Teachers of all backgrounds

Our restless efforts to promote multicultural education include to better serve the growing student body of color in the U.S (Banks, 2006). But it seems that hiring teachers of color is not so easy. According to the article “Tough Tests for Teachers, with Question of Bias” in NY Times regarding new teacher licensing exams, “Minority candidates have been doing especially poorly, jeopardizing a long-held goal of diversifying the teaching force so it more closely resembles the makeup of the country’s student body.” It brings our attention to whether the test itself is discriminatory. The Brown v. Board of Education case demonstrates our historical mistakes about segregating schools. After the decision which mandated non-discrimination in schools, certification exams were used as “a tool kit used to force black teachers out of the profession.” Are we repeating the same mistakes we made before?

Why is it important to have a teacher of the same race? Teachers are not just teachers who transfer their knowledge to students. They are mentors and role models. Sharing similar cultural beliefs, values, and norms would be a great tool for teachers to build such relationships with students. Accordingly, hiring racially and ethnically diverse teachers will ensure minority groups of students to have equal educational opportunities.

As Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford, argued, “We need to be clear about what skills are necessary, rather than just trying to eliminate people from the pool.” From this perspective, teacher licensure tests alone cannot be a major qualification of teachers. Although it might be true to an extent that “rigorous entrance requirements” for teachers are crucial to ensure a good quality of education, it does not mean that so called smart teachers better teach students. Having an appropriate level of knowledge in a subject is important, but the way of teaching is as critical in meeting students’ needs. It is a time for policy makers to carefully examine what is truly beneficial for students of all backgrounds.

Reference

Banks, J. (2006). Multicultural education: Characteristics and goals.

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All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy? Not for Korean students?

As a Korean international student, I could not help but feel heartbroken by the article “The All-Work, No-Play Culture of South Korean Education.” Although South Korea is known for its good quality of education among developed nations, its excessive emphasis on exams often makes the lives of students miserable. Suicidal rates among teens are high, and the leading cause of suicide is due to stress from exams and school work. Specifically, the annual college scholastic ability test poses a lot of pressure on high school students.

In a typical high school class, teacher-student interaction looks like giving and receiving knowledge. Teachers deposit their knowledge to students, and they rarely discuss. Freire (1990) described this type of education system in his book “The Pedagogy of Oppressed” as banking education. Students are passive agents who teachers must deposit knowledge into, which limits students’ freedoms and creativity. This really falls into the Korean education system where students experience a lot of pressure and stress from schools, and their future career paths are already set by their parents and teachers. Students have limited choices and are oppressed to follow the school curriculum focusing on getting a high grade on the ability test. The values of students are measured on their grades on the test, and even teachers treat students based on their grades. It separates students in class, school, and even society on a larger scale.

This kind of education system also creates another hostile environment for those who are not good at taking tests/exams. There are some students who have knowledge but not excel at tests. They are the students who have test anxiety. The Korean education system does not take this into account, resulting in limiting potentials of students with test anxiety.

It might be unrealistic and difficult to change the system all at once. However, as Freire (1990) argued, we can still create a better school environment by encouraging open-discussions between students and teachers. Instead of depositing knowledge into students, teachers can actively involve students through student engagement activities, which will motivate students to learn independently. Accordingly, students will feel more autonomy and power in their life decisions. Although in the end, students might have to take the ability test, genuine dialogues between teachers and students will alleviate stress and anxiety regarding the test. Students will be no longer passive agents and feel less oppressed.

Reference

Freire, P. (1990). The Pedagogy of Oppressed

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.

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.

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

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

Adopting a Holistic and More Liberal Approach to Education

On 10th of February, Lehigh University hosted Diane Ravitch’s lecture “School Reform: Finding Common Ground” at the Zoellner Arts Center. As a graduate student in Comparative and International Education, I felt pretty lucky to have the chance to attend this lecture and listen to Dr. Ravitch’s speech about the U.S. public education. Her arguments were really thought-provoking and eye-opening.

First, I would like to start with Dr. Ravitch’s statement about poverty. Underlining the fact that poverty and inequality are very prevalent in the U.S. society, she argues that holding public schools – including their teachers and administrators – accountable for their relatively low test scores is neither fair nor realistic approach. She suggests that we need to get to the root of the problem. It is a common mistake to state that education is the answer to all of our problems and expect that education will sort all our problems. It is more like a fantasy projection as indeed many of the problems that we have in education today stem from existing social and economic structures. As Ravitch concluded, we need to tackle the broader problems of poverty and segregation first.

Secondly, I would like to touch on Ravitch’s arguments about test scores. As Ravitch suggests, if a test does not have a diagnostic value, it is nothing other than a score. There is an increasing obsession with test scores worldwide, which compels countries to perceive that rising test scores are a sign of success. However, placing more importance on test scores and pushing for more testing make students focus on testing only rather than learning. Indeed, such an approach to education may not leave much room for imagination and creativity. In addition to that, strong push for standardized testing creates a sense of competition among students, which hampers interaction, collaboration, and effective learning. When high test scores become the final goal in education, then the question comes to mind – ‘What is education for?’

At this point, I would like to refer to Finnish education system, which usually ranks the highest on the PISA test. Contrary to common approach to education, Finland has taken a very different path. As Finnish educator and scholar Pasi Sahlberg highlights in one of his speeches:

“I want nobody here in the room to leave thinking that Finland has the best education system in the world, that’s an illusion that has been created by foreigners. Because in Finland we don’t think of education as a global competition. We actually don’t care if we are better than anyone else. Education for us is for individual enhancement and for the common good.”

I think the secret of Finnish success lies in the way education is perceived. Education is not a global competition and should not be perceived as commodity in the labor market. Rather, education should be a common good and prepare students for life. As Ravitch says, we should have more zeal to make our society better through education, which is much more important than high test scores.

Finally, I completely agree with Ravitch’s recommendations regarding well-rounded curriculum, arts education, and physical education. Narrowing the curriculum and putting more emphasis on math and science have negative consequences on students’ learning. Education consists of both intrinsic and instrumental values and it should enable students to grow not only professionally but also personally. Therefore, a holistic approach to education would be more beneficial. For as long as students are not exposed to suitable conditions, which can foster their imaginative function and spark creativity, it will be unrealistic to expect that school graduates will reach their full potential, be aware of what they would like to do in their lives, and be motivated in their careers.

Look to the Horizon: Education Reform Extends Far Beyond the School

There is much debate in education theory as to how a mass system of education should be structured in order to provide opportunity for every child. There is also debate as to the meaning of education, whether it should help students gain an understanding of life and their role in society, or rather to become recognized as a competent – and competitive – asset to the workforce and economy. I would argue that the United States focuses on the latter. This means that a proper education is often the only route to professional success, and therefore, those without access to a good education are often prescribed to fail.

The United States is home to many of the world’s most revered academic institutions, yet for many, primary and secondary public education is failing. Why is this? There is much discussion about how a system of education should be structured in order to provide every child with opportunities for success. Currently, it can be said that the U.S. system has adopted what can loosely be defined as the “conservative restoration,” combining two, often contradictory, theoretical backgrounds of neoliberalism and neoconservativism. Neoliberalism calls for the marketization of education, and neoconservativism calls for harsh standardization (Apple, 1993). This type of system pushes for school choice, the privatization of schools (charters, for example), yet also often unattainable standards in public schools. Many assumed this would lead to a better system overall because of market competition. What has actually resulted is the deterioration of the public system, and the widening of the gap between rich and poor. Those who have the means to choose better, more resourceful schools (which are often private schools) do so, while those in poverty are stuck in public schools that do not have the resources or infrastructure to support the children they teach.

In 2002, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was mandated by the Bush administration in hopes of bringing equilibrium in education (Ravitch, 2011). Through implementing high stakes testing, the goal was to find public schools which are failing, get rid of bad teachers, and give students the opportunity to choose where they go to school, with the expectation that everyone will win. 2014 (the end date of NCLB) has come and gone, and arguably, the end goal was not achieved. The United States is now struggling between a failing public education system, and the rise of for-profit charter schools and voucher systems. As NCLB has ended, it is imperative for the U.S. government to enact education reform that will bring positive change. How do we begin to do this? The answer, in my opinion, lies outside of the school system.

At the end of her speech at Lehigh University on February 10, 2015, Diane Ravitch listed about ten suggestions that she finds vital for school reform. Many of these included the provision of resources in all schools, yet others also extended to prenatal care and support for young mothers, and importantly, the need to attack the root causes of our failing education system: poverty and segregation.  I, personally, could not agree with her more. Education is not solely the institution of schooling – it occurs on a daily basis from the moment a child is born. If there is no familial support for a child in their home and wider community, a school cannot be looked at to provide this support, and every child cannot be expected to achieve the same level.  If our government were to focus on policies which would ensure that every child would receive support from the time they take their first breath, regardless of their social, economic, racial or familial background, I believe the success of students would grow exponentially. Further, I would be inclined to call for a shift of curriculum focus to that which fosters in every student a perspective that can identify differences – be it cultural, economic, racial, or moral, to name a few – and seek to understand them, and the commonality that can be found in the differences. We are all human, after all, and I believe we are all searching for them same answers. A successful school system can help us achieve that.

Sources:

Apple, M. (1993). The politics of official knowledge: Does a national curriculum make sense? Teachers College Record,     95(2), 222 – 241.

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