American Schools In Crisis

Until national blanket testing is ‘dead, buried and cremated’…

The Treehorn Express

Treehorn was the little primary school lad whom everybody ignored….just as all primary school lads and lasses are ignored.   Florence Patty Heidi’s The Shrinking of Treehorn illustrated the condition well. If Treehorn lived in Australia and was in Year 3 or 5 or 7 or 9, he will be taken notice of this week…not much…just a little bit. His mentors will be too busy patting each other on the back, reading the criticisms in the press, feeling sorry for themselves, talking about testing. The fuss will be over in a week or two. You can wager that the measurement pundits will discuss further ways of improving the tests…being harder or softer or extending them [They love their job].  Some School Principals will ho-hum and some will dare to criticise; at the same time ignoring the connection of blanket testing with genuine teaching and learning. Their conversations will be measurement focussed. There is little doubt that much of the unimaginative discussions will centre on the idea that national blanket testing is a fact of life. It is inevitable. They join Treehorn in the sense that they are so easy to kick around and control. While they might not like it, they have given in to it. Right?

When the Treehorns get their results next week, they will say, “Oh Yeah. That’s the stuff we spent all that time on last May. Fat use it is now.”


American Schools in Crisis

Diane Ravitch is, without doubt, the most respected educator in the English-speaking world. Once the Assistant Secretary for Education in the United States, she is prepared to speak her mind on behalf of the world’s children who have to tolerate the present era of hard-data, fear-driven schooling in the USA, UK, NZ and Australia.

Her article in The Saturday Evening Post 16 August 2011, called ‘American Schools in Crisis’, has drawn endless comments which you will see when you click on

On the front page of the article, there  is a photo – could be a Norman Rockwell painting – of a classroom where the normally screwed-down desks have been shifted around a pot-bellied stove so that the children and teacher can interact in their learning ventures. Below, it says, “In the days before standardised tests, teachers had the freedom to tailor their curricula to encourage pupils to create, innovate, imagine, and think differently [Nov.2, 1946].“ You can see and feel the learning atmosphere in the classroom, don’t you think?.

Here are some extracts, with a little licence like the use of ‘pupil’,  from Professor Diane Ravitch’s  article: –

Our public schools are the bulwark of our democratic society. Over time, they have opened their doors to every pupil in the community regardless of the pupil’s race, religion, language, disability, economic standing or origin. No one has to enter a lottery or pay a high price to gain admission.

With this openness, there is a price to be paid. Our public school teachers have one of the most difficult jobs in society. Their classes include children who are recent migrants, many of whom don’t speak or read English; they include children who have social, emotional, mental, and physical disabilities; they include children who live in desperate poverty.

As our society has changed, the schools have had to deal with escalating social problems. Compared to schools today, the schools of the 1950s were tranquil.

In 2001, after the election of President George W. Bush, Congress passed a law called No Child Left Behind, which changed the federal role in education. Instead of seeking equitable funding, Congress decided that it would impose a massive program of school reform based on standardized testing…..It required that every child in every school must reach proficiency by 2014 – or the schools would be subject to sanctions.

In 2009, the Obama administration launched its own radical reform plan called Race To The Top. It assumes that higher test results mean better education, even when those results have been purchased by intensive test-prep activities…. The promise of Race To The Top is that billions will be spent on more tests, and districts will reduce the the time available for subjects that aren’t tested. Piece by piece, our entire public education system is being redesigned in the service of increasing scores on standardized tests of basic skills.

Not one of these policies – not one – has any consistent body of evidence behind it. The fundamental belief that carrots and sticks will improve education is a leap of faith, an ideology to which adherents cling despite evidence to the contrary.


Now for the crunch…. Professor Ravitch’s final paragraphs

A major report was released in Spring 2011 that showed what a risky and foolish path the United States has embarked upon. The National Research Council [NRC] has concluded that incentives based on tests doesn’t work.

In other words, the immense investment in testing, the NRC commission said, were based on intuition, not on evidence  – and faulty intuition at that. 

It’s important to remember that this is not simply an abstract matter for ivory tower policy wonks to be nattering over. Our present course endangers one of our nations most precious institutions : our public schools. Sure they need improvement, but they don’t need a wrecking ball. Our policymakers obsession with testing has proven to be wrong; not only does it lack scientific validation, but any parent or teacher could have told the policy makers that a heavy reliance on multiple-choice tests crushes originality, innovation, and creativity. As the federal government ratchets up the stakes attached to the tests, they become an even greater burden on pupils, teachers and the quality of schooling. In addition, the higher the stakes, the less reliable the tests become as measures of learning. When everything rides on test scores, schools will encourage “teaching to the test” and even cheat to avoid being closed.

We are now at a fork in the road….The free market loves competition, but competition produces winners and losers, not equality of educational opportunity. We will turn teachers into “at will” employees, not professionals who can be fired  on little more than a test score. Their pay and benefits will also depend on the scores. Who will want to teach?

What we will lose, if we move in that direction, is public education. Just as every neighbourhood should have a good police and fire station, every neighbourhood should also have a good public school.

It is worth remembering that the reason we first established public schooling was to advance the common good of the community. It began in small towns, where communities agreed that all the children should be educated for the good of all and the sake of the future. Public schools have a civic mission. They are expected to prepare young people to become citizens and to share in the responsibility of maintaining our society. As political forces tear them apart, creating opportunities for entrepreneurs and for profit, it diminishes our commonwealth. That is a price we must not pay.




Thank you Prof Ravitch for you clear exposition. As one of your teacher-commentators says:  “Ms Ravitch is a saint for writing this article. I get down on my knees and thank God for people like her who may very well lead the call for sanity in educating our best resource, our precious children.She has absolutely nailed it.  …..I am retiring next year due largely to the NCLB and Race to the Top policies. I do not feel like a good teacher anymore. I am simply teaching these babies how to memorise sets of standardised facts and take tests. We are doing a terrible service to our youth.

This article should be mandatory reading for every legislator, parent, teacher, school administrator…hmmmm…. maybe everyone should read this!

Thank you so very much for the wonderful missive! I am deeply appreciative that you would stand up to the system.”                  Carrie T.

Phil Cullen

41 Cominan Avenue

Banora Point

Australia 2486

07 5524 6443

You will agree that this is a fine exposition. Please share it with as many as possible.

Make sure that your local members sees it; and ask them if they will try to have Naplan stopped.

If they won’t, have they got a good reason?


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