Saturday, December 20, 2008


Sam Smith

If we're going to insist on judging our children primarily by how well they score on tests, we should probably do the same for education secretary nominees. The problem is that it spoils the fantasy that the major media has been creating around Arne Duncan. Still, turnabout is fair play, so here are a few of the results.

Duncan was named head of the Chicago schools the middle of 2001. The following results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress cover 2002-2007. To summarize what has happened in Chicago schools: not much. Bear in mind, that even where there has been improvement, it has amounted to less than a 1% increase in test scores over a five year period.

Fourth grade reading

Scores were 3 points higher in 2007 compared with 2005 and 8 points higher than in 2002. Total change: less than one half of one percent.

The 2007 score was lower than that of public schools in large central cities

Eighth grade reading

Scores were one point higher than in 2002.

Fourth grade math

Between 2003 and 2007 scores rose 6 points, or less than three tenths of a percent.

The scores in Chicago rose only 2 more points than in the state of Illinois at large.

Black students gained 6 points, Hispanics 2 points, and whites nine points.

Eighth grade math

Scores rose 5 points in Chicago and 7 points nationwide between 2003 and 2007

Blacks gained 2 points, latinos gained 6 points and whites gained 11 points.

Duncan - like DC's school chancellor Michelle Rhee - has fostered a dysfunctional rightwing, corporatized system of education that not only isn't working, it is damaging our children as it trains them to be obedient worker-drones incapable of analyzing or understanding what is really going on about them. This system is being enabled by the same media that for three decades enabled a dysfunctional rightwing, corporatized economic system that finally collapsed in 2008.

The dangers of this system include:

- Teaching our children only to give the right answers and not to ask the right questions.

- Grossly limiting education to fact accumulation and basic manipulation of data, leaving little time for analysis, creativity, judgment, philosophy, gaining social intelligence, as well as learning about, and participating in, the non-mechanical aspects of life such as art, theater and music. This system deliberately teaches our children not to think.

- Through the use of charter schools, turning public education into what was known in earlier times as pauper schools.

- Damaging communities by destroying schools, institutions that not only served students but their parents and provided commonality in ever more atomized urban areas.


At December 21, 2008 10:31 AM, Blogger Elderlady said...

I read in the Chicago Sun Times this morning that graduation rate in Chicago is 1 in 4.

Hell, Sam, in Texas we only have a 50% drop out rate --- not 75%.

And, I sure would not recommend anybody from any school district in Texas to be Secretary of Education.

Merely being from Chicago, obviously qualifies you for a position in the Obama administration.

For a while there, I thought he was putting together "competence" in the Cabinet.

I was wrong.

At December 21, 2008 12:27 PM, Anonymous Mairead said...

Perhaps it depends on what your definition of "competence" is?

His choices seem to have the sort of competence and outlook needed to continue the transformation of the US into a third-world country filled with peasants.

At December 22, 2008 4:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally, I'd support a Constitutional Amendment that excludes government interference in education, just as it excludes government interference in religion. I fully support the idea that everyone should receive the life skills and tools they need to succeed, but state-controlled education has been a costly failure for those who most need it.

At January 2, 2009 9:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the plus side, Arne was able to double his salary while in Chicago. Doesn't that show the leadership required for our kids?

It doesn't?

Oh well, screw 'em! Whoever said our children were our future anyway?

At January 2, 2009 2:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a lot of research coming out of the UK to show the profoundly damaging effects of grading and testing on kids... plus the alternatives. It's also becoming more accepted in the UK mainstream. In the US the Stanford School of Education is promoting similar ideas.

The Assessment Reform Group produced probably the most damning indictment: Testing, Motivation and Learning

The latest stuff from Prof Black and friends, Working Inside the Black Box, is reviewed + links here: Working Inside the Black Box

And some of my own efforts to get rid of testing are described here: The research gives testing an F

And for a summary of the mathematical nonsense behind grading: Win, Win, fail, fail and No prizes in points

Arne Duncan do your homework!

PS Why homework is bad for you: Why I no longer set homework


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