Sunday, September 10, 2006

OMG! Schools are in Great Shape! What Now?

I love being the harbinger of more good news. You see while the US Department of Education spends enormous amounts of money on junkets to totalitarian regimes "studying their schools" because ours are allegedly so bad, the truth trickles through the cracks of the Bush regime's tsunami of lies, corruption, and deception.

The following opinion piece is compelling and spot on. The excerpt I chose is a bit more than I usually snip to maintain an accurate context for the piece. I heartily encourage you the read the entire article. It is very worthwhile.

WHAT CRISIS? - U.S. student progress since World War II has been remarkable, and America is seen the world over as an education leader by Gerald W. Bracey, Courant.

April 1983 saw the arrival of the paper Sputnik, "A Nation at Risk." Although the report was a golden treasury of selected, spun, distorted and nonexistent statistics, it focused attention on education at least as brightly as the actual Sputnik had. And although the report was optimistic that public schools could accomplish the task at hand, many people saw it as cause for severe hand-wringing, even hopelessness.

Today, the erroneous belief that public schools perform poorly leads some to think that there is no need to check facts. Thomas Friedman in "The World Is Flat" stakes a claim that Romanian schools are superior to American schools on an unverified statement from a single student that what he studied in science in the fourth grade in Romania he studied again in the seventh grade in America. Had Friedman checked this contention against data from the 1995, 1999 and 2003 administrations of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, he would have seen that on all three occasions, the United States outscored Romania substantially in math and greatly in science.

The media contribute to the syndrome by ignoring positive results. In 2003, an international reading study showed that only three of 35 nations outscored the United States significantly in reading.

Nationally, 30 percent of American students attend schools with less than 25 percent poverty; they outscored the highest nation. The 28 percent of American students who attend schools with 25 to 50 percent poverty scored at a level that, had they constituted a nation, would have ranked fourth. Four newspapers reported the study with bylined stories.

In 2006, a study from the National Center for Education Statistics found that if you control for demographic differences, public schools perform as well as or better than private schools. The private schools, though, have many fewer poor kids, special education kids, and English language learners. Only a few newspapers carried the story the day after it was released by the U.S. Department of Education.

Oddly enough, educators from nations that score high on tests frequently wish to inspect our schools. They see the United States as a creative, innovative nation and they think the schools have something to do with it. Newsweek pundit Fareed Zakaria observed that although Singapore students ace tests, 10 or 20 years later it's the American students who are world beaters: "Singapore has few truly top-ranked scientists, entrepreneurs, inventors, business executives or academics," he wrote. America, however, has scads.

The Singapore Minister of Education told Zakaria that the tests his students do so well on do not measure the American kids' traits of "creativity, ambition or the willingness to question the conventional wisdom." And a Singaporean father who had returned from the United States said that "in the American schools, when my son would speak up, he was applauded and encouraged. In Singapore, he's seen as pushy and weird."

U.S. creativity and innovation have led the World Economic Forum to rank it the most globally competitive nation among the 117 the forum evaluated. Alas, such initiatives as the test-obsessed No Child Left Behind law threaten that creativity. As Robert Sternberg, dean of the school of arts and sciences at Tufts University, put it, our "massive" use of standardized tests "is one of the most effective vehicles this country has created for suppressing creativity."

It is quite possible that No Child Left Behind puts our global competitiveness and our national security at risk.


The Courant's piece was adopted from a set of debate essays that appeared in Stanford Magazine called, Put To The Test. It, too, has great merit.

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