US professor tells of high stakes in New York schools

Professor David Hursh from the University of Rochester shared a cautionary tale of how seemingly minor reforms have threatened the future of public education in New York. 

“That may sound like an exaggeration,” he said in a public lecture at Victoria University on Thursday 13 February. “But current events have exceeded my worst fears.”

He said that the corporations, institutions, and individuals who stand to benefit from education privatisation were behind the current US reform agenda which assesses students, teachers and schools through standardised tests.

The push was to create publically funded, privately operated charter schools which attract more able students and funding away from public schools.

This would lead to public schools increasingly burdened with educating students charter schools do not want – those who live in poverty or who have disabilities. Remaining public schools would be in a downward spiral with a higher percentage of students requiring more services and decreasing funding.

“As the results of standardised tests become high stakes, the emphasis on them and potential for cheating increases,” Professor Hursh said. “We have numerous examples of cheating on tests where the superintendent ordered teachers to come in on weekends so they could together erase the pencil marks in the wrong bubbles and fill in the correct ones."

“That schools might be taken over by the state Department of Education seems both possible and frightening when we recently learnt that the Commissioner of Education has for the last three years hired twenty three secret advisors with expertise primarily in testing, to advise him on education policies,” he said.  

Advisors are funded by philanthropic foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a foundation set up by the Chancellor herself.  Bill Gates through his gifts and education projects has a greater effect on education policy than anyone else.

But resistance to standardised testing in New York is growing.

According to Professor Hursh, 700 people attended a public meeting and several hundred voiced their displeasure with the Commissioner and Chancellor in response to the rushed implementation of the Common Core curriculum and test last year. His message to parents, students and teachers who are realising that public education is at risk: “Be organised and work together to keep our public schools public. I hope it is not too late.” 

About the speaker

David Hursh is a Professor of Teaching and Curriculum. David’s teaching and research aims to improve education by analysing current educational policies and practices and engaging in projects to transform schooling. His current educational reform projects focus on education for environmental sustainability and teaching history to young children (through two Teaching American History grants). He also problematises his own and others' reform efforts in the context of broader social policies that situate schooling within neoliberal government policies emphasising free markets, privatisation, and quantitative accountability.

Most of his research and publications focus on the rise and consequences of neoliberal policies in education. His article, “Raising the Stakes: High-stakes Testing and the Attack on Public Education in New York,” was published digitally in the Journal of Education Policy. Two other recently published analyses include “Analyzing Education Policy During Neoliberal Times” in the journal Educational Studies and an essay review of two books:Globalizing Education Policy, by Fazal Rizvi and Bob Lingard, andCosmopolitanism and the Geographies of Freedom, by David Harvey.

He is one of five members of the international reference group for the Research, Analysis, and Insight into National Standards (RAINS) project at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. This four-year project is examining the impact national standards has on teaching and curriculum in New Zealand’s Schools.

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