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

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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.

One for all, or all for some? Re-examining the limitations of gifted education in the public school system.

I am a product of a supplemental “gifted education” curriculum in a public school system. Up until taking this curriculum course, I did not reflect deeply on what that actually meant not only to myself but to the larger system I belonged to. Discussing the topic of gifted education in class prompted me to think more purposefully about the meaning behind the word “gifted” and how these types of programs may unwittingly foster inequality not only within the school setting but in society at large. The issues that gifted education pose are bi-fold and, at times, overlapping: sociocultural and academic.

A classmate in the field was recently discussing the extreme difference between low-income and high-income areas where she has taught. She mentioned that, while the average percentage of ‘gifted’ students in a school is ~ 3%, in some high-income areas it can be as high as ~ 50%. This poses a serious concern – it is inconceivable that this difference can be chalked up to actual differences in capacity. More likely, it is a combination of culturally perceived differences and how much exposure a child has to intellectually stimulating materials (i.e.  books, tutoring, etc.). Another classmate referred to this phenomenon as “economic giftedness.” This issue is mirrored in the under-representation of racial and ethnic minority students in gifted programs. Ford (2008) discusses this issue through what she calls the “deficit thinking” that occurs in the public school system:

“With deficit thinking, differences in someone who is culturally, racially or ethnically diverse are interpreted negatively as if the individual and/or characteristics are abnormal, substandard, or otherwise inferior. For example, a student who speaks nonstandard English and is making good grades in school may not be referred to screening and identification if the teacher neither understands nor appreciates nonstandard English.” (Ford, 374)

Ford also points out that academic aptitude exists across racial, ethnic and economic divides. It is illogical, then, that there is such a dearth in minority, low-income students receiving the label of ‘gifted.’ This problematic situation demands that policy makers and curriculum designers address how to provide gifted education programs that are both excellent and equitable.

There is another issue plaguing gifted education that straddles the border between cultural and academic. This is how we (collectively) define the term ‘gifted.’ The type of gifted education that Ravitch and Ford discuss is typically centered on scholastically advanced students, as measured by a standardized IQ (intelligence quotient) test. Winner (1996) discusses the potential ethnocentrism of gifted education by highlighting the differences between ‘western’ definitions of ‘giftedness’ and those of other cultures. Specifically, she discusses how the Pueblo “have no word for giftedness” and instead believe that “special abilities should not be used as a basis for evaluating one person over others. For this group, a special gift is meaningful only if it is used in a way that benefits the community” (Winner, 4). In other words, individualistic western culture values individual success over community well-being and rewards competition rather than collaboration. As such, gifted education can reproduce a number of inequalities, creating a divisive environment within the school (an example of the kind of ‘hidden curriculum’ also discussed by Ravitch).

Further issues with gifted education that warrant discussion are the curriculum and assessment of such programs. In my experience, many ‘gifted education’ programs are project-based and have an emphasis on divergent thinking. This is in contrast to the rote memorization being pushed in ‘normal’ classrooms. We must question why the methods being employed to teach the ‘best’ students are not made available to other students who may benefit from similar approaches. Additionally, some states employ ‘merit pay’ for teachers, judging their performance on students’ scores. In this scenario, teachers of gifted students would, theoretically, receive higher pay than those of ‘average’ or ‘below-average’ students. However, in one of her blog posts Ravitch blasts this ‘myth’ stating that when a “students’ scores are already at the top… they have nowhere to go, so the teacher will get a low rating.”

While students who excel at school should, in my opinion, receive an education capable of stimulating them and encouraging their talents, I also believe that this benefit should not be reserved for those who score the highest on standardized tests. It is high time that we (both culturally and in terms of educational policy) recognize non-standard forms of ‘giftedness,’ encourage critical thinking and creativity and, most importantly, rid ourselves of the ‘deficit’ mindset that is denying so many capable children the opportunity to excel, solely because they do not fit the societal and/or academic standard.

Sources:

Winner, E. (1996). Gifted children: Myths and realities. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Ravitch, D. With VAM: All Teachers of the Gifted Are “Bad” Teachers. Retrieved February 13, 2015, from  http://dianeravitch.net/

Ford, D. (2008). Recruiting and retaining gifted students from diverse ethnic, cultural and language groups. In J.A. Banks & C.A. McGee Banks (Eds.), Multicultural education: Issues and Perspectives, (371-392). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Lowering Education Standards for Ethnic Minorities: Rethinking Preferential Policy in China

In China, the month of June means so much for high school students. As the most well known high-stakes exam in China, an annual National College Entrance Examination (NCEE) takes place during three executive days in June. As this year’s university entrance examinations are approaching, the question of “is it fair for ethnic minority students to get extra points?” stirs a heated debate, like it always did in the past. As a Han ethnicity student, I took NCEE in 2006. It was a long time ago, but I still remember how I felt when discussing the preferential policy with my Han friends: I don’t like the policy because it is unfair to me, but I have no choice. Looking back today, I have to admit that this preferential policy still sounds controversial to me.

According to Chinese education policy, school entrance scores can be lowered for ethnic minorities. Translated into practice, the policy means ethnic minority students get an extra 10/20 points in the NCEE, which amounts to about 1.5% /3% of the total points of NCEE (usually 750 points). According to the central government, this policy is aimed at educational equity nationwide: in minority-populated areas, students may be disadvantaged due to historical, geographical, and economical reasons. Given such factors as low quality of teaching force and lack of resources in minority-populated areas, as well as maintaining solidarity among ethnic groups as the rationale, the Chinese government put forward the preferential policy. Although the starting point of the policy is to solve the problem of inequality, the theme of national solidarity stands out. Obviously, this policy has a hidden political agenda. “Choosing between ethnic and Chinese citizenship” is an identity struggle among minority groups. With the adoption of the policy, minorities feel they are less disadvantaged by NCEE, which may lead to a sense of belonging and loyalty to their Chinese citizenship.

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Most criticism toward the policy arises in the developed areas where minority students enjoy as good education as Han majority, other than in ethnic autonomous regions where Han students study in same schools as minority students. In the former case, both Han students and minority students enjoy educational resources. In the latter case, minority students in backward areas lack resources, so do Han people who live in those areas. The Han children attend the same schools as minority students. They cannot afford books, do not have access to tutoring, nor do they have high-qualified teachers in class. The evidence proves that the policy itself is outdated. When it was approved in 1987, there were not so many minority students studying in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. Nowadays, there are many ethnic minority students studying in developed areas and enjoy the same resources as their Han counterparts. Likewise, there are great economic development im ethnic autonomous areas. In this context, it is no wonder why Han students and parents feel angry. I would like to call this phenomenon “reverse-ethnic discrimination”: in Chinese society in general, Han is the dominant group that assumes superiority and enjoys benefits that ethnic minorities do not have. NCEE is a reverse situation because Han students are subject to a position where minority students benefit while the majority students do not. This reverse-ethnic discrimination is the result of government’s political manipulation—for the purpose of national solidarity.

As I mentioned earlier, the preferential policy is problematic in itself. It is problematic also because of its implementation. Each year there are reports suggesting that some parents change their child ethnicity from Han to a minority group, so that their child could get an extra 10 points in NCEE. Preferential policy for minority students causes corruption, which is detrimental to the educational system. A metaphor NCEE is “Policeman”, which means students have to do whatever NCEE tells them to. Another widespread metaphor is “bridge”: Millions of students swarm to a bridge, i.e. NCEE, and only a handful of them can arrive at the other side of the river, i.e. college. My question is: is high-stakes testing the root of all the problems? If we evaluate a student on many criteria, NCEE being one of them, will the situation be different?

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In terms of solution, I agree with many others: the preferential policy shall continue on. However, there should be better regulations. Some people suggest that allocation of university enrollments should be changed: offering extra points to students from areas of poor economic development and poor educational quality. However, this suggestion cannot meet the country’s political agenda. To my mind, the challenge for the country is how to maintain national solidarity, while achieving educational equity.

http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_604238710100j70a.html

http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_5f6c55eb0100dx8y.html

Bilingual Education in Tibet: Promises and Problems

Education equity has become a hot topic worldwide. As a country consisting of Han majority and 55 minorities, China has made efforts to ensure education equity between the Han majority and the ethnic minorities. China’s minority education gained momentum since 1980s. In Tibet, for example, dropout rate decreased, literacy rate increased, and more Tibetan students went to colleges. As a part of minority education, bilingual education policy for minority students has been in effect for decades. I have been curious about what bilingual education looks like in Tibetan-speaking areas. My conversations with a friend made me reflect on this issue again.

 

At a friend’s party I met a guy. He was a third year Ph.D. student studying engineering in the United States. I was so exited when I learned that he was from rural Tibet. He was the first person I know who was born and raised in a Tibetan ethnic autonomous region. I had millions of questions to ask him. When the topic came to education, to my surprise he did not talk about of the lack of facilities or poor teacher quality. Instead, the first issue he brought up was how bilingual education in his village hindered the potential of the kids.

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“In my village, bilingual education is not as glorious as one usually imagines”, he said, “Tibetan is the medium of instruction in primary schools, but all of a sudden, the language of instruction switches to Chinese when it comes to middle school. It caused a lot of problems for me”. According to him, both of his parents were Tibetans, so neither of them could help him learn Chinese. He also considered language as part of culture. “I really appreciate my culture. Tibetan identity and language means a lot to me. I cannot throw them away. As I know, some of my friends chose to attend schools in India where we can use Tibetan throughout schooling”.

 

My friend’s case is not uncommon in ethnic autonomous areas. For example, the program for educational development of Qinghai (2010-2010) promulgates bilingual education—Chinese is the main and instructional language, and Tibetan a supplementary language. However, people have different notions about the relationship between the Chinese language and the Tibetan language teaching in school. The sudden switch from minority language to Chinese causes much problem for minority students. Although in lower grades Chinese is taught as a second language, many minority students do not have the Chinese proficiency to attend Chinese-language-only schools. The same situation is in Tibet. Although most primary schools still use Tibetan as a medium of instruction, Chinese is the language of secondary school and the ticket to non-farm sector employment. This causes high dropouts rates in junior secondary school, which decreases the learning potential of many students (Postiglione, 2008).

 

Chinese policy attempts to popularize Chinese and minority language. There was a significant commitment to minority language maintenance and bilingual education in China’s language laws from 1905 to 2005 (Ross, 2006). However, problems exist. Even though bilingualism promotes Chinese as well as minority languages, the focus is always Chinese. In addition, although minorities are granted equal status with the Han language by law, Chinese is the official language that has legitimacy. Furthermore, reward mechanisms favor Han speakers, because it is easy for Han speakers to find better education and lucrative jobs. For example, most Chinese universities have Chinese language exams for minority students.

 

Like my friend said, many Tibetans believe that their indigenous language should be the medium of instruction as Tibetan language is integral to Tibetan culture. As a result, as my friend witnessed, many Tibetan families send their children to India where Tibetan can be used as a medium of instruction. Contrary to indigenous people’s beliefs, policymakers believe in their own cultural superiority, which includes their language. Bilingualism has become uni-dimensional, instead of multi-dimensional. That is, minorities adjust to the majority by learning mandarin Chinese. The other way around, there is no learning of minority languages on the part of Han majority. It seems to me that the minority education policy tries to help the minorities, to patronize them. Policymakers think there is nothing for the minority groups to give back in terms of education—what policy does is help the minorities. With such a patronizing attitude, I don’t think educational equity can be achieved.

 

Right now I think the minority policy aims to serve Han people in Tibet. Most officials in Tibet are Han. If children of Tibetan officials learn good Chinese, they get the ticket to a bright future, such as government jobs. Nevertheless, for Tibetan students, Chinese is not as important as Tibetan language. Thus I think the current bilingual policy favors just one group instead of both. Bilingual education policy in China has produced positive educational results, as proved by many educators, but to my mind, there is still room of improvement.

 

References

Nima, B. (2001). Problems related to bilingual education in Tibet. Chinese Education and Society, 34, 91-102.

 

Postiglione, G. A. (2008). Making Tibetans in China: the Educational challenges of harmonious multiculturalism. Educational Review, 60, 1-20.

 

Ross, H. (2006). Where and who are the world’s illiterates: China. UNESCO Global Monitoring Report China Country Study (June 20), 65 pages