Sunday, November 11, 2007

Why Jonathan Kozol hasn't given up on education

Johnathon Briggs captured an interview with Jonathan Kozol about education in the Perspective section of the Tribune today. I read Kozol's book, Shame of the Nation, last year and have recommended an online article by Kozol from Harpers Magazine entitled Still Separate, Still Unequal, which serves as a good condensed version of the book, to my Wheaton students and fellow BUILD participants.

This interview of Kozol was especially interesting to me because I really agree with him that we need to advocate for systemic change in our education system. Kozol says in the interview that No Child Left Behind has driven away "superbly educated, high-spirited teachers" who leave, not because of the kids, but because of the "absolute decapitation of potential in children that is the unintended consequence of an agenda that strips down the curriculum in order to teach only isolated skills that will appear on an exam."

About charter schools he says, "Despite their claims that their schools are not selective in the students they enroll, the kids whose parents even hear about these schools and whose parents know how to navigate the application process are inherently self-selective."

I know of parents in Chicago who start when their kids are two and three to research the system and to position their children to be accepted into the best schools. The children of uneducated parents or those who have recently immigrated to this country are left behind in increasingly disfuntional schools.

Kozol's suggestions...
  • Give standardized exams less often and rely instead on diagnostic tests.
  • Require that states certify that class size in an urban district is at the same level as the size in an affluent suburban district and that every child receive the same years of preschool education before a standardized exam is used.
  • Amend the transfer provision to require that states facilitate the right to transfer across district lines to enable the parents of inner-city children who are in chronically failing schools to place ther children in high-performing and better-funded public schools.
  • Get rid of the property tax almost entirely as the basis of school funding or pool the property taxes into a common pool and distribute those funds equitably to every single child in the state.
Kozol doesn't lose heart about education because "there are far more marvelous teachers in these urban schools than you would ever guess if you listen to the politicians who condemn them... The high morale of our teachers is our most precious asset. If they lose their delight in being with the children, they won't stay, and we'll lose everything."


thaberean said...

I agree w. much of Kozol's analysis myself. But I disagree w. his total denunciation of No Child and standardized tests. Not holding my breath on states (or even cities) letting children transfer across district lines to give more choice to children in districts w. poorer schools - just not the American way (sorry for the sarcasm).

Arloa Sutter said...

You are one of those "marvelous" educators Kozol is talking about Joyce. Thanks for hanging out on my blog!

Westy said...

I agree with ThaBerean. Standardized tests can't be eliminated. It seems 'diagnostic' tests would be even more open to 'gaming'. As much as everyone knows that the SAT and ACT are standardized tests that are essential for college, and they therefore attempt to prepare for them, the averages have pretty much stayed the same. I think tests tend to be a fairly good analysis of where kids are at.

That said, most of his suggestions are good ideas. The biggest thing to me is the last one. Fix the funding, equalize it across districts, and let's see what happens.