The Save Our Schools March on Washington Saturday is part of a new nationwide push to organize educators against the Obama administration’s regime of education reform.What if the education reformers are wrong?
Protesters circled the Capitol in Boise, Idaho, in March to challenge proposed state education reforms that would, in part, tie teacher bonuses to student performance.
That’s the opinion of a growing number of educators who are convinced that the current direction of reform – despite powerful backers that include President Obama, Bill Gates, and many influential academics and nonprofit leaders – is harming public schools rather than improving them.
While teachers unions and a number of prominent education thinkers have been critical of the reform policies for some time, a more concerted effort is emerging to organize those critics. They plan to take to the streets in Washington on Saturday in hopes of galvanizing attention around their cause. The Save Our Schools March has attracted endorsements from well-known academics, educators, and authors.
Passionate and articulate, many of them classroom teachers, the critics tend to zero in on the increasingly high-stakes role played by standardized tests, which can make or break the reputation of a school or teacher – even if the tests aren’t very good.
“What we call ‘accountability’ now is just totally unreliable numbers that are meaningless in terms of the lives of children and the careers of teachers,” says Diane Ravitch, a historian and former advocate of standards-based reforms who is now one of its most frequent and ardent critics. “All they’re doing is terrorizing teachers.”
Attaching so much importance to tests, say such critics, is leading to unintended consequences – including cheating (with the recent scandal in Atlanta as Exhibit A), a narrowing of the curriculum, and the reduction of many schools into test-prep factories that ignore the higher-thinking skills needed for college and the workplace. Instead, they assert, more attention should be paid to poverty and the related factors affecting students’ achievement, teachers should get better support and training, and evaluations should be more nuanced.
Although the Obama administration has been trying to address what it sees as shortcomings in the No Child Left Behind law, critics say that overall the administration is going in the wrong direction on reforms.
“This is impassioned educators pushing back for good or bad,” says Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, who is generally an advocate of standards-based reforms. “I think it’s clear that this isn’t union power tactics.”