Education update: school reform as focus on the test, not critical thinking
My entry from yesterday, "Frustration #2: school reform discussions mostly miss the point," didn't include cites to a couple other newspaper articles.
1. This piece, "Graduates from low-performing DC schools face tough college road," from the Washington Post discusses the difficulty that DC high school graduates have in college, taking on college work. I was shocked that this problem extends "to white kids from upper class homes graduating from the city's 'best' high school," as according to the article, Seth Brown, a Wilson graduate, now at Dartmouth, was flummoxed by having two 5-page papers due around the same time, that he had limited experience with writing in high school.
From the article:
Collier had been a star at Ballou, where fewer than one-quarter of students are proficient in math and reading. But she said that her classes largely dealt with the basics: summarizing story plots, for example, and learning how to write complete and grammatically correct sentences.
Only in her senior year, in an advanced English course, did a teacher challenge her to think more deeply. “I feel like it was too late,” said Collier, who took two of the three AP classes she said were available to her at Ballou. “It just wasn’t enough to have that kind of teacher for one year.”
In her first semester at Penn State, Collier took seminars in which professors asked her to synthesize ideas, develop arguments and do original research. It was new to her.
“We had to go into the library all the time and research articles and really, really write,” Collier said. “It was difficult for me because I hadn’t done that in high school. I didn’t have to write a lot. I didn’t really research anything.” ...
Matthew Stuart, an AP English teacher at Dunbar, attributed students’ lack of college preparation in part to the city’s focus on annual standardized tests that demand little critical thinking or problem-solving. Many teachers give students simple strategies for tackling basic essay prompts, he said, but teachers don’t have a chance to venture into more difficult and stimulating intellectual terrain until after 10th grade, the final year of standardized testing.
2. The other piece is "Can School Reform Hurt Communities?," from the New York Times. From the article:
In New Orleans, this single-minded focus on school improvement has given new hope to many low-income families, but it has also destabilized the broader community in some unanticipated ways. Consider the cost to many veteran educators, who formed the core of the city’s black middle class. After the flood, officials fired 7,500 school employees. An unknown number were ultimately rehired by the reconstituted traditional and charter schools, but they often found themselves working in a very different environment.
The growth in charter schools has fostered an unrelenting focus on preparation for standardized tests and college. Some classes begin with students as young as 5 chanting: “This is the way — hey! — we start the day — hey! We get the knowledge — hey! — to go to college — hey!” At the end of the summer, this year’s incoming kindergartners will most likely be told that they are members of the class of 2030, for the year they will graduate from college.
The obstacles that stand in the way of this goal — poverty, trauma, parental ambivalence — are considered “excuses” that must not distract from the quest. Watching this mentality play out in the lives of families and educators can be both inspiring and frightening.
The author argues that the charter movement in New Orleans has issues:
1. teachers and schools being disconnected from communities;
2. charter schools as traditionally constituted are often unable to help children that need extranormal help because of their circumstances (she gives an example of a child who came to the high school where she taught, reading on a third grade level, and caught up in a maelstrom of crime and neighborhood strife).
She sums up the experience in New Orleans pretty coldly:
The focus on school improvement in New Orleans has succeeded in lifting the average student from a state of academic crisis to one of academic mediocrity...