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.

Advertisements

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.

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

Which way will education in America go?

As an international student in America, I did not know much about “No Child Left Behind” until reading Ravitch’s book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education.” As a graduate student in a Comparative and International Education program, I have an advantage of gaining a wider perspective on the field. Ravitch started this book by sharing her personal experience of being a supporter and later a critic of the reform. It gave us an insight into how the reform was developed and implemented, and why Ravitch has changed her position in this educational reform.

What a beautiful slogan it is to call it “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB)! After getting to know the context, the reform was no more than just stimulating the growth of standardized tests in the United States. When many educators have been criticizing standardized tests, why did President Bush still push for it?

One of the goals of NCLB was that all students in all schools had to be proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014. Surprisingly, setting this high standard was to compete with Hong Kong and Singapore, which were the targets of America. Growing up within the education system in Hong Kong, I particularly would not support the excessive emphasis on the academic results. One of the weaknesses of students from Asia has been a lack of critical and analytical thinking. Ironically, America would like to learn from us owing to the economic success in some Asian regions. The size of population and areas of America, Hong Kong, and Singapore has varied so much with very different cultures, history, and settings of systems. It also implies that each implementation could be a very different process which may lead to different consequences. Would the academic results and economic growth really have the direct correlation? I doubt it. The United States is famous for its technological invention. To name a few, there has been rising up of reputable companies including Apple Inc, Facebook Inc. Google Inc, and Microsoft Corporation. Will this shift towards standardized tests gradually diminish the strength of “Western education” in innovation?

During her talk at Lehigh University on Feb 10th, Ravitch pointed out that Shanghai has won the rankings of the international assessments. It was verified by the results shown in Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2009, according to CNN news. The world was shocked and overwhelmed by better performance of Shanghai’s teenagers in their mathematics, science, and reading than their peers in the United States, Germany, and Japan, though it was the first time that Shanghai participated in this tri-annual survey of the world’s school systems. Nevertheless, there is a cost for it as cheating commonly occurred among students in China. It not only happens in the national examinations in China, but also in the SAT examinations which Chinese students have to pass for entering universities in America. It is not a secret as these kinds of cases sometimes become visible in international media. It also becomes a widespread issue of underlining standardized test scores that educators in China have to deal with.

In addition, Ravitch (2010) also shared the research results documenting that there are not many differences in academic performance among public schools and charter schools. The gap between black and white students has not narrowed either after implementing NCLB. Unfortunately, the policy just further widened the gap of inequality, which was completely opposite to the original aim. At the end of the day, who should take the responsibility for the failure of “No Child Left Behind”? Why are the schools, teachers, and students the “victims” in this experiment, rather than the politicians or policymakers? Sadly, education reform is just like a gamble. Those who are in control would still enjoy obtaining considerable income and not receive any punishments. Instead, schools without good performance have to be shut down. Teachers and students are just “chess pieces” in their hands. This scenario has already illustrated the injustice in execution process, which did not only waste the resources, but also the time.

I totally agree with Ravitch that sustainability could only been achieved by improving curriculum, instruction, as well as working and learning conditions of teachers and students. If data or test score are the only driving forces for the schools leading students to learn about the STEM subjects, we can imagine how linear the society will be in the future. Where is the holistic learning environment that educators should provide for the next generation? How can students adapt when they go to the liberal arts colleges which the United States is well-known for?  Would it lead the decline of liberal arts colleges in the future? It will entirely change the dynamics of higher education in America as well. If these problems will not be taken into consideration and addressed seriously, ripple effects would definitely be created for the whole educational system.

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.

Diane Ravitch Speaks at Lehigh: A Strong Public School System is the Answer

 tumblr_mvizqwanHK1qc8jh0o1_250

On February 10th, 2015, Diane Ravitch gave a very inspiring talk at Lehigh University about the “Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public schooling.”  Commenting on the public vs private school divide in the United States, Ravitch argued that privatization of American schools is a dead end to America’s education and that the real struggle and effort should be more centered on enhancing public schools’ performance.

Considering Ravitch’s background and her commitment to American schooling, she is best positioned to speak about the kind of reforms the nation’s schools need to undertake. Initially, Ravitch supported the legislation proposed by the Bush’s administration of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB); however, the NCLB turned out to be an abomination to the American public school system. In fact, this legislation has put more than one child behind and led to an unequal share of educational triumph. While the percentage of testing is successfully high in America, it is, however, considerably low in public school districts where poverty and unequal access to welfare plagues those disadvantaged communities.

During her speech, Ravitch role-played a debate, where she stood as her opponent and then gave straightforward answers from her own point of view. She advocates the right to premium access to public schools for all children in America regardless their race, ethnicity, religion or social background. One of the most powerful things she mentioned during her speech was referring to poverty and segregation as the roots of failure of American schools. Not only children in disadvantaged neighborhoods in the United States are more likely to perform poorly on the standardized testing but are also subjected to drop out quickly and easily from schools than white middle-class American children ever would. She says that instead of getting rid of teachers whose students have low testing scores, there should be an implementation of peer assistance and review to assess these teachers. Moreover, she proclaims that the professionalism of teaching should be reviewed and teachers should become proficient after ten years of training in order to enhance the profession and give it the value it should have in such an advanced society.

Still, those advocating for privatization of schools say that public institutions are mediocre and should become charter schools, parents should have the choice to send their children to better institutions where they would have better access to education and would be assisted closely to increase their performance on the standardized tests. From this perspective, according to Ravitch, education is viewed as a business opportunity, neglecting its core principle of equality of access to knowledge.

In order to break free from the standardized testing and stop blaming teachers and children for low test scores, Ravitch suggests some alternatives to promote and improve public schooling in America. She says that the issues should be tackled as early as the pregnancy phase, that pre-natal care should be administered to all mothers no matter their race or social status. Quality early childhood education should start around the age of three for children of different social backgrounds and funding should be made available to decrease class size and refine public schools infrastructure. Teachers should teach more and test less. In fact, Ravitch calls for a change in curriculum in order to prioritize arts and languages just as much as mathematics and reading. She argues that the marginalization of these subjects decreases the motivation and creativity of children in schools and in life. She asserts that there is no need for privatization of schools in America, but a reform that should benefit all children and not only the privileged ones. For America to compete with other nations, its educational system should be rehabilitated and renewed completely to meet all children’s needs and to put an end to segregation in America’s schooling system.

As I listened to Ravitch talk about students’ low performance on standardized tests and decreasing motivation and a lack of imagination among children, I could not help but remember Robinson’s book The Element, and his video about Changing Education Paradigms, where he calls for a reform of the educational system and curriculum to allow children to regain their power of imagination and innovation, while ending the era of mass schooling and standardized testing, where schools look more like manufactures that produce data  and are measured by the annual testing.  If education would continue to be seen as an area of economic interest and schools as for-profit organizations, then education would lose its fundamental function as a basic human right that should be accessed by each and every one of us no matter where we come from, what we believe in, and where we are headed.

Chasing a Passion or Leaving Others Behind?

After reading “The Death and the Life of the Great American School Systems” and watching Diane Ravitch speak on how charter schools “have become in many communities a force intended to disrupt the traditional notion of public schooling” by “siphoning away the most motivated students” and resources from the public schools, I have been feeling torn and slightly guilty, as I have my daughter enrolled in a charter school. Since her first week in charter school three years ago, I have not questioned this decision. Like most parents, I want the best for my child, but now I have to ask myself whether that decision is contributing to the problems public schools face?

It wasn’t because I was unhappy or dissatisfied with the public school system that I transferred my daughter to an alternative public school. I believe that it was my daughter’s motivation that brought her to the Arts Academy Charter School. I’m not sure if I would have agreed for her to leave her public school if she wasn’t as motivated as she is. In fact, before deciding to enroll her in the charter school, I was skeptical about whether she would receive as good of an education as was available in her original school. My daughter has a learning difference and I was afraid that the charter school wouldn’t have the same resources needed for her success. She was determined to go to the charter school to explore her passion and to be able to spend part of the day doing what she loves to do – figure skating. So we looked into it and I was pleased with the information I received. I believe there has to be some type of motivation for attending any school other than public school. It takes some effort on both the student’s and parent’s part. In the case of my daughter’s charter school, students have to be motivated by having some type of interest in art, otherwise why would they bother going to school there?

How do we get all students to be motivated? Sir Ken Robinson states in The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything:

“The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed — it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.” (p. 238)

I believe there are public schools as well as charter schools that are succeeding at this, while there are some that are failing to do so. Unfortunately, in the case of most public schools, they aren’t equipped to personalize education as there are too many students with a vast amount of interests. Discovering each student’s talents would take too much time away from focusing on standardized tests in Math & Science. This doesn’t leave much room for the teachers to foster creativity. While many charter schools are focusing on a particular interest of the student and have like-minded students attending their schools.

Like traditional public schools, charter schools are funded by tax dollars. In Pennsylvania, the school district of residence of each student is responsible for funding the charter school. The formula, set by the state, is based on the district per student operational cost from the prior year less certain federal reimbursements along with expenditures for facilities, transportation, and adult education. In general, the school districts must give about 20-30 percent less than what the state gives the district per student. This formula has been controversial because every time a student leaves the district, it hurts the traditional public school’s budget with their fixed costs. Another controversy is that some of the charter schools are profit-driven, benefiting large corporations and entrepreneurs. While there are some money-making opportunistic charter schools, there are some that struggle with funding just as much as the traditional funding schools do. There has been agreement on both sides that the formula which hasn’t changed since 1997 needs to be fixed to make the system more equitable.

“Without knowledge and understanding, one tends to become a passive spectator rather than an active participant in the great decisions of our time.” This quote by Diane Ravitch really resonates with me. Choosing to have my daughter attend a charter school that is not focused on profiting financially but on providing an education that enriches the lives of their students and inspires them to greater achievement, I believe is not contributing to the problem. Not being aware that there is a problem does contribute to it. It is important to educate parents and the taxpayers about the issues that we face in education and to demand the policy makers to make changes for a more equitable system that can provide the resources and motivation for all students. With the “knowledge and understanding” there is a greater chance for success and change over time.

References

Commonwealth Foundation. (2011). Charter School Funding in Pennsylvania http://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/research/detail/charter-school-funding-in-pennsylvania

Hardy, D. (2014). So the charter funding formula is unfair – but to whom? http://thenotebook.org/october-2014/147728/so-charter-funding-formula-unfair-to-whom

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

Robinson, K. (2013). Finding your element: How to discover your talents and passions and transform your life. Penguin UK.

Thoughts in Anticipation of Diane Ravitch’s Visit to Lehigh

Diane Ravitch Speaks at Lehigh on her Books, Experiences, and Opinions involving Educationhqdefault

There is so much pressure for change that it actually hinders change. The requirements outlined in the curriculum and standardization are tools for measurement, results, and comparing different demographics. However, the emphasis on the results of those tests has been so great that the curriculum no longer promotes education quality and creativity.

I am writing this blog in anticipation of Diane Ravitch’s visit to Lehigh University. After reading some of her work including chapters from her book, Diane Ravitch was the Assistant Secretary of education during the George H.W. Bush administration. She was involved in the process of creating and implementing the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. The act proposed that all states have to ensure that all students would meet the national standards through testing. By raising the bar each year, the goal of NCLB was to ensure that all students were passing by 2014 (last year!). 14 years ago the proposal sounded great and possible; however, here we are one year after the expected year of success and nothing has changed in education. Let’s ignore the name of it and just focus on what it proposed.

The first issue, as with many educational reforms, is that it sounds so perfect that it is almost impossible to argue against it. Especially with a name such as “No Child Left Behind”, anyone who attempts to critique it sounds inhumane. After all, who would want to leave any children behind? There were some good amendments in the law, but the bad ones outweigh the good. For instance, there is no time or funding for the tutoring that is mandatory for children that are below standards. Teachers do not have time to focus on helping the students that are behind because they have to ensure the entire class is following the curriculum. Teachers have to choose between spending extra time with students who are behind or spend that time moving everyone else forward by following the curriculum. Both choices are not possible. In either case, the teacher is not meeting a standard.

Another issue is that the law allows for each state to set its own educational standards to meet. Some states’ standards are so low that nearly everyone can pass them to ensure they receive their state funding. Although the school may be technically passing, that does not mean that all of the students are on a proficient learning level for their grade. Teachers have to teach to meet these low standards which hinder the quality of education. On the other hand, states that actually have high standards for their schools are at risk for having more schools that do not pass. A failing school does not receive federal funding or state funding. As a result, the school does not have the funds to purchase resources or programs needed to help these failing students, which attributes to budget cuts such as firing teaching, cutting programs, and increasing the class size. Either way, the children the law claims will not get left behind, are indeed getting left behind

In The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch quotes Donald T. Campbell who states that “the more any quantitative social indicator (or even some qualitative indicator) is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” In other words, the more value placed on standardization and testing to make decisions such as enrollment, classification, and acceptance the more corrupt that system becomes. Standardized tests are used for benchmarking and comparing students, but they have lost their innocence.

There are now teachers teaching to the test or cheating rather than teaching their students information to prepare them to learn, understand, and succeed. Now looking at the Act, without the context and innocence of its name, the amendments seem nearly impossible. This is the problem with curriculum, standardization, and educational reform in society. There is more focus on creating a proposal that sounds good than actually taking time to make sure it IS good. As Diane Ravitch stated, “there are no fads, no shortcuts, no utopias, no silver bullets” in terms of reforms for fixing educational issues. Teachers have to follow a state or national schedule of teaching rather than teaching based on need. Students learn through at different speeds, styles and have different interests so why teach all kids of various cultures, states, social classes, backgrounds, intellect, and who are so simply different through the same methods?

Questions for Diane Ravitch:
• What made you decide to get so actively involved in educational reform through speaking out on your experiences and writing so many informative books?
• With so much emphasis on testing and standards, what do you think would be a good way to measure progress?
• It seems like a major reason reforms do not end up being successful is due to the high demand for fast progress. Quick fixes clearly do not work, but how should an administrator propose and manage an idea that is longer term and avoid the pressure or force of being fired?
• How do you propose a shift in standardization back to being more of a tool for measurement and less of an emphasis in teaching to the test?
• Race to the Top is yet another education law that sounds appealing and optimistic, what are your thoughts on it? What do you think it will take for it to be successful?

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