The illusion of success



In the book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch touches on the topic of No Child Left Behind. In this section she mentions the inspiring success of Texas schools that served as a model for the No Child Left Behind legislation. On the surface this plan would ensure accountability, help raise test scores, shrink the achievement gap and appeared to be a successful model overall. However, some scholars agree that Texas’s improving statistics were a result of low-performing students dropping out of school. It is argued that the testing system in Texas caused a rise in dropouts especially African American and Hispanic students who were repeatedly held back.


A similar situation unfolded recently in the Portland area. As a condition of No Child Left Behind, some Portland public school students are allowed to transfer schools and many chose to transfer to one of the smaller alternative schools. For many years these alternative schools were not subject to the same expectations and accountability as other public schools. It appears this provided a place to channel lower achieving students to create the illusion that Portland schools were doing better than they actually were. Read more about this here:


What can we do to ensure that these loopholes are closed and prevent children from falling through the cracks in our broken system?

Hold the Right People Accountable

No Child Left Behind has been so widely publicized for so many years, and yet I never really understood it. Reading Chapter 6 of Diane Ravitch’s The Death And Life Of The Great American School System; How Testing And Choices Are Undermining Education I was fascinated by the idea that NCLB was brought about with the intent of helping students and holding schools accountable for their success, and yet the policies seemed so ridiculous. All of our schools are charged with this Sisyphean task, and are punished for being unable to fulfill their roles, while also being given little support from the government. Our schools are supposed to have reached 100% proficiency in only a year, and the chances of this happening are slim.

So then, is it a failure of our schools, for not doing what they were supposed to? Or is it a failure of our government, for setting unreachable goals?

Governor Kitzhaber Wants Your Feedback: Preparing Oregon’s NCLB Waiver Submission

Oregon is preparing to apply for a waiver from No Child Left Behind.  What does this mean?  It could mean more flexibility for schools and teachers and a greater focus on learning rather than testing.  That’s the potential here.  In order to find out what Oregonians want for their students and teachers and schools, Kitzhaber is surveying the public and will use the input in the preparation of documents required for submission of the NCLB Waiver application.  

I gave this link in a previous blog post but thought some of you might be even more interested with the knowledge that this input will be used to apply for the NCLB waiver.  With so much discontent surrounding NCLB, take a little time to give your feedback…click here to submit your input!

Thursday’s Tiny Reading Collection: Economic Turning, the Good & Bad Revealed Through Testing, Arts Learning, & MLK Day of Service

As the school term winds down, some of you will have a little more time to read in your down time.  And for those of us who continue on the grind, we probably still have time to fit in a little update on education issues, right?  Here’s your easy-access collection of the week:

  • The connection between Portland’s reduced incomes and the impact on Portland schools and public services is explored.  I’m planning a later post on this…important stuff!
  • Read a recent study on how urban students have faired on standardized math tests.  There have been some improvements and some areas where improvement on the needed scale has yet to come.  For those of us who are educators or who have been in classrooms, the quote from a student about how he learns best when “learning is fun” should not come as a shock…but the continued emphasis on testing and drilling for the test in light of the fact that students learn best when engaged with the materials does seem shocking.
  • In light of the previous article, take a look at this Edutopia post about how to use student data to improve teaching practices.  For teachers out there, this is a must read.
  • With so many cuts to school programming, is this one answer?  Substitute recess for arts learning?  As someone who comes from a family of artists and musicians (and as someone who always hated recess as a child), this has some appeal.  What do you all think?
  • PSU (along with many other local universities) will be spending the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday serving in the community.  More specifically, PSU is dedicating its service to Roosevelt High School, which is right in my neighborhood and which will also be one of our community partners this winter.  This is a day off for so many of us…and is the perfect opportunity to get involved in the community as a one-time day of service or to jumpstart a New Year’s resolution to practice weekly community-based work.   Register through the above link!  I’ll be promoting this day of service throughout the next two months and hope to see you all there!

Should We Know More About the Civil Rights Movement?

Browsing through the New York Times, I came upon an article about the fact that today’s students are learning less and less about the Civil Rights Movement in history classes across the nation.  Is this due to NCLB testing that focuses on writing and math?  Is this a result of apathy?  Fear? I’m not sure what the specific roots of this growing ignorance is, but it feels like this will impact students’ understanding and ability to become actively engaged in social change on a larger scale.  Without a knowledge of how change happens or the history of change in our country, will students become more and more complacent?

At the end of each of my Capstone classes, we generally conclude that massive political change is one of the only things that would impact schools positively on a larger scale.  Without changing systems of racism or poverty, how can we change the education system, my students often ask.  I think this is why the NYT article struck me.  Students may know how necessary change is but not have the background/context to think about how to make that change.

Voice Your Thoughts: Think Out Loud Hosts Conversation & Blog Discussion About Oregon’s Education Future

As I was making “first day of school” French toast and coffee, OPB’s Think Out Loud conversation took a turn to the future of Oregon’s education future.  If you miss calling in (the show only runs until 10:00 today), you still have a chance to listen to the interview, to read posts online, and to add your voice to the conversation.  This is a great first place to try voicing your thoughts on education in public!  Let me know what you think and how it goes!  If you’re interested in advocacy, try on your public advocate persona and use all of your knowledge to join in:

Think Out Loud: Oregon’s Education Future

Education Updates (August — September 2011)

There’s a lot happening in K-12 education as the 2011-2012 year has just started and is now in full swing.

This site is in its beginning stages.  Check back soon for information on volunteer opportunities, stories from teachers/other volunteers, etc.
Also, please feel free to discuss any of these articles…this should be a forum for discussion and building our own critical thinking on education in Portland and beyond.
Excited to “see” you here and to share this information!