This week both Diane Ravitch and Randi Weingarten offer tepid defenses over at The Education Gadfly.
Let's take Ravitch's defense first:
I care as much about academic achievement as Checker or anyone else in the world, but I don't see any contradiction between caring about academic achievement and caring about children's health and well-being.The issue isn't about who cares about children's health and well-being. The issue is whether public schools, who are by and large failing at their primary task of education, should take on the additional responsibilities of caring about children's health and well-being. You could care very much about the health and well-being of children and NOT think it's a good idea to hand these services over to our public schools.
The argument seems to be that since children attend school every day (cough, cough) that social services could be easily provided at school. Then why not hand over these responsibilities to the post office. After all, they make house calls six days a week regardless of the rain, snow, heat, or gloom of night. They could give the kids a quick vision screen and drop off any drug prescriptions.
Will it help or harm children's academic achievement--most especially children who are living in poverty--if they have access to good pre-K programs?
The extant evidence suggests that pre-k programs will have no or a negligible effect on academic performance. The yoke is on you to show that there will not only be an educationally significant effect on academic achievement but also that the benefit will persist when the public schools do the provisioning.
Will it help or harm children's academic achievement--most especially the neediest children--if they have access to good medical care, with dental treatment, vision screening, and the like? Will it help or harm children's academic achievement--the children whose lives are blighted by the burdens of poverty--to have access to high-quality after-school programs?
The evidence here is even more scant. I know these community service schools exist, so where is the evidence that they are raising academic achievement. Show me the money.
So, I explain my dissent briefly: One, what we are doing now--the standards & assessments & accountability strategy alone--bears little or no resemblance to genuine academic excellence.
But this doesn't mean that the Broader, Bolder way will be any improvement.
And two, children who come to school hungry and ill cannot learn no matter how often they are tested.
Last I checked, schools offer free and reduced price lunches to practically the entire left side of the socio-economic curve. If these kids are still hungry what makes you think that expanding these current programs will solve the problem, to the extent that there even is one. Again, where is the data?
And three, a good education must include attention not only to academics but to children's character, civic development, physical education, and physical health.
Schools are attempting to do most of this stuff already. Where is the evidence that it is working? Where is the evidence that providing more will bring about improvement?
All we seem to have is rhetoric. Show me the data.
Let's move on to Weingarten.
I'm stating the obvious when I say that No Child Left Behind's testing regime has left little time for these kinds of in-class activities.
By "the obvious," Weingarten appears to mean "with little evidentiary support."
What evidence we go have suggests that only about 16% of schools have reduced art and music time at all. And those that did reduce time in these areas only reduced time by less than an hour a week. Perhaps these schools were neglecting math and reading pre-NCLB. Do you know? No, you don't.
But teachers alone can't get kids all the way to proficiency, when disadvantaged children typically enter school already three years and 30 million words behind.
I hate throwing this word around, but this statement is a lie. The big lie, so to speak. Schools can substantially reduce all of the achievement gap that exists between low-SES and middle-class schools. We've known this for over thirty years now. The experiment has been replicated many times, most recently in Baltimore. Up to the fifth grade level as well.
[M]y message was twofold: first, let's put in place a federal education program that, unlike NCLB, provides space and opportunity for children to be taught a rich, well-rounded curriculum, with standards and accountability that support rather than undermine that curriculum; and second, let's--at the same time--try to address the outside factors like nutrition and health care that affect a child's ability to reach her full educational potential. And yes, I said that we also should try to help parents so they can better support their children's learning.
In Project Follow Through, comprehensive medical, dental, nutritional, and social services were provided to all of the thousands of students taking part in the experiment so these factors would not confound the results. Most of the interventions failed to achieve any student gains at all despite the provisioning of all these services. Many interventions performed below the performance of the control groups. Ooops.
The causal link has not been established. Repeating the rhetoric ad nauseum is not a substitute for data.
Ravitch knows better. Weingarten probably does as well, but there is self-interest at play.
I'll ask one more time. Show us the data. We're waiting.