How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education

  1. Ass. prof. Zhauticova S. B., Maxutova A. K. "Pathophysiology of cardio-vascular system" // Educational-methodical manual // Karaganda, 2006.- 57.
  2. Conversational topic: Education in Russia
  5. English as the World Language of Research and Education

Author: Diane Ravitch

Year of Publication: 2010

Reviewed by: Dirk Windhorst (Assistant Professor of Education, Redeemer University College)

Journal:Brock Education: a Journal of Educational Research

Diane Ravitch created quite a national stir when the paper came out last year in the United States. Here was a highly respected historian of American education publically recanting her previous advocacy of two main ideas shaping educational reform today: 1) the adoption of free market business practices to make schools more competitive, and 2) the use of standardized testing as the main assessment tool of student learning. Not only have these reforms failed to produce better schools, Ravitch argues, but as her title makes clear, They are actually threatening the education of a whole generation of young people. She hopes the paper will contribute to a renaissance in the American public school system.

Using her skills asa historian, she tells the story of American education in the past two decades. We learnhow the market-based reforms that came to full flower in New York City after 9/11 and subsequently spread throughout the United States had their roots in one Brock Education, school district that had imported Balanced Literacy from Australia and New Zealand in 1 987. She showshow the carefully reasoned recommendations of a commissioned report (A Nation at Risk) Morphed into the crude and unrealistic mandates of a federal law (No Child Behind); how Barak Obama has quickly fallen into step with the direction set by George W. Bush to measure basic skills and punish those schools that fail to measure up; and how the private capital of billionaires such as Bill Gates is underwriting the proliferation of charter schools at the expense of public schools.

What can Canadian educators take from Ravitch?First of all, the paper affirms once againhow inextricably tied we are to the Americans. Second, Ravitch gives us a cautionary tale about the perils of putting too much emphasis onstandardized testing. True, some of Ravitch'scriticisms ofstandardized tests do not apply toOntario: in contrast tomost American tests that narrowly assess basic skills and use multiple choice questions throughout, the Education Quality and Accountability Office tests are linked to the expectations of the Ontario Curriculum and include opportunities for students to write their own answers. Nevertheless, her deeper critique holds true for us as well: by focusing on literacy and numeracy, high stakes testing pushes teachers to "rob Peter to pay Paul." If test scores need to be improved, more instructional time will be devoted to language arts and mathematics at the expense of subjects that are not tested, such as physical education or visual arts.

Albert Einstein is reportedto have quipped, "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." The author of the paper states thatpreviously the test of practice was the one that really counted, but not in the sense of grades or report cards. Moreover, Teachers worth their salt know that it is often the most valuable learning experiences that are the most difficult to define, measure, or quantify. They are immeasurable. In fact,the attempt to evaluate or assess them may well destroy them. Ravitch wonders whether there would be a place for such a teacher in today's high school: Would any school recognize her ability to inspire her students to love literature? Would she get a bonus for expecting her students to use good grammar, accurate spelling, and good syntax? Under any imaginable compensation scheme, her greatness as a teacher - her ability to inspire students and to change their lives - would go unrewarded because it is not in demand and can not be measured. And let's face it:She would be stifled not only by the data mania of her supervisors, but by the jargon, the indifference to classical literature, and the hostility to her manner of teaching that now prevail in our schools.

Finally and most importantly, the paper forces a reader to re-consider, or perhaps to consider for the first time, the main purpose ofeducation. For Ravitch, the essentials of education are curriculum and teaching, not testing or accountability. In her view,the curriculum must be explicitly and coherently grounded in the liberal arts and sciences and taught by teachers who are "well educated, not just well trained". As a historian, Ravitch naturally espousesthe teaching of history which she finds woefully lacking in most states. One of the exceptions is Massachusetts where students are required to learn world history in tandem with American history. This causes me to questionwhy the Ontario Curriculum does not require students to learn any world history: Is this not necessary in a world that is becoming increasingly interdependent on a global scale? Diane Ravitchbrings the reader up to speed on the current state of American education. She convincingly demonstratesthat the spheres of business and education are qualitatively distinct and that a school run as a business will likely destroy the joy of learning.

Aimed at a general audience, the paper is clearly written and well researched.

Whether or not one agrees withRavitch's educational philosophy, the paper is stimulating, informative, and thought-provoking. When an educationalist of her stature changes her mind, one must take notice.

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