What if it became fashionable to reform social work by ignoring the Schools of Social Work in our major research universities? Or to run hospitals according to the theories of the Business Schools instead of Colleges of Medicine?
Essentially that is what the past two decades have done to education. Generations of learning theory, educational philosophy, and child psychology out the window. Revert to Gradgrind’s idea, satirized in Charles Dickens’ 1854, Hard Times—classrooms made of, “little vessels… there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.” Bring in Teach for America with its Ivy Leaguers—posting high SATs and spilling over with knowledge—to pour in facts. Consult the Business Schools to make schools efficient; talk to tech wizard entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley; listen to gurus promoting competition in Departments of Social Entrepreneurship.
In Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms the education research professors and philosophers and psychologists and the people who teach teachers how to teach strike back. The National Education Policy Center has gathered two decades’ of thinking by academic educators about accountability-based, test-and-punish school reform. If you were to undertake a research paper on the impact of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, here collected in this new volume is much of the scholarship you’d need. These studies and articles are organized in several sections—foundations of market-based reform, the evidence about sanctions-based school policy, false promises and myths that underpin recent “reforms,” effective and equitable policies needed for operation of our public schools, and a conclusion—lessons (for federal and state policy makers) that, research says, should be part of implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, last December’s update of the federal education law.
The editors introduce the book’s contents: “This volume presents a comprehensive collection of the most rigorous research evidence about both the test-based reforms and policies that have become the new normal, and the less common, most promising strategies for the future. In many cases, the chapters reproduce previously published solid research that has existed for some time, but that has been ignored by decision-makers when designing successive iterations of federal and local education policy. Other chapters provide new analysis of some of the most recent reforms.” “In its entirety, the scholarship in this volume points overwhelmingly to one unambiguous conclusion—heavy-handed accountability policies do not produce the kinds of schools envisioned under the original ESEA (passed in 1965 as the centerpiece of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty). By punishing, rather than nurturing, our most fragile schools and children, the policies steer us further away from ESEA’s initial goals to foster a more democratic, equitable system of schooling for all students. They do so by diverting attention away from the conditions in which our most challenged schools are embedded.” (pp. xix-xx)
The book includes David Berliner’s profound paper, “Our Impoverished View of Education Reform,” published in the Teachers College Record in 2006. For the new volume, Berliner has penned a 2016 introduction—itself a profound summary of the conclusions of the esteemed academics whose papers fill this book: “It is now clearer than it was a decade ago that life for poor people in the United States is hurting our nation, not just the schools, about which I wrote… We might now call many of the problems I describe (in the 2006 paper) an opportunity gap. In our country, so prideful of the fact that we are the land of opportunity, the existence and growth of this gap is even more abhorrent and more embarrassing than it might be elsewhere. We now know that the gap in educational achievement, as measured by standardized tests, between the child born of a family at the 90th percentile in wealth, and the child born to a family at the 10th percentile in wealth has grown significantly. In the 1940s the gap was about .6 of a standard deviation, but now it is about 1.25 standard deviations. The educational achievements of the children of the rich and the poor are vastly different… Educators now know, though politicians seem not yet to understand, that the No Child Left Behind legislation (NCLB) and its successor, Race to the Top (RTTT) are failures. Besides stipulating impossible goals (NCLB) or invalid measures for evaluating teachers (RTTT), both pieces of legislation looked to the schools to solve some of the problems that plague our nation. Schools cannot do that… As the late Jean Anyon put it, attempting to fix schools that serve the poor, without also trying to fix the neighborhoods in which they are embedded, is like trying to clean the air on one side of a screen door.” (pp. 437-438)
The subtitle of NEPC’s new volume is Lessons for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). We’ll hope the politicians begin listening to the experts.