Thursday, December 18, 2003

Testing, Testing…Testy

Peter at Kick the Leftist links to an article in Yahoo! News about urban students scoring poorly on nation-wide tests. When he cross-posted this on The Liberal Coalition, I posted a long comment, which led a friend to suggest – gently – that I post it here as well. Okay.

WASHINGTON – Students in some of the nation’s largest urban school districts score below the national average on federal math and reading tests, new scores show. Yet in these urban centers, where large numbers of disadvantaged kids live, students compete well when compared with peers elsewhere of the same race, ethnicity or economic level.

Ten school districts volunteered to set the city benchmark in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, regarded as the nation’s report card on a range of subjects. The goal is to give these cities a valid way to compare themselves with areas that share problems and population trends, and to track their progress on a test known for its stringent scoring.

Education officials say the new scores reflect expanded efforts by urban districts to help children succeed despite language barriers, crowded conditions and poverty. The results, however, also underscore how much ground schools must gain in raising achievement for all.

I notice they left out Miami, which is the fourth-largest school district in the country with over 367,000 students. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that in Florida, school districts are county-wide, whereas in other states, they are by city. No matter – we’re doing the best we can with the pittance we get from the state. It’s a sorry thing when schools can only offer decent programs paid for by grants.

Last year the student population of Miami was over 60% Hispanic, with most of those kids coming from bilingual homes. Our test scores are going up – slowly – in the lower grades, where it counts the most – but that blasted No Child Left Behind (or “Nickelby,” as we [sarcasm] fondly [/sarcasm] call it and its unfunded mandate to shape up or go broke) could screw the whole thing up. It doesn’t take into account migrant/refugee populations who may flood a school with children that have no formal schooling, nor does it encourage states to spend money on F or double F schools; their solution is to offer “vouchers” and move the kids. Argh…don’t get me started (too late…)

Education should be the magic bullet. Teachers should be making $100,000, not $44,000 a year so we can attract the best and the brightest. Schools should be gleaming palaces with computers in every classroom and libraries and science labs to rival the best universities. We are asking a system that is fifty years behind to teach our children to embrace the future – it’s like going to the moon in the Spirit of St. Louis.