Talk Radio

I called in recently to a radio program called The Sound of Ideas, heard on Cleveland Public Radio, WCPN-FM 90.3, weekdays 9:00-10:00. Since then the producer called asking me to appear on today’s show, “Money, Politics and Unions after Issue 2,” and I agreed to be a guest. Other members of the panel–all much heavier hitters than me–were:
  • Harriet Applegate of the North Shore AFL-CIO, with us in the studio;
  • by phone, Peter Overby, NPR’s “Power, Money and Influence” correspondent, who covers campaign finance;
  • by phone, Mark Mix, President of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
If you’re masochistic, you might enjoy downloading the show’s podcast. If you’re really adventurous, watch the video; if you can take it, so can I.

So how was this experience, you ask? Well, I learned stage fright young: as a music student I would be a complete basket case before each recital. And although by now I’ve spoken, acted, sung, played, or taught thousands of times, I’m still pretty nervous before anything that resembles a performance.

One surprise to me was how quickly the hour went. I had prepared for the session, and had my various papers arranged in front of me at the desk. I wound up hardly referring to any of them, and instead used the top handout mostly to take notes and keep track of my thoughts. In this setting, it seems, it does no good to anticipate what the next question might be or to dwell on the last one: the most important thing is to concentrate on the moment. In little league they called it “keeping your head in the game,” and it’s not something I was or am especially good at; but for an hour at a time, I guess I can.
With stage fright goes that delicious feeling when it’s over, and by 10:00 I was feeling pretty relieved. I’d do it again: the risk of sounding stupid is a worthwhile price to pay for the opportunity to do something you believe in.

Pressure on Schools, Unions Misplaced

In “Ohio urges school districts, teacher unions to sign up for Race to the Top money,” Edith Starzyk writes in The Plain Dealer about the pressure being applied to school districts to enter the federal sweepstakes for additional funding under specific circumstances. Both school districts and teacher unions are right to consider carefully what they’re being urged to agree to.

For over twenty years now, Ohio education has been increasingly driven by high-stakes testing. Originally aimed at graduating students, it now drives instruction at every grade level in every public school.

It was wrong then, and it is wrong now. At a time when knowledge is multiplying, high-stakes testing reduces what is taught. While students need to learn material of greater complexity, it forces concentration on simpler, formulaic learning. As students need access to a broader curriculum, high-stakes testing restricts it. And perhaps most insidious of all, it diverts resources (time, money, and people) from instruction to measurement, making it harder to accomplish its well-intended goals.

Because high-stakes testing is flawed from the beginning, it’s especially wrong when it’s being used for purposes for which it wasn’t intended. The tests do a poor enough job of measuring student learning: they are even less appropriate for making salary, retention, and transfer decisions regarding teachers, the one group of people who can do something to mitigate the disaster.

In her recent book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch points out that both Democrats and Republicans have subscribed to the myth of high-stakes testing as an accountability tool. How ironic that this pressure is coming from a President and a Governor who were supported by teachers!