What Online Learning Resources Do Most Us Schools Use

We asked parents of college-bound seniors what online resources are their students and their colleges using most often.

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In July 2017, Diane Ravitch wrote a New York Times op-ed, The Public School in Crisis, pointing out the major gaps in public education: nearsighted test scores, low and rapidly declining enrollment, rampant poverty, and ultimately, failing public schools. Ravitch, a widely-respected education policy consultant, was joined by popular Harvard public policy professor Bill Thomas, who called for more rigorous standards and less reliance on standardized testing. Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan concurred, lamenting that tests don’t measure the great work going on in the schools, with regard to robotics, for example. Thomas, after all, co-wrote a book arguing that the same anti-stereotyping rhetoric that supposedly built America’s pre-web eerily foreshadowed our abject failure of screens as a learning medium: the pro-textbook bias of President Dwight Eisenhower’s America of 1955. As Thomas noted, pre-internet education had dramatic direct effects: It removed “the high school conflicts and gangs and arguments, and it was the beginning of our work-life balance and rising productivity.”

And most of us feel that way. In short, public education is not working.

Thomas’ op-ed was part of the growing chorus, most significantly outlined in Nefarious Testing, A Primer for Educators, by UW professor Brendan B. Reilly. But the Trump administration and Betsy DeVos are entering 2019 not yielding ground, merely antagonizing and redoubling our efforts.

In 2018, 45 million U.S. children were enrolled in public schools. Roughly half of those are Hispanic or African American, a population in which rates of illiteracy and related disabilities are alarmingly high, as are students in low-income families. More and more, state leaders are proposing and implementing precisely the kind of punitive strategies that speak so condescendingly to the needs of these students. They’re not short on ideas: They’re long on them. In 2006, Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry launched the Common Core standards, a framework of inclusive state English and math standards for basic grade-level mastery. His Republican-controlled state legislature adopted the standards and gave his education chancellor a blunt directive: Keep the money, keep the legislators.

The allure of these standards has been touted as both affordable (they were approved by governors at a cost of $200 million per state) and educational (they came with substantial resources in the form of $4,000 federal grants). Cost and benefits aside, one wonders: Are the students actually benefited by these tests? Have they met the goals the tests dictate? And how do they measure those goals?

Unsurprisingly, state funding goes down with the adoption of the standards. Local districts feel the hit, and so do teachers. Teachers create lessons around these new standards, but the test produces benchmarks—circumscribed standards that cannot be adapted to specific teachers, material, or students.

The Common Core became controversial because it was backed by some influential conservatives. Vocal opponents include the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and GOP members of Congress. Instead of identifying best practices, the standards are a move-the-world-forward exercise that is no different than previous attempts at reform. The very progress of the widespread adoption of science, technology, engineering, and math standards has turned into a PR fiasco.

How was it achieved? Most state-level testing, of course, is biased toward the kinds of scores that state policymakers desire. The Obama administration, in its effort to promote quality public education, had required that states invest in reforms, including testing standards. The results were startling, says Ezra Klein of Vox. “States that spent more than 10 percent of their budget on education—the share spent on testing—had one-third fewer kids meeting those education benchmarks.” Michigan spent the greatest proportion of its funding on testing, over $80 million a year; South Carolina spent the least ($16 million). Which state had the greatest progress? Utah—$42 million of a $73 million yearly investment—had 87 percent more students meeting state standards.

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