From books by e.g. Kozol (Savage Inequalities - 1991), we know already for a long time that in the USA poor children receive an education in poor schools from teachers with the lowest capacities and knowledge.
There have been numerous efforts to correct that situation, many not very successful.
George W. Bush e.g. introduced the program ‘No Child Left Behind’ (NCLB)’ As a goal to be lauded but the instruments had unfavorable side effects: competition between schools, test-based accountability, punishments in case of failures, introduction of evidence-based school innovation programmes that left hardly any space for the creativity of the professional teacher.
Obama started off with ‘Race to the Top” and the Common Core (curriculum). And now there is the ‘Every Student Succeeds Act’ (ESSA - December 2015).
Recently the ‘National Education Policy Center’ (NEPC) published the book ‘Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms’ (Editors are William J. Mathis and Tina M. Trujillo.). A huge effort of some 700 pages to prevent that the wrongs of NCLB continue their life under a different label. It is a major effort to return to the facts, in a society where facts seem to become less and less relevant.
NEPC is known for the its critical reviews of educational research publications. The tone generally is optimistic, polite, neutral but for the authors the judgments might feel as the pain of a sharp razor. Enjoyable for the reader, who can learn a lot about good research. A disaster for all those pupils, teachers and parents who are confronted with innovations in their schools based on false research.
Returning to ‘Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms’, some quotes to highlight the major issues:
‘Unfortunately, our review also confirmed that, despite decades of solid research evidence demonstrating the limited and contradictory effects of the market model of school reform, it is still the model that dominates education in this nation, particularly in schools that serve low-income families and children of color. For these schools, principles of competition, high-stakes accountability, and individualistic forms of achievement are recreating two educational systems, separate and unequal’. (p. ix)
Section 1: The Foundations of Market-Based Reform
’She (Janelle Scott) brings to light the complex political coalitions that have come together, both presently and in the past to advocate for business-inspired, neoliberal school reforms
Section 2: Test-Based Sanctions: What the Evidence Says
‘This research sheds serious doubt on recent federal and state attempts to impose sanctions on a large scale’. Nor transformation, nor turnaround, nor restart, nor closure (the 4 categories of sanctions) show the results expected. (p. 95)
Section 3: False Promises
‘• The push towards privatization and charter schools, in particular, has not produced markedly better results and has further segregated and divided our society
• The evaluation of schools and teachers by test score gains is not technically or ethically defensible.
• Until broader social, housing and economic issues are resolved, we cannot expect educational gaps to get smaller.’ (p. 220)
Section 4: Effective and Equitable Reforms
‘If we want to close the achievement gap, we have to define the variables that cause this gap and remedy them.’ Those variables being: income inequality, poverty, segregation, level of resources, early education, tracking, full-service community schools, class size and teacher preparation programmes.
Section 5: Conclusion: Lessons for the Every Student Succeeds Act
’The greatest conceptual and most damaging mistake of test-based accountability systems has been the pretense that poorly supported schools could systematically overcome the effects of concentrated poverty and racial segregation by rigorous instruction and testing. This system has inadequately supported teachers and students, had imposed astronomically high goals and has inflicted punishment on those for whom it demanded impossible achievements. (p. 679)
In my own presentations in 2015 in Latin-America I focused on:
- Schools should offer the best education they can (given their conditions) although knowing that this is not sufficient;
- Teachers and principals should become social activists working with the community on security, health and housing (among other things), the problems can’t be solved by schools alone;
- Schools with low SES children should have more resources than regular schools;
- Schools with targeted extra funding (such as in the Netherlands) should be transparant about the spending of that extra budget;
After reading ‘Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms’ I feel able to nuance and deepen my presentations, but also to present more firmly about the theme of equitable schools.
I certainly would add hypotheses why the problems of inequity and inequality persist. I will deal with that in another blog.