What does it mean to say School is not doing will
Item #3: Wellargued Response: Choose one of the articles from 418 White Hall and compose a 5‐10 page scholarly response to the article. Respond to the article from the perspective of your envisioned doctoral study specialty and/or emphasis. Be sure to provide sufficient literature and experiential support for your main points. When you reference others’ works, be sure to follow the guidelines from the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition).
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Your essay presents a clearly defined thesis/position statement.
Your essay articulates a convincing rationale as to why the position statement
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Your essay is informed by relevant theory and research.
Your essay provides a clear argument in support of your position.
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logical & coherent argument.
DRIVEN BY DISCONTENT WITH rm: PERFORMANCE or OUR SCHOOLS, we are, once again,
in the midst of education reform, as we were in 1983 with A Nation at Risk, in 1987 with
America 2000, and a few years later with Goals 2000. Each of these reform efforts was in-
tended to rationalize the practice and performance of our schools. Each was designed to
work out and install a system of measurable goals and evaluation practices that would en-
sure that our nation would be first in science and mathematics by the year 2000, that all
our children would come to school ready to learn, and that each school would be drug-
free, safe, and nonviolent.‘
The formulation of standards and the measurement of performance were intended to
tidy up a messy system and to make teachers and school administrators truly accountable.
The aim was then, and is today, to systematize and standardize so that the public will know
which schools are performing well and which are not. There were to be then, and there are
today, payments and penalties for performance.
H – America is one of the few nations in which responsibility for schools is not under the
aegis of a national ministry of education. Although we have a federal agency, the US.
Department of Education, the 1oth Amendment to the US. Constitution indicates that
those responsibilities that the Constitution does not assign explicitly to the federal govern- ‘ ‘ I
ment belong to the states (or to the people). And since the Constitution makes no mention
of education, it is a responsibility of the states.
As a result, we have 50 departments of education, one for each state, overseeing some
16,000 school districts that serve 52 million students in more than 100,000 schools. In ad-
dition, each school district has latitude for shaping education policy. Given the complexity
of the way education is organized in the U.S., it is understandable that from one perspec- l
tive the view looks pretty messy and not altogether rational. Furthermore, more than a few
believe that we have a national problem in American education and that national problems
Reprinted by permission of Phi Delta Kappa International, From Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 82, No. 5,
2001, pp 367-372.
298 ELLIOT w. EISNER
require national solutions. The use of highly rationalized procedures for improving I
schools is a part of the solution.
1 V I mention the concept of rationalization because I am trying to describe the ethos being
created in our schools. I am trying to reveal a world view that shapes our conCeption of ed.
E.- ucation and the direction we take for making our schools better.
Rationalization as a concept has a number of features. First, it depends on a clear speci-
fication of intended outcomes.2 That is what standards and rubrics are supposed to do. We
are supposed to know what the outcomes of educational practice are to be, and rubrics are
to exemplify those outcomes. Standards are more general statements intended to proclaim
our values. One argument for the use of standards and rubrics is that they are necessary if
we are to function rationally. As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you’re headed,
you will not know where you have arrived. In fact, it’s more than knOWing Where you’re
headed; it’s also knowing the precise destination. Thus the specification of intended out- i i
comes has become one of the primary practices in the process of rationalizing school re- p in
form efforts. Holding people accountable for the results is another.
Second, rationalization typically uses measurement as a means through which the qual-
ity of a product or performance is assessed and represented. Measurement, of course, is
one way to describe the world. Measurement has to do with determining matters of magni-
tude, and it deals with matters of magnitude through the specification of units. In the
United States, the unit for weight is pounds. In Sweden or the Netherlands, it is kilograms.
It’s kilometers in Europe; it’s miles in the United States. It really doesn’t matter what unit
l; you use, as long as everyone agrees what the unit is.3
Quantification is believed to be a way to increase objectivity, secure rigor, and advance
precision in assessment. For describing some features of the world, including the educa- If
tional world, it is indispensable. But it is not good for everything, and the limitations of
l quantification are increasingly being recognized. For example, although initial discussions
about standards emphasized the need for them to be measurable, as standards have become
increasingly general and ideological, measurability has become less salient.
if Third, the rationalization of practice is predicated on the ability to control and predict.
We assume that we can know the specific effects of our interventions, an assumption that
Fourth, rationalization downplays interactions. Interactions take into account not sim-
ply the conditions that are to be introduced in classrooms or schools but also the kinds of
personal qualities, expectations, orientations, ideas, and temperaments that interact with
those conditions. Philosophical constructivists have pointed out that what something
i; I means comes both from the features of the phenomenon to be addressed and from the way
those features are interpreted or experienced by individuals.4 Such idiosyncratic consider-
ations always complicate assessment. They complicate efforts to rationalize education as 3
3 well. Prediction is not easy when what the outcome is going to be is a function not only of
i what is introduced in the situation but also of what a student makes of what has been in-
if ~ troduced.
l Fifth, rationalization promotes comparison, and comparison requires what is called
“commensurability.” Commensurability is possible only if you know what the programs
g were in which the youngsters participated in the schools being compared. lf youngsters are
in schools that have different curricula or that allocate differing amounts of time to differ-
ent areas of the curriculum, comparing the outcomes of those schools without taking into
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO SAY A SCHOOL 18 DOING WELL? 299
account their differences is extremely questionable. Making comparisons between the
f: math performance Of youngsters in Japan and those in the United States Without taking
into account cultural differences, different allocations of time for instruction, or different
approaches to teaching makes it impossible to account for differences in student perfor-
mance or to consider the side effects or opportunity costs associated with different pro-
grams in different cultures. The same principle holds in comparing student performance
across school districts in the U.S.
Sixth, rationalization relies upon extrinsic incentives to motivate action; that’s what 4
vouchers are intended to do. Schools are likened to businesses, and the survival of the
fittest is the principle that determines which ones survive. If schools don’t produce effec-
5 ‘ tive results on tests, they go out of business.
In California and in some other parts of the country, principals and superintendents
are often paid a bonus if their students perform well on standardized tests: payment by re-
sults. And, of course, such a reward system has consequences for a school’s priorities. Are
i test scores the criteria that we want to use to reward professional performance?
5 The features that I have just described are a legacy of the Enlightenment. We believe our
rational abilities can be used to discover the regularities of the universe and, once we’ve
found them, to implement, as my colleague David Tyack titled his book, “the one best sys-
tern.”5 We have a faith in our ability to discover what the U.S. Department of Education
‘1. once described as “what works.” The result is an approach to reform that leaves little room
for surprise, for imagination, for improvisation, or for the cultivation of productive idio-
3? syncrasy. Our reform efforts are closer in spirit to the ideas of René Descartes and August
Compte than to those of William Blake. They are efforts that use league tables to compare
schools and that regard test scores as valid proxies for the quality of education our children
receive.6 And they constitute an approach to reform that has given us three major educaa
‘i tionally feckless reform efforts in the past 20 years. Are we going to have another?
What are the consequences of the approach to reform that we have taken and what
should we pay attention to in order to tell when a school is doing well? First, one of the
consequences of our approach to reform is that the curriculum gets narrowed as school
district policies make it clear that what is to be tested is what is to be taught. Tests come to
I define our priorities. And now we have legitimated those priorities by talking about “core
i subjects.” The introduction of the concept of core subjects explicitly marginalizes subjects
that are not part of the core. One of the areas that we marginalize is the arts, an area that
when well taught offers substantial benefits to students. Our idea of core subjects is related
i to our assessment practices and the tests we use to determine whether or not schools are is
i ‘ doing well.
Because those of us in education take test scores seriously, the public is reinforced in its
view that test scores are good proxies for the quality of education a school provides. Yet
what test scores predict best are other test scores. If we are going to use proxies that have
predictive validity, we need proxies that predict performances that matter outside the con- A
text of school. The function of schooling is not to enable students to do better in school.
The function of schooling is to enable students to do better in life. What students learn in
school ought to exceed in relevance the limits of the school’s program.
As we focus on standards, rubrics, and measurement, the deeper problems of schooling
go unattended. What are some of the deeper problems of schooling? One has to do with
the quality of conversation in classrooms.
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