When I look at the reactions to recent school shooting incidents, I am struck by two things. First, lots of people seem to have opinions about what will and won’t work to reduce violence in the nation’s schools. Second, nobody really knows.
- 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.
- The Sound of Ideas website is www.ideastream.org/soi#;
- the audio podcast is available at audio2.ideastream.org/wcpn/2011/11/1121soi.mp3;
- the video podcast is available at ideastream.org/players/soi_video/43704.
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.
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!