That Used to Be Us–looking outward and forward III

That Used to Be Us—Links on looking to the future

Last thoughts on how the book connects to educators

Places to find more information

I’ve created three posts on where to look while we think about how we are changing—guideposts and cool stuff to use along the way. My goal is to have the positive, the negative, and the truth that lies between them. The first of the three posts was about online resources. The second was on books. This, the third, is a counterpoint to the idea (expressed in That Used to Be Us) that poverty has no effect on educational success—I thought it was important to get the other side of this issue.

Are We Really That Far behind other Industrialized Nations in Educating Our Kids and in Reading?

That Used to Be Us cites a study that others claim to debunk. Concerning poverty, there is much research to indicate that it is the overriding factor in student success. Although I didn’t mention the book Brain Rules in my last TUTBU post of recommended reading, it’s a good one, very worthwhile reading for educators. Its author, John Medina (developmental molecular biologist,  affiliate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine,   director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University) comments on how home life affects learning:

Severe and chronic trauma (such as living with an alcoholic parent, or watching in terror as your mom gets beat up) causes toxic stress in kids. Toxic stress damages kids’ brains. When trauma launches kids into flight, fight or fright mode, they cannot learn. It is physiologically impossible.

I realize this isn’t news to most of us–but I think it’s good to remind ourselves that experts do agree with the empirical evidence that we find in teaching every single day.

I asked Stephen Krashen (professor emeritus at the USC, linguist, educational researcher, activist) if I could print this statement of his in my blog, and he said yes. If you are interested in some of the research, it follows the statement.

Against National Standards and National Tests
Stephen Krashen

The movement for national standards and tests is based on these claims: (1)  Our educational system is broken, as revealed by US students’ scores on international tests; (2) We must improve education to improve the economy;  (3) The way to improve education is to have national standards and national tests that enforce the standards.

Each of these claims is false.

(1) Our schools are not broken. The problem is poverty. Test scores of students from middle-class homes who attend well-funded schools are among the best in world. Our unspectacular overall scores are due to the fact that the US has the highest level of child poverty among all industrialized countries (now over 21%, compared to high-scoring Finland’s 5%). Poverty means poor nutrition, inadequate health care, and lack of access to books, among other things. All of these negatively impact school performance.

(2) Existing evidence strongly suggests that improving the economy improves children’s educational outcomes. Yes, a better education can lead to a better job, but only if jobs exist.

(3) There is no evidence that national standards and national tests have improved student learning in the past.

No educator is opposed to assessments that help students to improve their learning. The amount of testing proposed by the US Department of Education in connection to national standards is astonishing, more than we have ever seen on this planet, and much more than the already excessive amount demanded by NCLB: Testing will be expanded to include all subjects that can be tested and more grade levels. There will be “interim” tests given through the year and there may be pretests in the fall to measure growth, defined as increases in standardized test scores, or “value-added” measures.

The cost of implementing standards and electronically delivered national tests will be enormous, bleeding money from legitimate and valuable school activities. New York City is budgeting a half a billion dollars just to connect children to the internet so that they can take the national tests. This extrapolates to about $25 billion nationally for this expense alone.

This money could be spent to protect children from the effects of poverty, i.e. on expanded and improved breakfast and lunch programs, school nurses (at present there are more school nurses per child in low poverty schools than in high poverty schools) and improved school and public libraries, especially in high-poverty areas.

Rather than spend on standards and tests, investing in protecting our children from the effects of poverty would raise test scores. More important, it is the right thing to do.

Some sources:

“Test scores of students from middle class homes …:  Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13; Bracey, G. 2009. The Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. http://epicpolicy.org/publication/Bracey-Report. Berliner, D.  The Context for Interpreting PISA Results in the USA: Negativism, Chauvinism, Misunderstanding, and the Potential to Distort the Educational Systems of Nations. In Pereyra, M., Kottoff, H-G., & Cowan, R. (Eds.). PISA under examination: Changing knowledge, changing tests, and changing schools. Amsterdam: Sense Publishers. In press. Tienken, C. 2010. Common core state standards: I wonder? Kappa Delta Phi Record 47 (1): 14-17.

“Poverty means poor nutrition, inadequate health care, and lack of access to books”: Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential:  Out-of-School Factors and School Success.  Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. http://epicpolicy.org/publication/poverty-and-potential;   Krashen, S. 1997. Bridging inequity with books. Educational Leadership  55(4): 18-22.

Improving the economy ….:  Baker, K. 2007. Are international tests worth anything? Phi Delta Kappan, 89(2), 101-104; Zhao, Y. 2009. Catching Up or Leading the Way? American Education in the Age of Globalization. ASCD: Alexandria, VA.; Ananat, E., Gassman-Pines, A., Francis, D., and Gibson-Davis, C. 2011. Children left behind: The effects of statewide job less on student acbievement. NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research) Working Paper No. 17104, JEL No. 12,16. http://www.nber.org/papers/w17104

There is no evidence that national standards and national tests have improved student learning in the past: Nichols, S., Glass, G., and Berliner, D. 2006. High-stakes testing and student achievement: Does accountability increase student learning? Education Policy Archives 14(1). http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v14n1/. OECD. Tienken, C., 2011. Common core standards: An example of data-less decision-making. Journal of Scholarship and Practice. American Association of School Administrators [AASA], 7(4): 3-18. http://www.aasa.org/jsp.aspx.

Testing in more subjects: The Blueprint A Blueprint for Reform: The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. United States Department of Education  March 2010

In earlier and later grades: PARCC document:  http://www.parcconline.org/sites/parcc/files/PARCC%20MCF%20Response%20to%20Public%20Feedback_%20Fall%202011%20Release.pdf

Interim tests: Duncan, A. September 9, 2010. Beyond the Bubble Tests: The Next Generation of Assessments — Secretary Arne Duncan’s Remarks to State Leaders at Achieve’s American Diploma Project Leadership Team Meeting: http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/beyond-bubble-tests-next-generation-assessments-secretary-arne-duncans-remarks-state-l. The Blueprint, (op. cit.) p. 11.

Value-added measures:
http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/secretary-arne-duncans-remarks-statehouse-convention-center-little-rock-arkansas (August 25, 2010). The Blueprint (op.cit.), p. 9.

New York City budget: New York Times, “In city schools, tech spending to rise despite cuts,” March 30, 2011.

School nurses: Berliner, 2009 (op. cit.)

Libraries: Krashen, S. 2011. Protecting students against the effects of poverty: Libraries. New England Reading Association Journal 46 (2): 17-21.

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About Victoria Waddle

I'm a high school librarian, formerly an English teacher. I love to read and my mission is to connect people with the right books. To that end, I read widely--from the hi-lo for reluctant high school readers to the literary adult novel for the bibliophile.
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