The market can’t fix schools

March 8, 2010 at 11:43 am 3 comments

Diane Ravitch’s new book received a nice writeup in the Washington Post last week.  She renounces her past interest in market-forces in education and even No Child Left Behind:

Diane Ravitch, an education historian, now renounces many of the market-oriented policies she promoted as a former federal education official with close ties to Democrats and Republicans. In large part because of her change of heart, Ravitch’s critique of the reform ideas that prevail in government, philanthropies and think tanks is reverberating in the world of education.

via Business principles won’t work for school reform, former supporter Ravitch says –

The interview with her in this morning’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution made an interesting tie to computing education for me:

By overemphasizing test scores, No Child Left Behind sounded a death knell for arts education and anything else that wasn’t tested, she now believes. It focused too much on basic skills to the exclusion of thinking skills. It did not require that states develop well-rounded, meaningful curriculums, and rather than raise standards it lowered them.

in Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Computing education is one of those domains “not tested.”  “Not tested” in NCLB terms is “not valued,” maybe even “not existing.”  Computing education is no more important than arts education or physical education, if it’s not test-able.

While NCLB is a problem for computing education, but it’s not the deeper problem.  The real problem is establishing computing education as being real and counting — having a recognized curriculum, having standards, being tests that adequately assess knowledge in computing education.  NCLB is a system under which many things suffer.  But when it goes away, another system will take its place. Under any school system, having standards and tests helps to define and defend a domain.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alan Kay  |  March 8, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    This is the parable of the prodigal son and the lost sheep rolled into one. Rather like Bill Gates being applauded because he first pooh poohed the Internet and then decided it was a good idea after all.

    Diane was very wrong (and wrong headed) about her stance (as was Bill). But someone who can be that wrong who changes their mind may not be changing it for any better internal reason than the faulty thinking that took them to the first position.

    Also, two valued logic is Medieval thinking — in the world of modern thinking, the opposite of a big mistake or falsehood can also be a big mistake or falsehood.

    I think “testing” is a word that never had enough content for areas as important as real education. “Assessment” is a much better one, and really works when the teachers and coaches know what they are doing.

    Basically, in sports, music and art, one gradually learns to do the real thing, and one is assessed on where one is in this endless journey.

    This works just fine — and did for computing until it became lucrative and then popular enough to attract schooling processes with non-competent teachers and coaches ….



  • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  March 8, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    Hi Alan,

    A brief: I completely agree about “testing” vs. “assessment.” Maybe that’s one of the flaws of NCLB thinking — in assuming that the task of “assessment” is solved with a simple “test.”


    • 3. Alan Kay  |  March 8, 2010 at 3:05 pm

      Hi Mark —

      I think one of the big problems that has made testing much too central is that the system of teachers, districts, and states have not policed their own thresholds — combinations of incompetence and cheating in the system really encourage funders and other interested parties to cut through the fog, and tests seem to them to be one way to do it.

      And, actually, for a one shot “pop quiz”, a lot would be revealed. But the omnipresent test idea gives the incompetents and cheaters a target for gaming the system in various ways, including just teaching to the test, which doesn’t provide enough depth of understanding to be worth much.

      One could imagine “very rich tests”, but too few in the system are willing or able to grade them. If they were, then we could go back to assessment by the teachers of how well the students are becoming fluent in the powerful ideas.




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