Dallas Black Blog

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The Unprinted Letter About Changes in U.S. Education

Posted by DallasBlackBlog on Saturday, September 8, 2007

A letter from Richard Pring that the New York Times did not print:

Editor
New York Times Dear Editor,

I have read with interest the report of Sir Michael Barber’s address to New York Principals on the lessons to be learned from Britain on how to improve schools. (NYT 15 Aug. 07) However, may I along with so many in England who have seen the consequences of the innovations led by Sir Michael, urge caution. Not everyone agrees with his analysis, and indeed the £1 million Nuffield Review of 14-19 Education and Training in for England and Wales, which I lead, is not, in the light of evidence, presenting such a rosy picture.

It is not surprising that Sir Michael, having been Director of Standards and Effectiveness at the Department of Education and Skills and then head of delivery in the Prime Minister’s Office at No. 10, should have finally moved to McKinsey’s, which believes that what is real can be measured and what can be measured can be controlled. In the last few years, England has created the most tested school population in the world from age 5 to age 18. School improvement lies in scoring even higher in the national tests, irrespective of whether these tests bear any relation to the quality of learning, and schools which see the poverty of the testing regimesuffer the penalty of going down the very public league tables.

The results of the ‘high stakes testing’ are that teachers increasingly teach to the test, young people are disillusioned and disengaged, higher education complains that those matriculating (despite higher scores) are ill prepared for university studies, and intelligent and creative teachers increasingly feel dissatisfied with their professional work. I believe it is no coincidence that, according to the recent UNICEF Report, children in England are at the bottom of the league of rich countries in terms of happiness and feelings of well-being, or that England now criminalises 230,000 children between 11 and 17 each year (the highest in absolute and relative terms in the whole of Europe), or that nearly 10% of 16-18 year olds belong to the Not in Education, Training and Employment group, despite the massive investment in that group over the last ten years. And why should one expect anything else as most of their day light hours consists of preparing for tests, totally disconnected from their interests and concerns, present or future?

The Nuffield Review is starting from the basic question, never asked by Government during Sir Michael’s turn in high office, namely, ‘What counts as an educated 19 year old in this day and age?’. The answers which we are receiving from teachers, universities, employers and the community would point to a system very different from the one which Sir Michael nurtured and is now selling to the United States.

Yours sincerely

Professor Richard Pring Lead Director, Nuffield Review of 14-19 Education and Training for England and Wales Former Director: Oxford University Department of Education Studies

— Diane Ravitch
Huffington Post
2007-09-04

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