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Credit Not Due?

Andrew Rotherham, who's more inclined than I to give Bush the benefit of the doubt on education issues, says I'm wrong and Bush's high school exit exam idea is "ill-considered." He makes some good points. I'm not so sure he's right that NCLB's exclusive focus on accountability for adults as opposed to accountability for students is such a virtue. I've been pretty intrigued by the notion of bribing/paying/rewarding students who do well in school since I first heard about it a few months ago. Not really sure about that stuff, though.

September 3, 2004 | Permalink


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Whatever happened to excelling at a task for the sake of getting it right and doing it well? I'm well paid for what I do, but were my check cut in half I'd still do my best because of pride in my work ethic. In school the thirst for knowledge and thrill of new discovery were their own motivators and reward to learn and get high marks. Will a child getting paid to do well in school need dollars dangled before them throughout later life for every task and challenge presented them?

Posted by: STEVE DUNCAN | Sep 3, 2004 10:36:51 AM

One of the problems with high-stakes testing is that teachers will teach to the test. That typically leads to deficiencies in areas that are not ON the test.

Posted by: raj | Sep 3, 2004 10:52:46 AM

You are debating how many angels can danc on the point of a neddle.

Until we decide as a nation to put enough resources into education these discussion are useless.

Democrats supported and helped pass the no child left behind legislation. But Bush followed up by not funding it sufficiently so it just ended up as a justification for another bureacracy so that states often have to spend more to implement it than they get.

Posted by: spencer | Sep 3, 2004 11:07:29 AM

Testing becomes something that we do in lieu of educating children, rather than in aid of it. The adminstration wants to be seen as doing something about education, but doesn't have any constructive ideas, so voila--another test!

Posted by: rea | Sep 3, 2004 11:12:15 AM

I'm no expert on this subject, but a lot of psychologists claim that when people are given a reward to do something that might otherwise be presented as intrinsically interesting, they learn to view that action as requiring a payment. When the prospects of payment vanish, they stop performing the behavior. Thus rewarding kids for reading and studying might easily backfire by implying that these are undesirable activities that one does only for external rewards. This pdf, while hardly profound, lists some of the best-known studies.

Posted by: Peter Levine | Sep 3, 2004 11:16:16 AM

BTW--does anyone seriously think Bush himself could pass a math/science high school exit exam?

Posted by: Molly, NYC | Sep 3, 2004 11:22:52 AM

I've been pretty intrigued by the notion of bribing/paying/rewarding students who do well in school since I first heard about it a few months ago.

We have a system to do that already. Consider: merit-based scholarships, jobs, etc.

Posted by: cmdicely | Sep 3, 2004 11:31:41 AM

Testing is a blunt instrument and should be used for what it can do and not for what it can't. Purporting to measure the adequacy of a student's comprehension of American history with a statewide test is hubris. Giving kids diplomas if they cannot pass a basic reading and arithmetic test is child abuse.

Posted by: alkali | Sep 3, 2004 11:38:54 AM

Testing creates other problems that advocates usually pass over. For instance, many public and private schools in MA now employ full-time tutors just to help kids on exit exams. This costs money that could be better used pay for books, or god forbid marginally increase teachers' salaries.

It also diverts the task of educators from their primary mission. Instead of creating smart, well-prepared citizens, they make sure that the kids master test-taking techniques.

Testing is not a bad idea in the abstract. But it should never be the bedrock of education policy.

Posted by: JR | Sep 3, 2004 11:47:11 AM

The logical endpoint of a policy package like "no child left behind" is a more systematized and nationally consistent federal intervention in education. I haven't heard anyone reasonably explain why the majority of Republicans will support this obvious deviation from the traditional Republican position on education (to say nothing of the extremists of the base). For that reason, I can't regard these type of proposals as anything more than a smokescreen. This is another "compassionate conservative" political strategem (like federally funded health savings accounts for the poor? what exactly does that mean?) intended to assuage the discomfort of middle-of-the-road undecided voters who feel drawn to Bush but are put off by the extremism of the Republican party.

It works because no one seems to want to call him on it. Bush should immediately be asked two questions: 1) where is the money going to come from? 2) will a second Bush administration pressure Republican lawmakers to support increased federal spending and standard-setting for education, and how does this square with support for local control over schools, as mentioned in last night's speech?

Posted by: dave_tx | Sep 3, 2004 11:50:26 AM


I am 100% against high-stakes testing, for a variety of reasons.

#1. It creates an atmosphere of "teaching to the test", kids arn't taught enough logic skills as it is, in favour of easy regurgitation. Do you just want to make that even worse?

#2. Tests usually are more of a test of two things. A. How well you can take a test, and B. How well you can handle the stress. Especially on such a high-stakes test like this. Sure knowledge does come into play, but trust me, not even close to as much as you think.

#3. It creates an atmosphere where people hate the idea of education even more than they do now. They don't see it as rewarding in itself, they see it as something you do to pass a test. That's the last thing that's needed.

There are serious problems in education. NCLB doesn't even START to address them. In fact, it's completly unaware of the problems at all. This is something both Democrats and Republicans (and to be honest, everybody else running for office), is completly unaware of.

Changes that need to be made:

#1. Education needs to be taught as an overall skill, not as a series of subjects. In that, the level of education should be vastly raised, yet the difficulty of education should stay around the same.

In other words, up the difficulty of the content, but keep the relative difficulty of the tests around the same..

#2. Education funding NEEDS to be de-linked from property taxes. This creates a huge conflict of interest that frankly just kills the idea of education as a value.

#3. School is arranged around what the teacher's want, not what's best for the students. And before anybody says "Union!", that's not the case. It's tradition. Studies have shown that youth generally have a later internal clock than adults do. We start school at 9 (not counting any bus transit rides, which can REALLY add up), youth don't really wake up until 11 or so.

Put on top of that the absolute faith in homework, and what you have is a complete lack of balance. It's easy, and it's the conventional wisdom.

And it's flat out wrong and counter-productive. In other words, education shouldn't be seen to be work. Education should be seen as exciting and engaging.

Posted by: Karmakin | Sep 3, 2004 1:33:48 PM

PL: they learn to view that action as requiring a payment.

Good point;

I'm a graphic artist. I began with art as a hobby, a serious hobby, and took to the computer as the digital press revolution took off. I don't do artwork for enjoyment any more, and it is one of the great losses in my life...I no longer have something that gave me great joy.

Financial rewards, while pleasant, are not a path to happiness, or fulfillment. Helps buy dinner though...

Posted by: garth | Sep 3, 2004 1:37:55 PM

OT, but given all the attacks MY received from conservatives for questioning Schwarzeneggar's memories of his Austrian childhood, I thought this would be appropriate to post here.


Schwarzenegger criticized for Austrian history gaffes

VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- Austrian historians are ridiculing California
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for telling the Republican National
Convention that he saw Soviet tanks in his homeland as a child and left
a "Socialist" country when he moved away in 1968.

Recalling that the Soviets once occupied part of Austria in the
aftermath of World War II, Schwarzenegger told the convention on
Tuesday: "I saw tanks in the streets. I saw communism with my own eyes."

No way, historians say, challenging Schwarzenegger's knowledge of
postwar history -- if not his enduring popularity among Austrians who
admire him for rising from a penniless immigrant to the highest official
in America's most populous state.

"It's a fact -- as a child he could not have seen a Soviet tank in
Styria," the southeastern province where Schwarzenegger was born and
raised, historian Stefan Karner told the Vienna newspaper Kurier.

Schwarzenegger, now a naturalized U.S. citizen, was born on July 30,
1947, when Styria and the neighboring province of Carinthia belonged to
the British zone. At the time, postwar Austria was occupied by the four
wartime allies, which also included the United States, the Soviet Union
and France.

The Soviets already had left Styria in July 1945, less than three months
after the end of the war, Karner noted.

"Let me tell you this: As a boy, I lived for many years across the
street from where the Russians were based in Vienna -- and honestly, I
never saw a Russian tank there," retiree Franz Nitsch said Friday. "He
said it all on purpose -- and that's bad."

In his convention address, Schwarzenegger also said: "As a kid, I saw
the Socialist country that Austria became after the Soviets left" in
1955 and Austria regained its independence.

But Martin Polaschek, a law history scholar and vice rector of Graz
University, told Kurier that Austria was governed by coalition
governments, including the conservative People's Party and the Social
Democratic Party. Between 1945 and 1970, all the nation's chancellors
were conservatives -- not Socialists.

What's more, when Schwarzenegger left in 1968, Austria was run by a
conservative government headed by People's Party Chancellor Josef Klaus,
a staunch Roman Catholic and a sharp critic of both the Socialists as
well as the Communists ruling in countries across the Iron Curtain.

Schwarzenegger "confuses a free country with a Socialist one," said
Polaschek, referring to East European Communist officials' routine
descriptions of their countries as Socialist.

Polaschek saw the moderate Republican governor's recollections at the
convention as a tactical move. Schwarzenegger, he said, was "using the
old Communist enemy image for Bush's election campaign."

"He did not speak as a historian, after all, but as a politician,"
Polaschek said.

Norbert Darabos, a ranking official of Austria's opposition Social
Democratic Party, sharply criticized Schwarzenegger's "disdain for his
former homeland."

"The Terminator is constructing a rather bizarre Austria image," he

But many ordinary Austrians seemed to be in a forgiving mood Friday over
the gaffes.

"Maybe he has a wrong recollection -- it's so many years since he left,"
said Wilma Fadrany, 32, a Vienna waitress.

"There must be political reasons for such comments," she said. "You've
got to tell the (convention delegates) what they want to hear in order
to win them over. Politicians always talk the way it fits into their

Posted by: Jack | Sep 3, 2004 2:22:53 PM

As a college educator, however. I am all too aware of the grade inflation that goes on, presumably in high school as well as in college. And I think that people (admission's commities at the undergraduate and graduate level) do trust standardize tests more than traditional grades because more often than not, grades are near meaningless. No Child Left Behind does not work, not because of the idea of testing, but because it was designed not to improve schools, but to point out the failures that already exist.

Finally, perhaps someone with experience with the education systems in other countries can tell us a little about high stakes testing in other countries. It is my, perhaps misinformed, understanding that children in British and German schools take high stakes standardized exams throughout their schooling years.

Posted by: catfish | Sep 3, 2004 2:30:03 PM

Jack, OT posts are dead wrong, and should never paste an entire article into the thread. "OT, but this is a link" is bad enough, but at least it can be more easily ignored.

Honestly, I have little problem with "high stakes" testing. If, by the time you're a senior in high school, you can't pass a test on the basics of math and reading, then you shouldn't get a high school diploma. Public education may be an entitlement, but a diploma is not.

Such a testing regime might not be ideal, but it will result in a better education than we have now for the students that are being shafted by the system. The advantage of "teaching to the test" is that bad teachers are prevented from harming their students are forced to impart information to them. It's what computer programmers call a "hack," but it does the job.

Posted by: Constantine | Sep 3, 2004 2:41:21 PM

I've thought that NCLB was a bad idea since its inception. After a year working in an economically disadvantaged middle school in Texas, that belief is more firmly grounded than ever.

Still, I have one nit-pick in regard to your post. Why is it bad to reward kids who do well in school? I think that should be a primary goal.

Posted by: Amber | Sep 3, 2004 3:39:14 PM

Amber, exactly right in both respects.

I've been pretty intrigued by the notion of bribing/paying/rewarding students who do well in school since I first heard about it a few months ago.
"We have a system to do that already. Consider: merit-based scholarships, jobs, etc."

-cmdicely, I did very well all throughout school. And let me tell you, when I finished 3rd grade with a 99 average, I didn't get any job offers, didn't get any scholarships, and basically didn't get anything extrinsic out of it at all (and good grades certainly didn't get me a pep rally in middle school like the sports teams, let alone popularity or money or anything else - most kids thought i was nuts to do the homework). I did more than pass, yay, good job me. Big effin deal. A scholarship 10 years down the road and maybe a job 20 years down the road if you keep it up without any rewards until then are crap for motivating kids. If we want to take education seriously, we've got to take the kids (and the teachers, and education funding) seriously.

Posted by: hmm | Sep 3, 2004 3:54:30 PM

Good question Amber. Not only is there nothing wrong with rewarding good behavior, there is everything right about it.

Anyone familiar with children, behavior, and development will tell you that rewarding positive behaviors is the best way to influence a kid. Certainly, each kid will respond to her/his own set of favorite rewards (praise, privilages, grades, or cold hard cash) but it makes sense to figure out what will work for each kid and then use it.

Posted by: Andrew | Sep 3, 2004 4:02:46 PM

Hmm:That's mainly because too much emphasis...WAY too much emphasis is placed on those tests. Yet at the same time, in the school hiarchy, they really mean nothing, after all, you're expected to do that well.

So you get the worst of both worlds. Me? I was in the same boat, my teacher decided that they needed to give me MORE homework in order to keep me interested.

Ya right.

That said, I relearned my love of learning several years later, in non-school related activites. I still hate academics with a passion however.

Posted by: Karmakin | Sep 3, 2004 5:24:30 PM

For good arguments against rewards in school, see Alfie Kohn's books. Sometimes, when kids are given external rewards they start to view learning as cheap, you know, like when you say "my job is boring but I need my paycheck."

The best argument against Bush's testing regime is that written tests (especially bubble-in ones) are not the best measure of learning and have not improved actual learning. I taught math for 3 years in Westbury, a Houston public high school under Rod Paige, under Bush, and teaching to the test dominated instruction & directions from our principals about what to teach. While Texas TAAS/TAKS (state test) results improved, results did not improve on other measures of learning, such as NAEP. So we can conclude that students were taught to that specific test but their general learning didn't improve. As with so many other topics, Bush claims success by using selective evidence.

Click my URL for thorough studies of testing.
Worth your reading, Matt.
And everyone else interested in education.

Posted by: JTP | Sep 4, 2004 9:58:10 AM

Of course the educational establishment is against testing. They have an ideal situation. They get paid no matter how lousy a job they do.

If public education were voucherized all the debates about testing would be moot. Parents who want to send their children to schools with real requirements and high standards could do so. Those who want to send their children to schools where children are taught self-expression and political correctness could do that. Let freedom ring.

As it is, public education has become a racket. Bloated bureaucracies and Neanderthal teachers' unions get ever more money for mediocre to poor results. This is true from K through graduate school. Like the Church in the Middle Ages, Big Educational has become a cesspool of corruption. It is time for a Reformation.

Posted by: Joe Willingham | Sep 5, 2004 12:19:15 AM

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