Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Summer Reading Suggestion

Many teachers choose to participate in a book study (or several) during their summers "off."  I've come across some wonderful titles that have caught my eye, but would also encourage colleagues to read through each and every Brown Center Report on American Education, first published in 2000.

The Brown Center Report each year analyzes the state of American education using the latest measures of student learning, uncovers and explains important trends in achievement test scores, and identifies and evaluates promising educational reforms. 

These reports were written " report on the direction of achievement in U.S. public schools, that is, to determine whether it's going up, down, or sideways; to figure out whether any change that is detected is big, small, or insignificant; to dig under the numbers and uncover the policies and practices influencing the direction of student achievement; and, finally, to figure out whether the public is getting the full story on student learning. Americans spend $350 billion each year on elementary and secondary education. They deserve an accurate, non-partisan, no-holds-barred, data-driven account of what they're getting for their money."  (Director: Tom Loveless)

New-to-service teachers can catch up on the recent history (and the reasons behind it) of public education, which may enlighten them as to why their veteran colleagues either keep their noses to the grindstone (often wearing blinders) or appear rabidly up-in-arms over "every little thing."  Veteran teachers may appreciate the clarifications as well as the acknowledgement of many of the realities of education that we know to be true, but oh yes... it's likely you'll still be up-in-arms.

Start with the 2000 report.  It helpfully describes the NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (there are two versions, both generating different results), which is referenced in all of the reports.  Each volume of the report covers multiple years, for instance Volume 1 is covered in the reports for 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004.  Volume 2 begins with 2006, and ends with the 2010 issue.  Volume 3 begins with 2012, and is summarized by Tom Loveless thus:

The Brown Center Reports analyze and summarize test scores, trends, policies and teaching practices in public education, and encourage the reader to avoid knee-jerk reactions to their findings as "correlations do not prove causality."  The reports identify biases, and acknowledge when there isn't enough data to draw accurate conclusions.  The reports never express a battle cry nor do they try to sell the reader a product.

This is big-picture data, and the reports explain how it is manipulated, misrepresented, and often misunderstood by the decision-makers who steer policy.  Teachers often suspect the blind are leading the blind, but administrators, teachers and parents might want to rethink willingly closing their eyes.  "Knowledge is power."  Imagine what the right knowledge could be.

The link at the beginning of this post will take you to the Brookings site where all of the reports can be found.  Each report can be downloaded (pdf), linked to the right of each year's summary.  The reports are over twenty pages long each, but they are written in layman's terms.  Educators and parents shouldn't have to work hard to understand them.

If they do, we're already in big trouble. 

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