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... recognize and understand the detrimental impact of educational standards.
... use the proofreader's deletion mark to eliminate standardization.
The title of a section in chapter 7 is "If You're Sure You Know The Solution, You Are Part Of The Problem." How true of many of the "school reformers" today who think THEY have all of the answers when THEY are not even in the classrooms! As is often the case with "education reform," those who are in the classrooms on a daily basis (teachers and students) are excluded from the debate - their voices lost in the sea of sound bites coming from those Ohanian refers to as "corporate-politico-infotainment standardistos."
As Ohanian so concisely demonstrates in this book, the idea for education standards comes to us from the business world. What those "corporate standardistos" fail to realize is a simple (and yet major) difference between a classroom and a business office. In a business setting, if you have an employee that is slowing down production, lagging behind, refusing to do the work required, having problems working as a team player, and displaying a lack of concentration or focus, what do you think happens to that employee? The obvious answer is the reason a public school classroom is not like a business, has never been like a business, and will never be like a business. The moral here is STOP trying to "reform" schools like you would a business.
The current buzzword in "education reform" is accountability. I happen to agree that we need more accountability. We need to hold governors, school board members, legislators, and school superintendents accountable for failing our children by forcing through agendas laced with standardization and testing disguised as school reform.
It is long past time that the two groups most directly involved in teaching and learning are given a voice in the school reform debate. The voices of teachers and students need to be heard and respected.
What Ohanian does is tell the stories of real children, mostly seventh and eighth graders she taught over a ten-year period in New York. The children she focuses on are the most vulnerable, the least likely to succeed in a bureaucratic system: Keith, a fifteen-year-old who reads his first book, Dr. Seuss's Hop on Pop, in eighth grade . . . paranoid Arnold, who recites a catalog of those who are trying to kill him . . . Tiffany, nobody's friend, until she discovers a thesaurus and falls in love with whoop and rhapsodize . . . unforgettable Sylvia, a legend in her own time, who curls up and sucks her thumb while listening to John Ciardi read poems with his son.
The children's stories, told in exquisite and sometimes painful detail, bring vivid particularity to themes that Ohanian addressed in more theoretical terms in her 1999 book, One Size Fits Few: The Folly of Educational Standards. The new book is devoted to the children who don't meet the standards, and the harms they suffer from a standardized curriculum. Ohanian writes, "We must get back to the craft of nurturing children, proclaiming loud and clear that no curriculum silver bullet is going to enable every kid to succeed in every subject. Rather than dumping children who don't master algebra and semicolons and the intricacies of the elastic clause in our Constitution onto some refuse heap, we must help these children develop the skills and talents that will guide them in finding useful and satisfying lives in the real world."
Ohanian offers no panaceas, no sure-fire solutions for nonstandard children. Instead, she opens her craft for inspection, sharing a decade of teaching -- warts, bodily fluids, and all. One of her caveats for classroom management is "Don't trust anybody who tries to define and organize what you do." On lesson planning she writes, "I may be reluctant to draw a road map for where the class is going tomorrow, but I carry a thick atlas of possibilities." Her message is clear: What we teach and how we teach it must be shaped by who we are and informed by the children we work with, not by standards imposed from the outside by bureaucrats and politicians.
Writing with grace, power, conviction, humor, and an incredible literateness, Ohanian earns a place among the ranks of the great classroom chroniclers like James Herndon and Sylvia Ashton Warner. Despite the failure and frustration that mark the lives of children caught in the middle, Ohanian inspires us to an uncompromising advocacy of children as she exhorts us "to keep one's eyes on the needs of children in a system run amok." Caught in the Middle: Nonstandard Kids and a Killing Curriculum is a touchstone text for the times.
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What are the alternatives??????
This books argues against applying scientific methods to education.
When I went to school, some years I had good teachers and tests and some years I had bad teachers and tests. With standardized testing at least there is an attempt to improve this. If the tests are no good, then they should be changed, not thrown out.
Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater!
Case in point: a school district in Michigan has a 539-page curriculum for PRESCHOOL. Student's ranking in schools and teacher's salaries are directly linked to one or two tests that students take that focus on exclusive and often inappropriate material. Children in elementary schools throughout America are taking tests for days on end, racking up more test-taking hours than potential lawyers taking the Bar Exam. Wild animals used in Hollywood films have more break times in their days than your average schoolchild. Kindergarten curriculum, in the words of many people who run education, should be preparing children for college. In other words, as a nation, we have completely lost our marbles when it comes to testing and too many governmental folk are bowing down at the altar of test-worship.
A local educator recently said, "if I need to know how Little Johnny is doing in school, I go to HIM, not to his Ohio Proficiency Test from 1999." This clear and obvious paradigm for finding out how a child is doing in school has been completely left behind in recent years, and is likely to keep on happening. Ms. Ohanian's book is frighteningly FULL of examples and incidents when educators have gone straight to some standardized test to see how children are performing in school vs. the children themselves. Where the teachers stand in all these goings on is somewhere between a soldier on the front lines being given totally ridiculous and dangerous commands, and a prisoner of war being forced to do whatever the Big Wigs say, or else they're likely to find themselves up against a firing squad (for example, a school in Chicago SUED a teacher for 3 MILLION DOLLARS for looking at a standardized test before administering it to the children. A teacher will go to JAIL if they even GLANCE over a child's shoulder during standardized tests in Florida).
Ms. Ohanian asks some very good questions throughout her book, including why aren't teachers and parents DOING something about this national craze for test scores, and how is this REALLY HELPING any child to be tested to the point of getting sick and vomiting? She also asks some quite valid questions, like why are we spending billions of dollars testing children when so many schools are literally falling apart? Instead of shelling out 3 million dollars to a test-writing company, why not spend that money on repairing the SCHOOL? What do we hope to accomplish by testing children into the ground? What message are we sending our teachers and our children when their teacher is not only NOT allowed to even LOOK at the test, but risks jail time if they do? (can't you just see THAT one: HARDENED CRIMINAL: "whatcha in for, buddy? Murder 1?" TEACHER: "no, I looked over the shoulder of a first grader during a standardized test...").
The message is pretty clear: children don't matter at all unless they fall within a certain range on one or two standardized tests that are usually given once, graded by someone who is NOT an educator, and the results are posted months later (in Cleveland, our proficiency tests were taken back in March, but we're just getting the results of those tests NOW, 7 months later). It's also clear that teachers and parents are clearly not experts on their own children, because the LAST person to be consulted about how Johnny does in school are these very people: those who write the laws and the curriculum and who punish the schools and teachers are only looking at pages of statistics.
Ms. Ohanian's book is meticulously well researched and she cites startling and often frightening statistics and stories about what is considered "normal" educational proceedings in America today. I myself am rereading it for the second time, taking notes as I go and passing it along to my teaching colleagues. Actually, it's getting to the point where EVERY SINGLE PAGE documents something either useful, scary or enraging that I'm finding it easier to simply hand the book to friends and colleagues and say, "here, read this."
My hope is that this book and others like it will actually DO SOMETHING-spark off a national debate and get parents and teachers and students to go out there and stop putting up with this nonsense. There's no reason children in North Carolina have to be tested on the spelling and meaning of "circumference" in first grade. Nothing good will come of testing our children so often that they loose the ability to THINK and can only regurgitate information and bubble in little circles with a no. 2 pencil. PARENTS know that. TEACHERS know that. FAMILIES know that. ANYONE who works with a child knows that. NOW we need to make sure that our lawmakers (who obviously all live in a totally different world from us Common Folk) begin to know that as well. Get the book, read it through, then pass it along to someone else. If the people lead, eventually the leaders will follow.
That big business is taking the joy out of education is becoming more and more real every day. What that joy really is, Susan makes very clear to all: discovery, wondering, questioning, and trying...not scores, and informational feedback, and high-stakes testing.
The words beat much like a throbbing heart that has loved education and children maybe too much and therefore breaks too quickly and easily under this new sort of approach to children.
No Child Left Untested is more like the way things are becoming.
Susan backs up her opinions with strong research and data proving her point.
I found the book to be revealing, to the point of being unable to put it down for long. It leads into the future and the future right now doesn't look good for children.
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