William J. Mathis and Tina M. Trujillo - First, children who are hungry, suffering from malnutrition and live in substandard conditions are highly unlikely to score well on tests. We will never close the achievement gap until we close the opportunity gap. This also involves compensatory services for our most needy. While giving considerable lip service to the plight of poor children and children of color, we have not backed-up our rhetoric with our actions.
Inner-city children are consistently provided fewer school services while, on average, facing considerably greater family and community challenges. The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (of which NCLB and ESSA are the latest versions) has always been intended to address these disparities, but it has never been adequately funded. Meanwhile, vital companion social, educational and health services have also suffered from inadequate resources and fragmented coordination.
Second, test-based accountability does not improve learning. Psychologist B. F. Skinner taught us more than 60 years ago that negative reinforcement has unpredictable and undesirable consequences. Yet, we embarked on a path of test and punishment whose inevitable outcome was sadly predictable.
This fact is evident in decades of test-based reforms which, at best, show very modest results. In examining the evidence, the National Academies comes to the plain conclusion that we really do not know how to use test results to improve education. With more than two-thirds of test score variance coming from outside the schools, it is not possible to eradicate the effects of poverty with a new phonics program, no matter how well it is delivered.
Third, the various punitive consequences prescribed by the federal government failed for a number of obvious reasons. School turnarounds, where large proportions of teachers and administrators are fired and replaced on the assumption that they are responsible for low test scores, resulted in chaotic buildings that lacked orderly cultures or strong ties to their community. Further, the reserve of “more” capable teachers and administrators simply didn’t exist. Despite politicians parading before alleged “miracle schools” that supposedly overcame all manner of obstacles, there is scant evidence that the turnarounds actually managed to provide, much less sustain, the promised breakthroughs.
Fourth, the promise of “market-based” reforms just didn’t pan out. The invisible hand of the market was to be the solution primarily through charters and privatizing schools. Even if we gave full weight to the market-based claims, these efforts fell far below what we staked out as our goal. A growing body of literature shows that charter schools do not perform better than traditional public schools and they segregate schools by race and by socio-economic status.