In their embrace of testing, Sparks Middle School, Aspire Antonio Maria Lugo Academy and Wilmington Middle School reflect the data-driven approach to education that has dominated American schools since the No Child Left Behind Act was approved in 2001.
These schools swear by their system, but it's a trend that many reformers decry, among them Diane Ravitch, the former assistant U.S. secretary of education. Ravitch, who initially supported No Child, now says the mandate for standardized testing is "part of the sickness of American education." She chronicled her change of heart in The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, a 2010 best-seller.
It's not data that's missing, Ravitch says. It's vision. Testing should be used as a diagnostic tool, not to replace instruction. As she said in a recent interview with Miller-McCune, "You don't spend your life to get a temperature of 98.6."
For a look at what public schools are doing to repair themselves on the cheap, check out the education stories found in the September-October 2011 issue of Miller-McCune, and when they'll be available on Miller-McCune.com:
Teacher Collaboration Gives Schools Better Results, August 22
What Would Diane Ravitch Say?, August 22
Chicago Charter Schools Aim to Lift Urban Education, August 23
Bad Teachers Improving With Help From Peers, August 24
Showing Where Community Colleges Pass, Fail, August 25
Bridging the Budget Gap with Stolen Lunch Money, August 25
Teaching Religious Literacy in California's Bible Belt, August 26
Checking Consumerism at the School Door, August 26
And ... an online exclusive:
The Real Cheating Scandal of Standardized Tests
"This heavy concentration on testing and scores distorts education," Ravitch says. "The schools take time from the arts, history, foreign languages, civics and other important studies to get those scores up. Makes a school look better, but it has nothing to do with good education. ... Are the kids in the school honest? Are they responsible? Are they willing to stand up to bullies and show courage?"
When it comes to teacher collaboration, Ravitch is a believer, so long as it isn't mainly about data.
"Collaboration is always a good thing," she says. "It's important. Teachers generally are teaching some of the same kids. They should collaborate around individual children. I just find it very upsetting that there's so much attention on test scores. I don't blame the teachers; federal policy is forcing everybody to make the test scores the object of education. It's gotten out of control. When do they have time to teach?"