Prof critiques No Child Left Behind

In a country with middling educational rankings on a global scale, UH professor Gary Dworkin said that a decreased emphasis on standardized testing and higher accountability standards are necessary to improve national education in the wake of the controversial No Child Left Behind program.

The professor and co-author of the 1991 book “Giving Up on School: Student Dropouts and Teacher Burnouts” presented, in an appearance on Wednesday in the Philip Guthrie Hoffman Hall room 232, information reflecting the negative results of the 2001 educational reform initiative during his lecture titled “Some Unintended Consequences of the Standards-Based Reform Movement”.

“I think that educational reform is needed, but I don’t believe that No Child Left Behind is the answer as it’s implemented,” Dworkin said. “I think we need a national curriculum and national testing but we don’t want tests to be the only thing by which we evaluate children or schools. Struggling schools need more resources; they don’t need to be shut down.”

Dworkin cited a report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress identifying 36 percent of Texas 8th graders at below basic competency levels in science and 26 percent below basic competency in reading. Dworkin then showed survey information supporting the notion that floundering statistics and poor teaching practices have been exacerbated by programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

Dworkin said that the two educational reform initiatives impose “draconian punishments” upon under-performing campuses, which results in schools instead that try “gaming the system.”

“No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top assume that through threats and sanctions the school districts, campus administrators and teachers will work harder and help students raise their achievement scores through legitimate means,” Dworkin said. “However, in a hierarchy of distrust, schools focus on the appearance of desired outcomes and not necessarily their actual attainment.”

Dworkin listed encouragement of low-performing students to miss exams; “redshirting” high performing students to retake tests in following years; transferring low-performing students to a single school; and blatant cheating as techniques employed by school districts to produce positive achievement statistics.

Dworkin also described a Chicago inner-city school method of distributing a preliminary exam and excluding high-performing students from instruction as particularly egregious.

“What Chicago was doing to African-American kids was to take the best and brightest and handicap their chances of getting into college in order to raise the test scores,” Dworkin said.

In response to the Obama administration’s current education system overhaul and the revision of the No Child Left Behind statute, Dworkin said that the national education landscape is improving but still has a long way to go.

“I’m not terribly optimistic,” Dworkin said, “but I think (education is) getting better than it had been under the previous administration.”

Corporate communications junior Alyshia Dansby was one of about 20 in attendance and said she enjoyed hearing the professor’s perspective.

“The topic of minorities in public school has always been interesting to me, and it’s always interesting learning from different researchers and what they think,” Dansby said.

“He provided a lot of information about the topic itself and it gave me an idea of how minorities play a role in the education system.”

The lecture was the fourth of a series of presentations spanning throughout November titled “Race: Are We So Different?” The series is hosted by Janice Hutchinson and the Department of Comparative Cultural Studies and will have two more lectures tackling civil rights in the World War II era and discrimination in the gay community, planned for Wednesday and Nov. 30, respectively.

Dworkin has taught at UH since 1973 and was elected president of the Sociology of Education Research Committee of the International Sociological Association in 2010.

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