Saturday, August 27, 2011

On Democracy Now! "Poverty Is the Problem": Efforts to Cut Education Funding, Expand Standardized Testing Assailed

The Democracy Now! team discusses recent developments in New York's assessment plans, the U.S. Department of Education's controversial No Child Left Behind waiver extortion scheme, and other topics with celebrated education professor and author Dr. Diane Ravitch and New York City schoolteacher Brian Jones (The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman).

[click here if can't view this video]

I first posted the above on Schools Matter, but want to add that I just got done reading the transcript on Susan Ohanian's site, and was struck by the fact that the following exchange sums up the entire corporation education reform thrust in a nutshell:

JUAN GONZALEZ: Brian Jones, you're a teacher in the trenches. Can you talk about the pressures on teachers these days with this emphasis on standardized testing and what it means actually to the kind of work that you do?

BRIAN JONES: Well, to me, the students are cheated even before the test is taken. Look, the cheating, the real social cheating, happens in the way that the high-stakes standardized testing distorts school itself.

Let me tell one story. I was doing a science experiment with a group of fourth graders. We were in the middle of a week-long science experiment, and we had--everyone had trays out on their tables, and they were pouring and mixing and investigating. We were having all kinds of rich discussions. And an administrator came in and said, "You have to stop what you’re doing right now," handed—put down a pile of workbooks and said, "You have to begin doing this right now." I begged her, in front of the students, "Please, let us just finish this experiment right now, in the next few minutes, and then we’ll do that." She said, "No, you have to put all this away right now and get working on the workbooks." So, the kids are cheated ahead of time. It teaches teachers to jump through these hoops, to not encourage critical thinking. It teaches all of us that knowledge is somewhere produced by Pearson or by one of these test companies, and you can’t create it, you can't investigate it, you can't do any of that. All you have to do is, more or less, remember it.

Here's another way students are cheated. In elementary school, which I teach, we tend to go through genre studies. We take a genre of literature at a time and go through it. Well, now what more and more schools are doing is teaching the test itself as a genre--that is, studying the features of a test, as you would a novel, or as you would historical fiction or mysteries. You’re laughing, but this is very serious. Any teacher watching this knows what I'm talking about, that you, in elementary school, in many schools, especially the schools where that gun to the head is already cocked--in the poorest schools, in the schools that teach the most disadvantaged students, students of color, in schools in Harlem--you have to teach students how to take a test. You have to tell eight-year-olds about multiple choice, right? And the thing that gets me is that the, you know, wealthy individuals who promote these policies send their own kids to schools that look nothing like that, where inquiry is promoted, where they don't spend all day obsessing about how they’re going to do on someone else's test.

The entire transcript is worth reading, but both Ohanian and I were struck by Jones' powerful words.


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