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Education Trust Open Letter and FairTest Draft Response

The Education Trust released a public letter signed by prominent African American educators and others which Education Trust has claimed evidences support for not changing NCLB (though the letter itself acknowledges the law has flaws). (See press release below)

www.edtrust.org

FairTest has pondered this letter in light of the growing evidence of the flaws with testing and with NCLB, and we offer an initial, draft respond to the letter as follows:

- We agree more money is needed - a lot of money, not a little. Schools cannot be left holding the bag for society's failures. NCLB is underfunded, but fully funding it will leave education for low-income children badly underfunded, regardless of whether "on average" US schools are well-funded. (Ironically, those claiming "on average" US schools are well-funded are also talking about how using school achievement data "on average" hides inequities.)

- We agree many schools could do better with what they have - it is why many of us are in school reform to start with! But, again, don't expect schools to solve all society's ills on the basis of willpower or threats to teachers as NCLB does. Schools cannot solve the very real problems of health care, housing, nutrition, and communities disorganized by their poverty.

- We agree with disaggregating data. But we raise questions about what that data needs to be - it must be far more than test scores and graduation rates. We need rich evidence of student learning and school environments. That poor kids often go to schools where they are disrespected to the point there is no paper in the bathroom with which to clean themselves and no real books to study makes a sad commentary on claims that it is a matter of only of studying reading and math. Middle class communities have the power and wealth to prevent such disrespect and to ensure their kids get more than a poverty edition of "the basics."

- We agree accountability has a useful role to play. But it must be assess, assist and improve, not test, punish and probably privatize. We know some about how to accomplish this. We have known for quite a while about high-quality assessment and the power of providing rich feedback to students in a challenging but supportive curriculum. We know less about accountability, but we do have good examples and models on which to draw. We will need to work on this, particularly to ensure that accountability supports good practices and encourages genuine improvement while not allowing school systems to avoid doing what they could do. That will not be an easy structure to create, but FairTest is collaborating with education, civil rights, community and research groups and people on precisely this task. In the interim, doing the wrong things, which NCLB and many state testing programs foster, makes the situation worse, not better.

It is on testing and accountability as implemented through NCLB where, then, we have fundamental disagreements with Education Trust, Education Trust clearly believes that high-stakes standardized testing accompanied by strict penalties is the route to genuine school improvement. We believe they are profoundly wrong. Education Trust castigates those of use who disagree as opposed to improving education, as believing children cannot learn, and (implicitly if not explicitly) as racists (defenders, after all, of what Secretary Paige termed - correctly - educational apartheid).

We could respond in kind: test reform is not genuine education and dumbs down and drives out of school vast numbers of children, mostly low-income and of color, along with students with disabilities and whose first language is not English. We believe all children can learn a lot more and deeper than the test-prep diet being forced on schools through state high-stakes tests and NCLB. It is therefore NCLB and its supporters who leave children behind, who perpetuate separate and unequal education and thus the educational apartheid that has long plagued our nation.

We call on those who do want strongly improved education for all children but have supported NCLB to cease their infatuation with testing and punishing and work toward an accountability that expects and provides real learning. We also call on those who oppose NCLB to battle against any return to allowing states and districts to fail to educate all their children. And we call on both such sides to unite to obtain the financial resources for schools and for social programs that will enable us to really leave no child behind. We oppose the bad old days as well as the bad new days being pushed by NCLB.

If we can therefore unite, those left behind will be those who would limit low-income children to schooling defined by test preparation, who would pretend only schools matter in educating children and therefore ignore pressing social needs, who would evade responsibility to educate all their children on the grounds it cannot be done, and those who would destroy public education by making schooling just another commodity to purchased in the market place.

Monty

Monty Neill, Ed.D.
Executive Director
FairTest
342 Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02139
617-864-4810 fax 617-497-2224
monty@fairtest.org
http://www.fairtest.org

Here's the press release from Education Trust:

Don’t Turn Back the Clock!”

Over 100 African American and Latino Superintendents Voice Their Support for the Accountability Provisions in Title I (NCLB)

Superintendents are joined by over 135 other educators, superintendents and civic leaders from across the country urging Congress to stay the course on accountability

(Washington, D.C.) -- More than 100 African American and Latino school district superintendents from across the country today sent a letter to Congress, the White House and to all of the Democratic Presidential candidates stating loudly and clearly, ‘Don’t turn back the clock on the accountability provisions in Title I.’ These education leaders, who together oversee the education of more than 3 million students, were joined by over 135 other superintendents, principals, teachers and community leaders from across the country in letting policymakers know that rolling back the accountability provisions in the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act is simply not an option.

The superintendents, many from districts struggling with the toughest challenges, all recognize that rigorous accountability is good for public education. They know that, while challenging, the new expectations in Title I are especially good news for the disadvantaged students, including students of color and students living in poverty, whose underachievement has been swept underneath overall averages for too long. After watching mounting political attacks on accountability, these educators felt compelled to explain how the accountability provisions are helping them to bring about long-overdue conversations about how we can do things differently to better public education.

These educators know first-hand about the challenges facing public education, but they also know that accountability gives them leverage for moving their systems to action. “Closing achievement gaps is never going to be easy. But it would be next to impossible without the demands and expectations in the federal law,” remarked Paul Ruiz, Principal Partner of The Education Trust, also a former principal and former Chief Academic Officer in an urban school system. “These folks don’t have the luxury of thinking they can implement all the changes they need to without the cover of the law. We can’t pull the rug out from under them just as they are beginning to get some real traction,” Ruiz continued.

“There is a battle raging for the soul of American education,” noted Kati Haycock, Director of The Education Trust. “In our work around the country, we often hear local educators talk about the progress they are seeing as a result of the new accountability. These education leaders are especially concerned with the messages communicated by those opposed to accountability. Too often, the critics imply that students from low-income families and students of color simply cannot be expected to be taught to high levels. We kept hearing from educators whose experiences have taught them otherwise that these insidious messages could not go unchallenged, so we promised to find a way to help them share their voices with the nation,” stated Haycock.

“Those who would roll back the accountability provisions in Title I do not speak for the courageous educators with whom we work every day,” said Stephanie Robinson, Principal Partner with The Education Trust and former deputy superintendent of Kansas City, Missouri’s public schools. “The politicians and talking heads of the education establishment in Washington need to understand that this law is actually helping to get public education more focused on raising achievement for all students and on closing achievement gaps between groups. These superintendents thought Washington needed to hear from educators in the field who are using the accountability provisions to advance the mission of public education.”

The message of these courageous educators to Congress, the White House and the Democratic Presidential candidates is clear: “We recognize that the goal of educating all students presents a tremendous challenge. We believe that American public education is up to the task. We add our voices to those who have stepped up to the challenge.”

As the education leaders charged with implementing the law’s rigorous demands, these superintendents are saying with conviction and authority: “Don’t turn back the clock.”

The Education Trust letter is at:

http://www2.edtrust.org/NR/rdonlyres/D4EA0468-953D-4580-8E86-434925A6E8AD/0/FINALSIGNERS.pdf




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