Steven Weinberg, a retired Oakland teacher and Education Report blogger, thinks public education could use a new prescription.
Nine years ago my doctor informed me that my blood pressure was too high and put me at higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke and could shorten my life. He put me on a medication which quickly reduced by blood pressure fairly dramatically.
Several years later he changed my prescription to a different medicine. When my blood pressure climbed back about half-way to what it had been originally, I became concerned and asked him why we had switched to a less effective medication. He said that although the first drug was very successful in lowering blood pressure, long-term studies had shown it had no effect at all in reducing fatal heart attacks and strokes, and reducing those was the real goal in prescribing the medication in the first place.
In other words, although the first medication was doing a great job changing the measurements we were tracking—blood pressure—it was having no real effect on the important goal, extending my life. The second drug, although less impressive in changing the blood pressure numbers, had a solid record in improving the things that really mattered.
Recent articles about test scores have caused me to wonder if something similar isn’t happening today in education. The testing/accountability campaign has been the dominant force in education for the last 20 years. When it was enacted it was expected that it would ensure a stronger American economy by making sure all students graduated ready for college or career. It was expected that graduation rates would increase, and that the achievement gap between racial groups would decrease.
While many states and districts are hailing upward trends in student test scores on the state tests mandated by No Child Left Behind, other news stories seem to show no progress, and even deterioration, in the areas the testing/achievement campaign was aimed to improve. No one would claim the American economy is stronger today than 20 years ago. There are few signs that American students are better prepared for colleges or careers. There is little evidence on national measures of any sizable reduction in the achievement gap or of significant growth in overall student scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress or the SATs.
Newsweek Magazine featured an article in its July 19, 2010 issue, entitled “The Creativity Crisis.” The article indicates that although “1,500 CEO’s identified creativity as the No. 1 ‘leadership competency’ of the future,” creativity scores of American students have decreased over the last 20 years. “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant,” researcher Kyung Hee Kim of the College of William and Mary is quoted as saying. “It is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is ‘most serious.’”
Just as the medical profession had to look beyond the blood pressure statistics to determine if a drug was truly effective in prolonging life, those of us concerned about education must look at the long-term effects of the policies we have been pursuing to see if the test/accountability program has been successful or if it has just been boosting numbers that bear no real relationship to the important work we should be doing.