Check out my latest post at Museum Blogging for tips on visiting museums with girls (and boys as well!).
Archives for June 2008
(Cross-posted at BlogHer)
The Fordham Institute today released a report on two fascinating studies about the state of high-achieving students under the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) initiative. The studies indicate that while the lowest-achieving (10th percentile or below) students have indeed made gains as measured by standardized tests since (but not necessarily because of) the institution of NCLB, the highest-achieving students are languishing, making almost no improvement and in many cases not receiving the same amount of attention and opportunity as the lowest-achieving students.
Among the report’s findings:
- Teachers are much more likely to indicate that struggling students, not advanced students, are their top priority.
- Low-achieving students receive dramatically more attention from teachers.
What’s wrong with that, you ask? Shouldn’t we be putting our resources where they’re most needed?
Teachers don’t think so. Even though their schools are devoting the majority of their resources to struggling students, 86 percent of teachers in the study indicated that schools should focus equally on all students, and not focus so heavily on those who are in the lowest percentile.
Another interesting tidbit from the study: Low-income, black, and Hispanic high achievers on the eighth-grade standardized math test were more likely than their struggling peers to be taught by experienced teachers. These students also were as likely as their higher-income peers to have teachers who majored or minored in math.
The Fordham Institute explains the implications of its studies:
Neither of these studies sought a causal link between the No Child Left Behind Act and the performance of high-achieving students. We cannot say that NCLB “caused” the performance of the nation’s top students to stagnate any more than it “caused” the achievement of our lowest-performing pupils to rise dramatically. All we know is that the acceleration in achievement gains by low-performing students is associated with the introduction of NCLB (and, earlier, with state accountability systems). Neither can we be sure from these data that teacher quality explains why some low-income, African-American, and Hispanic students were able to score in the top 10 percent on the 2005 eighth-grade math NAEP, though there does appear to be a relationship between the experience and education of math teachers and their students’ performance.
The national survey findings show that most teachers, at this point in our nation’s history, feel pressure to focus on their lowest-achieving students. Whether that’s because of NCLB we do not know (though teachers are certainly willing to blame the federal law). What’s perhaps most interesting about the teachers’ responses, however, is how committed they are to the principle that all students (regardless of performance level) deserve their fair share of attention and challenges. Were Congress to accept teachers’ views about what it means to create a “just” education system–i.e., one that challenges all students to fulfill their potential, rather than just focus on raising the performance of students who have been “left behind”–then the next version of NCLB would be dramatically different than today’s.
The authors of the report write that this unintended consequence–the lack of progress of high-performing students–is “worrisome for America’s future competitiveness.”
What says the blogosphere? Plenty, even though the report was just released today.
On the Fordham’s blog, Flypaper, Mike Petrilli explains how schools might better measure their accountability to students under a revised version of NCLB:
Everyone’s right that policymakers can tweak No Child Left Behind to create incentives for schools to pay attention to the top students and the bottom students (and everyone in between). A new version of the law could, for example, expect schools to help all of their students make progress over the course of the year (not just the ones below “proficiency”). It could give schools credit for helping more students reach the “advanced” level on state tests (though these still not be high enough). And it could allow out-of-year testing so that assessments could accurately measure how far above grade level bright students are—and could then determine whether or not they are staying well above grade level over time.
Eduwonkette writes about the liability of models of accountability that, like NCLB, are based on proficiency rather than growth. Systems that focus on a proficiency goal ask lower-achieving students (and their schools) to make larger gains than higher-achieving students, who likely have already met or exceeded the proficiency target. Accordingly, the high-achieving child grows less than does her struggling peer. This model doesn’t take into account students’ initial levels of achievement.
At the Core Knowledge blog, Robert Pondiscio writes about his frustration with schools’ relative lack of attention to the highest-achieving students:
These are the students I refer to as “Not Your Problem” kids. As a teacher, when I raised concerns that my brighter student[s] were bored and neglected, and expressed frustration at my inability to sufficiently differentiate instruction to challenge them, I was dismissed by an assistant principal who pointedly said “those kids are not your problem.” She meant I was to focus on getting my low-achieving students to proficiency; the high achievers were already there and could be left to their own devices.
I’m positively giddy to see this issue getting attention. It was my No. 1 concern as a classroom teacher.
Melissa Westbrook provides a nice roundup of this study and another one that came out this week about the efficacy of the SAT on predicting college success. She’s glad to see low achievers making progress–after all, she points out, “If it had been high achievers moving forward 16 points and lower achievers moving ahead 3 points, there would have been howls.” Her conclusion? “We need to work for all students across the board.”
Corey Bunje Bower doesn’t see a problem with the study’s findings, especially when one looks at the problem from an international perspective:
Given that the low-performing students in the U.S. lag behind low-performers in other countries while high-performing students hold their own against other high-performers (previous post), it’s hard for me to see this as anything but a good thing.
Brigitte D. Knudson has a long, thoughtful post on the commodification of education. An excerpt:
Beyond the implications for college, No Child Left Behind and the standardized testing movement have fueled an entire industry. In Michigan, where I teach, the Michigan Department of Education is required under No Child Left Behind legislation to provide Supplemental Education Service Providers — tutors — to students whose schools or school districts fail under the act. Interestingly, this has allowed tuturing centers, like Sylvan, to prosper (Sylvan Learning Centers represent the largest block of SES Providers on MDE’s 7-page list, with 25 of the 112 available choices for parents in the state, no doubt partly because of their corporate identity and slick marketing provided to franchise owners).
Education is now big business — for-profit in many cases. There are even seminars aimed at prospective small-business owners to suck them into the “Education Industry,” because education, like everything else in the United States, is not about our children, it’s about making a dollar. Yes, folks, the business model applied to education — the commodification of education. They even have a website: EducationIndustry.org. Don’t let the sweet little pictures of parents and children fool you — it’s not about parents and children, it’s about entepreneurs making money. Even if your kid isn’t at a failing school and you need a tutor, these places can work to get you LOANS! One Sylvan Learning Center touts that it will work with “SLM Financial, a subsidiary of Sallie Mae, to ensure children get the tutoring help they need.
Testing to improve our students? How about testing to exploit a new economy? SAT. ACT. Tutoring Centers. Remedial tuition dollars. Banking and loans. Anyone smell a skunk? How about No Child Left Unscammed?
Personally, I don’t have a problem with entrepreneurs entering the educational field–after all, there are some truly excellent educational consulting and publishing companies out there. However, like Knudson, I do have a problem with businesses taking advantage of parents–particularly low- and middle-income parents–because of a government mandate that students perform at a particular level on a standardized test.
Over at Eduwonk, Andrew Rotherham elaborates on the tough choices highlighted by the Fordham Institute’s report.
Choices do have to be made. It doesn’t mean that we throw different groups of student under the bus, but any accountability system that holds people accountable for everything holds them accountable for nothing. So choices have to be made about emphasis. And considering the yawning achievement gaps, graduation rate gaps, and outcome gaps that separate poor and minority students from other students, that’s where I’d argue the emphasis should be placed. And, within those groups of students on the wrong end of the achievement gap are plenty who with better schools would also be recognized as gifted.
There are certainly steps that policymakers can take to help lessen the zero-sum nature of these choices. They can, for instance, also reward schools that do a great job with high achieving students as well as closing gaps (something they can do under No Child Left Behind now but few do in a meaningful way). Or, we can think about various non-regulatory accountability strategies, for instance giving parents more choices within the public system, to create some countervailing forces. And of course, states and localities should invest in programs for gifted kids and ways to stretch them.
What are your thoughts?
Here’s a video that makes me tear up every time I watch it, but I wanted to share it because I think it embodies nicely what I’m trying to do with The Multicultural Toybox:
In response to my recent question, “What do you worry about?” Ephelba replied,
I worry about state regulations squashing all the actual learning and delight out of education.
I worry about these same things. It’s why I’ve always loved museums, especially natural history museums, children’s museums, and science centers.
Last weekend, I was in Southern California and I visited the delightful Children’s Garden at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens.
The garden features low flowing fountains, misting fountains, a vibrating pool of water, tunnels, topiary and whimsical sculpture, and even a very strong magnet with magnetic sand that together create awesome effects–you can literally watch the sand jump off your hand and onto the magnet. On the day my son, my parents, and I visited, there were a few dozen ethnically diverse kids from a local preschool visiting the site, and the learning and fun they were having really reinforced for me something I’d been musing on for a while: hands-on science is one of the best ways to create learning experiences for all children. Not all children might find their way to the Huntington’s ritzy Pasadena neighborhood, but all children should have access to the kinds of materials–water, magnets, sand, plants–that are available to them in the Children’s Garden.
I’m not saying that hands-on science learning is always entirely free of racial overtones, nor that it’s value-neutral, but it is an avenue for enriching curricula that, thanks to No Child Left Behind, emphasize math and reading comprehension to the exclusion of critical thinking in other disciplines. Just going to a science center to play–even if your child is too young to understand the exhibit labels or the concepts the activities reinforce–can trigger new connections in his or her brain. I still don’t know, for example, how the greenish wall captured and held children’s shadows in the old Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles (now the California Science Center), but as a kid I experimented with the distance I stood from the wall, watched the shadows fade as lights flashed again and again, and teamed up with other kids to create interesting silhouettes. That kind of play helped me think about how three-dimensional forms can be represented in two-dimensional space, as well as made me consider how much detail is lost when a two-dimensional image of a person is reduced to a single color.
I’ve read countless research studies on sustained hands-on science learning and its effect on the later academic and career achievement of girls and children of color. The research is not always conclusive–in some cases it’s too early to measure the long-term effects of certain experiences–but studies do seem to indicate an increased and sustained interest in science and a greater curiosity about the world.
That said, I’m not convinced most parents understand how best to take advantage of a family visit to a museum or science center. There’s a lot you can do in advance to prep your kids for the best possible learning experience, and most of it won’t take much time on your part. Accordingly, I’m working on a guide on how to get the most out of your family’s visit to a museum, science center, botanical garden, zoo, or similar institution. I’ve designed and built a number of science exhibits and activities for different institutions, and I‘d love to share with you some of the secrets of exhibition design–secrets that will help you better interpret and learn from the exhibits you encounter with your children.
But before I finish this guide, I want to know what your questions are about museum-going, exhibit development, hands-on science education, or informal learning with your kids. What information would you like to see included in the guide?