Date: Aug 31, 2000 1:40 PM
Author: Jerry P. Becker
Subject: PART III: National Summit: What Wasn't Said

From Rethinking Schools, Winter, 1999/2000, Volume 14, Number 2, p. 9.
National Summit: What Wasn't Said.

By Barbara Miner

There was a certain internal logic to the summit's discussions: our
schools are failing because we don't have high standards. Therefore
we must set high standards, hold students, teachers and schools
accountable for meeting those standards, and provide consequences and

But when one looks at what the summit didn't discuss, it's seamless
logic begins to unravel. (Similarly, a number of the summit's
assumptions don't hold up.)

Non-subjects at the conference were legion. To name just a few:
multiculturalism, funding equity, equal educational opportunity,
special education, the highly segregated nature of U.S. schooling,
the need for increased access to both pre-school and higher education
for all students, and the devastating consequences of child poverty -
which hovers around 20% in the United States. In other industrial
countries, especially when equitable tax and income transfer policies
are included, the child poverty rate in 1995 ranged from 9.3% in
Canada to 2.8% in Germany and 1.6% in Sweden.

Nor did anyone mention the Kansas Board of Education's decision this
August to strike evolution and the Big Bang Theory from the state's
standards, in deference to religious fundamentalists who believe such
concepts are at odds with the Bible. The evolution decision undercuts
the guiding principal of biology, while the Big Bang Theory decision
eliminates the central concept in modern astronomy and cosmology. For
all their bluster and "guts" and "political will," the governors and
corporate leaders appear unwilling to take on the religious right's
attempt to gut science standards.

Of the many issues not discussed at the summit, three stand out.

--- Equating standards with high-stakes tests. None of the public
discussions at the conference addressed this central dilemma: Can a
single test ever adequately measure a child's educational
performance? If not, aren't high-stakes tests inherently flawed? And
if they are inherently flawed, why is the summit relying on them to
measure accountability and learning?

A look at Wisconsin, where summit co-chair Tommy Thompson is
governor, illustrates how conference participants consistently
blurred the distinction between standards and high-stakes tests.

One of the summit's themes was concern over what was called the
"push-back" movement - in other words, opposition from parents that
is "pushing back" the move toward higher standards. In one of the
public sessions, Thompson held his head in his hands, as if in pain,
and described how the opposition from parents had been "brutal."

But nowhere in Wisconsin has there been opposition to higher
standards. Instead, the opposition centered on the governor's
attempts to institute a single high-stakes graduation test for all
Wisconsin students, prohibit any parent opt-out provision, and grant
or deny diplomas based only on that test. Due to the opposition,
which was largely based in affluent, Republican suburbs, Thompson was
forced to compromise. Under the state budget signed in mid-October,
the high school test will be one of several factors in determining
diplomas and the parent opt-out remains.

Throughout the summit, leaders viewed the problem with parental
opposition as primarily one of public relations. Rather than
addressing concerns about the use of high-stakes tests, conference
leaders instead called for a campaign to explain the importance of
accountability and standards - as if parents themselves don't share
that realization.

--- Failure to recognize the increasingly diverse nature of U.S.
schoolchildren. Most of the growth in the school-age populations in
the next 15 years will be among so-called minority students, in
particular Latinos and Asians. Yet there was not a single
representative of a Latino or Asian-American advocacy organization at
the conference.

The white non-Hispanic school-age populations is expected to decrease
by about 5% from 1990 to 2015, the Hispanic population is expected to
double, the Black population to increase by 21%, and the Asian
opoulation by 124% (based on sheer numbers, the increase in Hispanic
students dwarfs the other two.) None of the summit's public meetings
discussed how this may impact U.S. schools, whether in terms of
bilingual or English-as-a-second-language programs, or in terms of
the need for culturally sensitive teachers able to teach a diverse
student body. At a time of increasing diversity in U.S. schools, the
summit's emphasis was on standardization.

--- Failure to ask: what is the purpose of education? There has long
been a split on whether the main emphasis in education would be on
preparing students for work, which means concentrating on
work-related skills, or on preparing the child for "life," which not
only focuses on job skills but also encompasses issues such as
developing the entire child and acknowledging the civic purposes of
education. While it is not surprising that summit leaders took a
narrow "school to work" approach, it is nonetheless a setback that
such a powerful group showed such little concern with the broader
goals of education.
END OF PART III -- Part IV to follow
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244