Neither Dr. Gist nor the education reform movement came off very well at the Board of Education meeting earlier tonight. She only had one supporter among those who gave testimony. I was unable to speak, time ran out, so later in this post I’ll write what I was planning to say. Before I get to that, a few notes about the meeting.
Important: the BoE is accepting written comments on the Gist renewal up until June 1. No vote was to be taken tonight. Submit early, submit often.
For those of you who want a blow-by-blow account of the early part of the meeting, look at my Tweets: @gusuht
Those who did get to speak were outstanding. The vast majority of the speakers were teachers with lots to say. Chairman Mancuso, noticing the lack of time, bumped up parents and students to the front of the line. By far the most telling and moving testimony was given by a student who graduated from a RI High School a year ago, and has since been in college. Roughly, he said that in high school, with all of the testing and teaching to the test and test practice he had lost his love for learning. Once in college he was freed from the dehumanizing testing regime and regained this love. The Gist reforms had hindered his learning, not helped it. It had emptied his spirit, not nurtured it. I hope Bob caught his name. Interestingly, he was the only one who came without a prepared text, but I think he had the most impact. Or I hope so.
OK, my almost-testimony. Actually, the major part of it was a Letter to the Editor, by someone else, in a New Yorker issue late last year. The Letter was in response to an article in an earlier issue (“Public Defender,” by David Denby, the New Yorker, November 19, 2012). That article was about the famous reformed education-reformer Dr. Diane Ravitch. Briefly, up until ten years ago she was a leader of the education reform movement, pushing testing, charter schools, etc. What happened? Ten years ago she looked at the results and they stank. So she switched 180 degrees and is now speaking out around the country against the education reform movement.
Here’s the Letter; it’s from the December 24 & 31, 2012 issue of the New Yorker, in the Mail section, page 8. I have not modified it in any way.
As Ravitch argues, reform strategies based on extensive reading and math tests, followed by rewards and punishments for teachers and schools based on those test scores, along with the encouragement of vast charter-school expansion, have not brought about significant improvements in student performance. Tellingly, no nation, state, or district that has gone from mediocre to world-class in the past twenty years — including Ontario, Canada; Massachusetts; Finland; Singapore; and even the Aspire charter schools — has followed this strategy. Successful schools and districts have supported the development of professional teamwork, and have completely revamped how they attract, train, and support teachers. Building the teaching profession around what is known about quality teaching, and allowing teachers the time and giving them the support to continually get better at what they do, has been the secret of educational success around the world.
Bill Honig, Chair, Instructional Quality Commission, California Department of Education, Mill Valley, Calif.
On an historical note, the New York Times columnist Gail Collins has written in her recent book ( “As Texas Goes….,” Liveright Publishing, 2012) about the origins and history of “No Child Left Behind.” That is/was former President George W. Bush’s signature education reform program that is the major source of all of the fuss today. Bush actually started an equivalent program in Texas when he was governor there, before becoming president. Going on to Washington he foisted his miracle cure onto the entire nation. Unfortunately, back in Texas they discovered that the program didn’t work. Somehow that never visibly appeared in the national conversation. And the bad idea spread throughout the land.