Flypaper

David Hoff reports that Senators Clinton and Obama are calling for new kinds of tests under No Child Left Behind. Obama has more steak to Hillary's sizzle on this one, saying in his education plan that he will support "funds for states to implement a broader range of assessments that can evaluate higher-order skills, including students' abilities to use technology, conduct research, engage in scientific investigation, solve problems, present and defend their ideas. These assessments will provide immediate feedback so that teachers can begin improving student learning right away."

In fact, that might be too much detail. How is an assessment going to measure all of those worthy attributes while also providing feedback to teachers immediately? This isn't just hope-mongering, it's decision-blurring. Either you can provide feedback quickly, but have to stick to easy-to-measure things like reading skills, or you can offer information about critical thinking and the rest, but have to wait for real people to score the tests. (Unless you're comfortable with this Third Way solution.) It's a multiple choice test, Senators, and you can only choose one answer....

 
 

As a college freshman in an introductory sociology class, I was assigned the book There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz. This story of two young boys trying to survive one of Chicago’s most impoverished and dangerous housing projects is absolutely heart wrenching.

I won’t forget the book’s emotional grip, but equally influential to my intellectual development was the policy and political backstory that explained how the boys’ toxic surroundings came to be.

Nearly two decades later, I’m still chastened by the book’s central lesson: A government policy developed by mostly-benevolent leaders hoping to improve the lives of the disadvantaged—in this case, by razing old, low-income, ostensibly decaying neighborhoods in favor of gigantic public-housing skyscrapers—did incalculable harm to those it was designed to help.

This has been on my mind in recent weeks, as the national school-closure conversation has flared. Much of that conversation is familiar, but one assertion made by critics, namely that school closures destabilize entire neighborhoods, raises a question that hasn’t been discussed nearly enough. And though some might wave it away as irrelevant or worse, the lessons of the Kotlowitz book force me to take it seriously:

Can a bad school be good for...

 
 

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