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Gerald Bracey

Gerald Bracey

Posted: December 12, 2007 07:47 PM

The Inmates Who Want to Run the Asylum


Here are some of the idiots and professional fear mongers who are trying to control curriculum and instruction and education policy in our nation's schools:

- Raymond Scheppach, Executive Director, National Governors Association.
- Bob Wise, former West Virginia governor, now executive director of the Alliance for Excellence in Education (a fear mongering group he founded).
- Susan Traiman, Business Roundtable.
- John J. Castellani, president, Business Roundtable.
- Roy Romer, former governor of Colorado, former superintendent of Los Angeles Public Schools, and formerly a pretty smart guy, now head fear monger for ED in '08 which is trying to get the presidential candidates worked up (so far, they've gotten worked up once and beat the hell out of No Child Left Behind).
- Vivien Stewart, Vice President of the Asia Society (how on earth did she end up in this group?).
- Andreas Schleicher, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (the group that spearheads this "cognitive Olympics," horse-race view of international comparisons).

All these worthies gathered at a press conference on December 4, 2007 to mourn the 2006 results from PISA, Program of International Student Assessments. Every three years, PISA administers tests in reading, mathematics and science to 15-year-olds. The US reading scores were missing this year because the test booklets were misprinted, giving confusing instructions that no doubt garbled the answers. In mathematics, the US trailed 23 of 30 nations, in science it trailed 15. The Washington Post boredly mentioned that U. S. ranks were about the same as in 2003.

If the Post was bored, the speakers at the press conference were incensed. The BRT's Castellani pronounced himself outraged. "This is the Olympics of academics," said Wise, "and we need to respond." "Something needs to be done and something needs to be done now," said Romer. "Our students' performance today is the best indicator of our competitiveness tomorrow," intoned Raymond Scheppach.

Hello, Raymond! There is not a shred of evidence, not one shred that scores on these tests are linked to global competitiveness or other good things (Norway, considered on many variables the best place in the world to live, scores about the same as we do). The powerhouse World Economic Forum just issued its annual Global Competitiveness Report and guess who's number 1 among 131 nations? The U.S. of A. It's been that way for four consecutive years (9/11 dropped us to #2 for a bit). Get a copy, Raymond.

Think about it for a minute. In four months we will "celebrate" the 25th anniversary of A Nation At Risk. In 1983, that booklet claimed we were threatened by a rising tide of mediocrity. Well, the mediocrities that graduated high school that year are now 43 and pretty much running the country. The subprime mortgage mess indicates maybe some of them are a little short on the ethics side, but no one has claimed that Structured Investment Vehicles are the product of stupidity. They seem, rather, to be the product of something that long antedates formal schooling, greed. If mediocre test scores were linked to economic well-being we'd have long ago been in the pits. Certainly we would not have seen that fabulous economic expansion from 1992 to 2005.

Journalist Fareed Zakaria noted that kids in Singapore score much higher than American kids on tests, but that 20 years later, it's the American kids who are ahead of the game. He asked the Singapore Minister of Education why this should be. The Minister said that while his kids had high test scores, American kids had talent. "We cannot use tests to measure creativity, ambition, or the willingness of students to question conventional wisdom. These are areas where Singapore must learn from America." Zakariya also quoted a father who had lived in America for a while and then moved back to Singapore: "In the American school, when my son would speak up, he was applauded and encouraged. In Singapore he's seen as pushy and weird. Schooling in Singapore is a chore. Work hard, memorize, test well" (the father put his kid in an American style private school).

Keith Baker, a retired U. S. Department of Education researcher got the same message from a Swedish father living in L. A.: "He holds a high position in a bioscience company," Baker wrote in the October Phi Delta Kappan. "He told me, 'There is no doubt that graduates of European high schools know a lot more than American grads, but I prefer my kids in American schools because Americans acquire a spirit that other countries lack.' Other anecdotal sources suggest this 'spirit' involves ambition, inquisitiveness, and perhaps most important, the absence of a fixation on testing and test scores."

Recall that psychologist Robert Sternberg called our high-stakes testing programs "one of the most effective vehicles this country has created for suppressing creativity."

The Wises, Romers, Scheppachs, Castellanis and Traimans of the world are trying to kill American kids' spirit. They should be put out of business and otherwise taken to task.