A BuzzFlash Reader Commentary
Ed-Biz Wolf In Educational Sheep's Clothing
April 12, 2002
Ongoing White House "education reform" proposals continue to benefit ed-biz corporations, including the Washington Post Company. Last week, the White House announced another education initiative, this time for young children:
"The president's initiative will:
is not said - or reported - is that this new "Early Childhood
can be accomplished in part by making available to early childhood programs
information on what will be expected of children once they reach school
and what skills children will need to learn before school in order to
meet State standards in school."
Let's hope that some of these public/private assessors find out, through government-funded research, that poor children need breakfast and lunch; that schools in poor districts need non-leaking roofs, plumbing that works, and reasonable security; and that teachers need enough textbooks (and classrooms) to go around and small enough classes to work with.
somehow, these initiatives aren't as yet spelling out that states will
be pushed to help pay grocery and electric bills for poor families, much
less police for their streets (or even streetlights). The strongly worded
implication seems to be they will be forced to procure "assessment,"
"evaluation," and "training" involving small children,
their teachers and
Sample item from Quest's web site: "In 1998, Quest acquired six schools . . . this move both expanded Quest's existing programs in business, healthcare, and information technology and added new programs in the fields of electrical engineering, criminal justice and early childhood education."
Similarly, Score! Learning mentions its "Score! Educational Centers, the nation's fastest-growing afterschool learning company, is marking the start of the new millennium with the opening of its 100th center in Ellicott City . . ."
Sometimes, you almost get the feeling that some of these companies envision a cradle-to-grave approach to assessment, tutoring, distance learning, etc. Kaplan's online offerings geared to working adults already out of school target the older end of the age spectrum; at the younger end, you have "eScore.com, . . . the first educational services website for parents of kids newborn to age fourteen." Social Security should only be this comprehensive.
Using the emotional sales pitch of needy small children, the White House criticizes current pre-K programs:
"1) many states do not fully align what children are doing before they enter school with what is expected of them once they are in school; 2) early childhood programs are seldom evaluated based on how well they prepare students to succeed in school; and 3) there is not enough information for early childhood teachers, parents, and other child care providers on the activities that prepare children to be successful in school."
With any luck, this careful wording does not signify forcing small children into "early literacy," a chilling phrase. No responsible teacher supports hothouse-forcing younger students to read before their time. We cannot predict exactly when an individual child will learn to read: one day, it's cannot; the next day, it's can. The natural learning stages form a spectrum, not a timetable.
Generally, the more time spent "assessing" children, the less time spent teaching them and playing with them. And the child's natural learning is insidiously stunted by continuous competition and continuous pressures too big for him to ignore but too vague to understand -- including continuous "analysis" by half-trained online entrepreneurs.
in spite of all the potential problems, these education reform proposals
are largely being taken at face value in the press - quite possibly influenced
by a major newspaper, and by major publishing companies, that benefit
from the legislation. (That burgeoning online or "distance learning,"
vocational training, and "certification" offerings by businesses
Common sense would tell you that the schools and districts that need assistance most are the poorest schools and districts. The need for hired statisticians and cyber-testers is, beyond a certain point, dubious. But according to its press releases, Kaplan, Inc, has been moving aggressively into younger-student education, just in time to benefit from the newest proposals.
My own experience coaching tiny GRE-prep groups in summer (four times, for three days each), while enjoyable, has reinforced my reservations about both testing and test-prepping.
No matter how you cut it, if a standardized test is genuinely going to measure schools' performance, then it has to be genuinely standardized. Teaching to the test in some schools and not others skews measurement of performance. So does tutoring some students and not others.
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