Friday, February 22, 2008

Rothstein Rocks, Rangel Rambles


A large crowd attended Richard Rothstein's appearance at the Campaign for Educational Equity event at Columbia yesterday (Feb. 20) where he presented an outline of a paper titled:

REASSESSING THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP: FULLY MEASURING WHAT STUDENTS SHOULD BE TAUGHT IN SCHOOL

Rothstein proposed "a new approach for assessing student achievement that goes beyond test scores and graduation rates, and measures skill attainment in broad, yet essential, areas, such as social skills, critical thinking, preparation for citizenship and employment, appreciation of the arts and literature, and the knowledge needed to maintain sound physical and emotional health."

Here is the complete list:

Goal/Relative importance (percent)
Basic academic skills in core subjects (21)
Critical thinking and problem solving (16)
Social skills and work ethic (14)
Citizenship and community responsibility (14)
Physical health (9)
Emotional health (8)
Appreciation of arts and literature (7)
Preparation for skilled work (11)

A redesign of NAEP to assess the full program would be necessary. He estimates the costs at $45 million and ongoing costs of $13 million a year. The presentation was very valuable and went into great depth, but we will spare you the details at this time.

Rothstein, former education columnist for the NY Times, has been a leading proponent of, let's call it the anti-BloomKlein "no excuses" philosophy that calls for attacking the so-called achievement gap (a phrase I'm getting sick of hearing) with a broad range of programs that go beyond the school's doors. His response to Chester Finn's "March of the Pessimists" is a good read. It begins:

Chester Finn, in his August 17 "Gadfly" posting ("March of the Pessimists"), responding to a New York Times article by Diana Jean Schemo (here) and a Wall Street Journal essay by Charles Murray, expresses puzzlement that "the likes of Schemo and Murray" can't see that good schools can overcome the disadvantages of poverty, racism, troubled families, crime-infested neighborhoods, and harmful peer influences.

These are complex issues, not elucidated by labeling these writers, as Mr. Finn does, 'liberal,' 'conservative,' 'pessimist,' or 'defeatist.' But I take Mr. Finn at his word that he genuinely does not understand why Schemo, Murray and others do not share his belief in the power of good schools to offset all other social and economic influences. I will attempt, as respectfully as I can, to explain why, for my part, I do not share his belief.

In short, given that, as Mr. Finn asserts, children's time influenced by families and communities exceeds the time they are influenced by schools "by a multiple of four or five," I am puzzled that he fails to agree that serious and successful efforts to substantially narrow the achievement gap must include social and economic policies to improve the circumstances of family and community life, as well as policies to improve the quality of schooling.
Get the full pdf here.

Many progressive reformers love Rothstein, as opposed to the regressive biz/ed reformers ala Rotherham/Eduwonk). I asked him about a happiness/satisfaction of children and teachers index – which in NYC right now must hover somewhere near the Kelvin absolute zero point – as a counterpoint to measuring mania. I mean, is there any joy for teachers and students at all in the current educational climate and isn't that in itself an indicator of motivation to teach and learn aside from punishment or reward? I was a bit disappointed when instead of saying there are things that do not need to be measured he said even this could/should be measured – well, maybe it would serve some value if a survey of some kind were done.

Later, a student in an ed program at Columbia came by to say she was pleased I asked that question. She had been a teacher on an Indian reservation in New Mexico and there were so many mandates and restrictions on teachers and students, there was not much joy in the process.

Rangel Ramble
One of the interesting aspects of the event was the appearance of Congressman, uba Clinton supporter Charles Rangel (Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee), who made a pathetic, rambling statement humping the use of the business community to fund Rothstein's proposal (don't think Hillary is far behind on this one), mentioning the Business Roundtable (one of the sources of all our tsouris) so many times he sounded like his needle was stuck in a vinyl groove. Maybe Rangel should propose the corporate community fund the Iraq War. The Business Roundtable can certainly fund voting machines in Rangel's district that would actually tabulate Obama votes.

Read the follow up piece on how the UFT (in deed, if not words) is more in line with the regressive ed reform movement than with Rothstein. If you're looking for a "why", hold your horses, we're working on it.

2 comments:

  1. Regarding Rothstein, and the fact that he has apparently been won over to the side of everything can be tested, this is something else we need to deal with in depth. The question of how to evaluate achievement, progress, and to diagnose problems and pinpoint needs without the high-stakes or even low-stakes standardized tests. (Not that we should eliminate all tests, but that they should be one part of a much bigger picture.) Part of the problem is the de-professionalization of teachers, the creation of layers of supervisors with minimal or non-existent teaching experience who do not know how to evaluate either students or teachers without mind-numbing and often irrelevant detailed checklists and standardized test results. Then there's also the problem of distorting all the other skills and learnings once they have been reduced to items on a high-stakes test.

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  2. We need to find a high stakes test for happiness.

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