Designed for Failure: The Common Core State Standards

“Standards” and “College readiness.”

Belief in the efficacy of the former and in the possibility of using them to create the latter (and an urgency manufactured through meaningless comparisons between American schools and others throughout the world) lies behind the current rush to impose the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) on American public schools. The Editorial Board of The New York Times claims:

The new Common Core learning standards, which set ambitious goals for what students should learn from one year to the next, are desperately needed in New York, where only about a third of high school students graduate with the math and English skills necessary to succeed at college.

Somehow, the Times assumes, the standards are well crafted and can meet the need.

Are they? Can they? Let’s ask a college professor (me). Continue reading

What Do We Want from Education?

The choices have been clear for a long time. One side, though, seemed to have won within the last decade. As Elaine Weiss, writing for the Huffington Post, says, there has been “a philosophical shift from education as a critical tool to advance democracy to a consumer-oriented system of individual choice, achievement, and even profit.”

Though the impact has been strongest on American k-12 schools (No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top), the impact is felt in colleges and universities, too. “Learning outcomes” are one of the results, attempts to quantify just about everything and to justify specific learning activities rather than seeing a student as a whole being and an education as something that prepares students for their own explorations, for development of their own ‘learning outcomes.’ This is the factory model of education and, frankly, it has no place in a democracy, where education is supposed to produce participants in the public square who can examine evidence and make decisions on their own. That this ability also makes for better workers is critical to the success of both education and the United States, but the primary focus is on creating good citizens.

We college professors, with problems enough of our own–with changes in governance heading toward a corporate model of top-down decision making, with academic freedom becoming a narrower and narrower aspect of our lives, with more and more of us living and working as contingent and part-time hires, keeping us barely on the fringes of the middle class (if there at all)–haven’t been paying enough attention, as a group, to what has been happening to the schools that feed students to us. Yes, many of us have noticed that our students (especially at non-elite public institutions) are coming to us less and less prepared for college work each ensuing year, but we haven’t put in the time to really explore why. It is hard enough trying to make up for the lacks our students are coming in with. How, furthermore, can we have the time to advocate for changes in k-12 curricula when our own are under fire? Continue reading

Reign of Error: the important new book by Diane Ravitch

This is crossposted from Daily Kos at the request of Aaron Barlow:

The testing, accountability, and choice strategies offer the illusion of change while changing nothing. They mask the inequity and injustice that are now so apparent in our social order. They do nothing to alter the status quo. They preserve the status quo. They are the status quo.

Those words appear on p. 225 of Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, the new book by Diane Ravitch. The words are a summary of what has been wrong with recent educationl They appear in Chapter 21, titled “Solutions: Start Here” which is where Ravitch begins to offer a different vision for how to improve public education.

Ravitch’s last, blockbuster, book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education thoroughly exposed the emptiness of the so-called reform movement and what it is doing to American education, as I noted in this review.

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Is Diane Ravitch the George Ball of Our Generation and Education Reform our Vietnam?

Mark Naison, the author of this post, is a Professor of African-American Studies and History at Fordham University and Director of Fordham’s Urban Studies Program. He is the author of three books and over 100 articles on African-American History, urban history, and the history of sports. The post originally appeared on Naison’s blog With a Brooklyn Accent.

In the spring and summer of 1965, as  US policy makers debated whether to send large numbers of US ground troops to Vietnam to insure that the South Vietnamese government not collapse , a longtime Washington insider named George Ball issued a fierce warning  that the policy being recommended would be disastrous.  Declaring that the conflict in Vietnam was a“civil war among Asians” not  a front of  a global struggle against Communism, Ball warned that sending US ground troops lead would lead to national humiliation no matter how large the force sent or the technological advantage it possessed because it would cement the character of the war, from the Vietnamese side, as a struggle against a foreign invader. Ball’s advice needless to say, was disregarded, and the result was exactly as he predicted- a humiliating defeat for the US which extracted a terrifying toll in deaths and ecological damage on the Vietnamese people

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The Death Knell Rings for Higher Education, Too

A powerful letter from a teacher in North Carolina appeared recently on Diane Ravitch’s blog. Many of us who work in higher education, when we read it, wring our hands and think, “There but for the grace of God go I.” But it might be that we should not be sending to know for whom the bell tolls and saying our prayers for others. We may be on our death bed, too.

The author of the letter, Kris Nielsen writes eloquently, and should be read by everyone involved in American education, at all levels. She writes:

I refuse to be led by a top-down hierarchy that is completely detached from the classrooms for which it is supposed to be responsible.

We all should be joining her, creating a strike for real education, but we don’t. I don’t. Teaching is my living and I go about it passionately. But I don’t have the guts to say that the line has been crossed and I cannot do it any longer. I am still trying to fight back from within the system. CUNY Pathways, for example, is a result of just such a hierarchy, especially in its implementation. Its goals are laudable, but they cannot be met through a program designed by people far removed from the students, classrooms, and teachers it affects. I am working as hard as I can to help make the program a success, but I worry that I am also prolonging the death-throes of education strangled by a system beholden not to learning but to organization and efficiency.

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“They Are Different”

This morning, Diane Ravitch quotes from Mike Lofgren’s story in The American Conservative, “Revolt of the Rich.” She comments:

What is so astonishing these days is that the super-rich… have control of a large part of the mainstream media. They can afford to take out television advertising, even though their views are echoed on the news and opinion programs. And the American public, or a large part of it, is persuaded to vote against its own self-interest. A friend told me the other day that his brother, who barely subsists on social security, was worried that Obama might raise taxes on people making over $250,000. How can you explain his concern about raising taxes on those who can most afford it?

Twenty years ago, I visited Moscow and St. Petersburg and saw the remnants of the super rich of the czar’s time, including bejeweled carriages that had signaled a remove from the “moochers” (as Ayn Rand, whose family lost everything in the Russian revolution, called them). A passage in Lofgren’s piece reminded me of them:

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