Valerie Strauss has been a beacon of light and hope for the nation’s educators during these years in which teachers and principals have been blamed for the social ills of the nation and treated with disrespect. That never happens on Valerie’s blog “The Answer Sheet” at the Washington Post. Not only has she been a trenchant critic of high-stakes testing and other misguided policies, but she has opened her space to others who are reality-based educators.
She recently invited me to engage in an email interview, and this was the result.
Here is an excerpt:
Q) Did you learn anything while researching the book? And what do you think will be the most surprising thing that readers who don’t follow your work on a regular basis learn from reading the book?
A) I learned how a number of states have allowed campaign contributions to determine their education policies without regard to the well-being of children. Two classic examples are Ohio and Pennsylvania. I document in the book how wealthy entrepreneurs have created businesses to run charter schools that get terrible results but are never held accountable because they are major campaign contributors. I found that shocking.
The big news takeaway from the book, I believe, is the discovery–I didn’t realize it until I started my research on the website of the U.S. Department of Education–that our schools are doing very well indeed in terms of test scores, graduation rates, and dropout rates. This flies in the face of everything we have heard in the national media since “A Nation at Risk” in 1983.
Do we have problems in American education? Of course we do! Our single biggest problem is that our policymakers have ignored the toxic effects of poverty and segregation. Our inner-city kids have low academic performance because they are poor, and worse, their schools are being stripped bare by budget cuts. The kids who need small classes are getting larger classes; the kids who need guidance counselors and social workers are in schools where they got laid off. The kids who need the joy of the arts are in schools that can’t afford them. What they can afford is more and more testing.
So, let me be clear. I am not at all happy with the state of American education. I think our kids are overtested, and our teachers and principals are demoralized. Beloved community schools are being closed because their kids have low test scores. Our school system, once the pride of our nation, is beset with terrible policies and impossible mandates. And at the same time, we are failing to address the real needs that children and families and communities have, wasting billions on testing and consultants and opening new schools that will, in their turn, fail because we did not do anything that met the needs of the students.