Monday, October 20, 2008

Education Politics

The NY Times had an interesting op-ed called "Last Call" (this was right before the last presidential debate) and here was the education question:

"Last year, the federal government reported that 25,000 public schools of (90,000) were labeled as "failing" as a consequence of the No Child Left Behind legislation. There is growing evidence that most schools will become failing schools if the law sticks to its deadline that all children must be proficient in math and reading by 2014. One recent study published in Science magazine predicted that nearly all of California's elementary schools would fail by 2014 under current provisions of the law. How would you change the law so that it helps schools improve instead of stigmatizing them?"
Diane Ravitch, professor of education, NYU and assistant secretary of education, 1991-1993

Nearly ALL of California's elementary schools would fail? I'm sorry, any law that creates a situation that would pronounce all these schools as failures cannot be a success. It makes no sense, it surely is demoralizing and if they are all failures, then what? A federal takeover of the entire California K-12 education system?

I post this after listening to the interviews of both candidates for state superintendent by Austin Jenkins. Unfortunately, both interviews were very locked into the WASL but that seems to be the focus of education today (for better or worse). Here is a link to the TVW website where you can watch these interviews as well as others.

From the interview with our current superintendent, Terry Bergeson:
  • She believes that math standards should be based on state standards and not standards set by the federal government
  • By Christmas, there should be a decision on science standards which can be taken to the Legislature for a vote
  • Mr. Jenkins, a young and earnest guy, was a fairly good interviewer in that he was relentless on not giving up on a question. He repeatedly asked her why, if she had been working on the WASL for 12 years, she thought the public should give her another 4. He also seemed to get a personal response from her when he asked her about the WEA giving their support to her opponent, Randy Dorn. She said it did hurt as she used to be the head of the WEA and felt very close to the organization.
From the interview with Randy Dorn:
  • His main focus on the WASL is to use the parts that are working (writing and reading), find another test's math portion that will work for us, and streamline and shorten the test so it takes 2-3 days to give not 2 weeks.
  • He mainly stressed the word "diagnostic" over and over and said the test should help parents, teachers and students.
  • OSPI has been at it for 12 years and we still don't have a workable math and science portion.
  • The Legislature had to force OSPI to revamp the math portion.
I support Mr. Dorn but with reservations. Mr. Dorn is a former legislator as well as educator so he brings some solid experience to this job. However, he attempt to get a law passed that would have benefited only him and another employee of the Public School Employees union so that they could get retirement benefits from two state sources. (The bill died in the Senate.) That is troubling.

But Mr. Dorn is very articulate and focused. I agree with the need to streamline and shorten the WASL and most importantly, make it a useful tool for parents, students and teachers.

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