravitch’s talk brought me a refreshing experience and helped me better understand Vietnamese education.

Since “Doi Moi”(renovation) process in 1986, together with the economic reform, Vietnamese education has undergone significant reforms in education and has seen certain achievements. However, teachers and students who implement and are supposed to benefit from these reforms are almost always voiceless. There are articles in the media criticizing some aspects of the education system. However, in Vietnam, it is nearly impossible to find an education activist like Diane Ravitch or Sir Ken Robinson who can overtly criticize national education reforms, arguing they are killing students’ inquiry, creativity, and critical thinking, and propose that drastic measures should be taken to transform education rather than reform a failing system. There was once a high-school teacher in Vietnam who quite often publicly fulminated against the corruption in the Vietnamese education system. However, his debating points were not well-received by most people who were used to taking the negative sides of the public education system for granted. After several years of being the lightning rod of criticism, his voice in the fight against education corruption is no longer heard.

Quite different from public education in the US, Vietnamese public education is not threatened by educational privatization because public schools are recognized to be of higher quality than private ones.  However, there is still a need to protect public education as the ‘civil rights issue of our time’ in Vietnam. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights by UNESCO,  which was passed nearly seven decades ago, states that “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.” However, that right is not entirely ensured in Vietnam. Because public schools are underfunded, some students cannot enjoy free K-12 education.  Tuition and other hidden fees can become a burden for many households of students, including even primary students. The dropout rate after primary education is high, especially among students in rural, mountainous areas because their families cannot afford their education and/or child labor is more valuable than school attendance. Diane Ravitch is absolutely right when stating that poverty is among the root causes of low education standards.

Though there are no incentives and sanctions imposed on schools and teachers based on the results of high-stakes standardized testing in Vietnam. These tests not only drive teachers to teaching to the test, cause hierarchy among subjects, and lead to feeling “shame” and further marginalization among marginalized youth (Rich, 2003), but also make most students resort to purchasing private tutoring and consequently create “teacher corruption” (Dang, 2007). Unlike the US where low-performing students are offered free tutoring, private tutoring is a thriving market in Vietnam in which students (and their parents) – whether they are low achievers or high achievers – are the eager buyers of tutoring services, hoping to enhance their children’s academic performance and teachers are enthusiastic sellers, aiming to supplement their low income (Dang, 2007; Kim 2013). Private tutoring in Vietnam is not borne by the government’s encouragement to enhance the quality of public education like in the US. Its existence instead may threaten the quality of mainstream education. Private tutoring may “create disaffection” at school because students are bored with over-learning or they have learn the contents in advance during tutoring lessons. In addition, tutoring can decrease the effectiveness of teachers. Teachers may teach less during the school day to save their energy for the after-school tuition (Buchman, 1999) and students may have to attend lessons to please teachers (Dang, 2007). High-stakes standardized testing in Vietnam indeed directly or indirectly creates a fertile ground for private tutoring, which deepens the social inequalities between the rich and the poor, the rural and urban areas, and becomes a financial burden for many families.

I am totally convinced by Diane Ravitch’s argument that testing is “undermining education” and students’ academic performance and achievement should be evaluated through a process of learning rather than merely the test scores.  In order to improve education, we need to enhance the quality of teachers’ professional lives and increase their salaries rather than threaten to fire them. Above all, tackling poverty-related matters is the key to improving educational standards.

Sources:

Buchman, C. (1999). “The State and Schooling in Kenya: Historical Development an Current Challenges.” Africa Today, 46 (1), 95-116.

Dang, H. A. (2007). The determinants and impact of private tutoring classes in Vietnam. Economics of Education Review, 26(6), 683-698.

Kim, H. K. (2013). An analysis of the causes of shadow education in the era of the schooled society. The Pennsylvania State University.

Ravitch, D. (2011). The death and life of the great American school system: How testing and choice are undermining education. NY: Basic Books.

Rich, W. (2003). Historical high‐stakes policies relating to unintended consequences of high‐stakes testing. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice,22(1), 33-35.

From Afghanistan to the United States in search for “Best Practices” that don’t exist

Attending the education activist Diane Ravitch’s talk was an eye-opening experience for me. Before coming to the United States, I thought that I would learn “best practices” and “policies” from the U.S. education system and try to implement them in Afghanistan to solve some of education problems Afghanistan faces. However, I was not well aware of the drastic problems within the school reform in the U.S.

Ravitch’s talk flagged many problems with the U.S current education. In her talk, she engaged the audience in a marvelous imaginary debate with a school reformer. The reformer argued that public schools are failing, because they are not doing well on standardized tests. The reformer also emphasized that, since the test scores are declining, drastic measures are needed to save the nation and make it more competitive in a global economy.  Reformer further stated that teacher should be held accountable for student failures on standardized tests. If students do not perform well, according to reformer, the solution is to fire teachers. Ravitch raised a question, why shouldn’t teachers have a job for life?  Because firing teachers will not solve problems facing the field of education.

Ravitch’s counter arguments were very convincing.  In her talk, as well as in her book ‘The Death and Life of the Great American School System’, Ravitch argues that standardized testing has led school districts to narrow down the curriculum. Therefore, some subjects (such as art or history) are not perceived as important as math and science that dominate standardized tests. As Ravitch’s stated in her speech, this leads to more problems. Since students are more exposed to math and science rather than liberal arts courses, the system makes students more clerk-minded. While student may not know who the president was during the Civil War, they would know well how to eliminate answers on a multiple-choice test. Education thus becomes equated with either passing or failing the standardized test.

However, if students are failing the standardized tests, it’s not because teachers are not performing well. If the system insists on evaluating the teachers based on students’ standardized testing, why not use the same standard to evaluate lawyers? State legislators? Members of Congress? Governors? Why would they blame teachers for the failure of students instead of looking for faults in the system or considering the effects of poverty and segregation on poor student performance?

The fixation on standardized testing changes how we understand the purpose of education. With such a strong emphasis on tests, we are moving further away from what Dewey defined as “Education is a process of living and not a preparation for future living” (p. 54). In order to know the real meaning of education, we should not prepare students to be as clerks but rather students with a higher aim in their lives.

Keeping this in mind, I am motivated to rethink deeply the education system reform in Afghanistan. Similar to the United States, teachers in Afghanistan are often blamed for poor students’ performance in schools. Whereas the policy makers and administrators tend to forget about other dimensions of teachers’ and students’ daily lives. Teachers are being paid very poorly and they are expected to work hard. This could be the main reason for why people are beginning to avoid teaching as a profession. Since there are so many other factors influencing students’ test scores, it is not realistic to just blame teachers for their students’ low performance.

Conservative reformers – both in the United States and Afghanistan – have looked for similar solutions to low students’ test scores. In the United States, the emphasis has been on charter schools and the broader movement to privatize public education. However, as Ravitch argues, for the past 25 years students in charter schools did not get higher scores than public schools. So why not focus on fixing public schools instead of pouring more money to charter schools and private hands? As Michael Apple (2005) mentioned, “market driven politics can lead to a remarkably rapid erosion of democratically determined collective values and institutions” (p. 13). This only leads to commercialization of education and nothing else, which is really applicable in Afghanistan.

Privatization of schools is becoming a serious issue. Nowadays, private schools are like business industries that pop up everywhere and attract students for various reasons. In most cases, the quality of education is the same as in public schools and they are teaching the same curriculum as public schools in Afghanistan. So why not support public schools when there is no difference in quality as well as curriculum? How would private schooling make education better if it has never done better before?  In Afghan culture, we have a proverb which says, “to retest the one tested is a fault in itself”. Ravitch also touched on this in her speech by saying that, the US is the most over tested nation in the world. Why are we so fixated on the tests that have never worked before and can’t change anything in the future?

References:

Apple, M. W. (2005). Education, markets, and an audit culture. Critical Quarterly,47(1‐2), 11-29.

Flinders, D. J., & Thornton, S. J. (Eds.). (2004).The curriculum studies reader. Psychology Press.

Ravitch, D. (2011).The death and life of the great American school system: How testing and choice are undermining education. Basic Books