Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Muddling through the ideologies

The more I read, the more confused I get.

It seems like there are (at least) two schools of thought out there in the educational universe:

School of Thought A (Let's call it "conservative", although there's pretty clear evidence that it's being implemented as much by the Obama administration as it was by the previous administration): "Based on the metrics we have available (such as the National Assessment of Education Progress), the quality of public education outcomes in the U.S. has declined over the years. Our schools are not serving our students well, either compared to prior years or compared to other countries. This seems to be correlated with a shift away from traditional, canonical curricula to mushy, ill-defined, "child-centered" pedagogies. We should fix this, through strong state and national standards, and the way we will know whether we have fixed it is through demonstrated improvement in those same metrics (standardized test scores)."

School of Thought B (Let's call it "progressive"): "People with conservative agendas have used unsuitable instruments (standardized tests) to measure educational outcomes and manipulated the data to make it seem as if public schools are failing, when actually they are doing just as well as they ever were. The real problem is that our schools are inequitably funded and resourced. We should fix this, through better funding of schools for all children, and we should implement progressive-child centered learning strategies rather than national standards. We should measure outcomes through individual portfolios and narratives of student progress. Standardized tests drive schools to teach how to take tests rather than how to learn, and should be eliminated."

As someone fairly new to these debates, I have the following questions:

  1. Is the above a fair summary of the two schools of thought in question? (Acknowledging that this applies some fairly broad brush strokes and probably neglects many fine points of debate and dissension within the ranks.)
  2. What do the national and international standardized test trends really say? How can both sides claim with confidence that the NAEP data supports their claims when properly analyzed? Is there data that supports a decline in quality of U.S. public schools either relative to their own past performance or relative to other nations? Does this data hold up when disaggregated by socio-economic status, parental education levels, english-language learner status, special education status, and other factors external to the school but with potentially strong influence on student outcomes?
  3. Within the conservative school of thought, I have not come across much debate on whether standardized tests measure the educational outcomes that really matter, and what effect their imposition has on the outcomes being measured. Which is to say, do we acknowledge that this is driving 'teaching to the test", and if so, do we think it's a good thing? If not, what should we do about it? Does this discussion exist? If so, where?
  4. Within the progressive school of thought, I have not come across much debate on what metrics students, parents, communities, and society at large should use to measure schooling outcomes in a way that is comparable across schools, districts, and states. Which is to say, if not through standardized tests, then how should we identify the bright beacons of hope and the areas that need improvement and use those to continuously improve our education system? Does this discussion exist? If so where?

I would love to be pointed to reading material that addresses these questions. Specifically, I would love to read a non-partisan take on #1 and #2 (if such a thing exists). And I would love to read an article by a leading conservative scholar addressing #3 and a leading progressive scholar addressing #4.

Any recommendations?

1 comment:

  1. Emily, you may want to check out the Art of Teaching Science blog (I have a blog post about it). On this blog, the author has a series of posts about the Common Core Standards and what organizations and financiers are behind the push for adopting these standards, as well as writing the standardized tests to go with them.

    I find myself more and more concerned about this push for national standards. I'm concerned that we will end up with an overly centralized school curriculum and administration that is detached from the needs and wants of local communities. I'm becoming more and more a believer that economic sustainability in the future will require more of a shift back to local economies that are more self-reliant. One of the big motivations behind this push for national standards is stated to be the need for our students to compete in a global economy. But is a globalized economy the most sustainable model for 20, 30, 50 years from now?