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Paperback Contradictions of School Reform: Educational Costs of Standardized Testing Book

ISBN: 0415920744

ISBN13: 9780415920742

Contradictions of School Reform: Educational Costs of Standardized Testing

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Book Overview

Parents and community activists around the country complain that the education system is failing our children. They point to students' failure to master basic skills, even as standardized testing is widely employed in efforts to improve the educational system. Contradictions of Reform is a provocative look into the reality, for students as well as teachers, of standardized testing. A detailed account of how student improvement and teacher effectiveness...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings


It is quite a compelling story Ms. McNeil tells, one of how education can be perfected, then brought to its knees by ignorant bureaucrats. Most are familiar with the costs of standardization, but hearing it on such a personal level is a reminder that these are real people, educators and students with a passion to teach and learn, that are affected by them. I grew up with the TAAS test, so standardization is synonymous with school for me, and I fear that too many students like myself have this truncated view; accounts like these remind us that there is another way. That being said, McNeil isn't the most talented writer in the world; her storytelling certainly flows, and I feel that this is a book that anyone could pick up and easily read, but at times there is something to be desired. It just doesn't seem refined, with numerous type-os, grammatical mistakes (like spelling 'whites' and 'blacks' with capital first letters), clunky sentences and words repeated too soon one after the other (For example, on page 267: "...the symbolic language of democracy seems to be much less necessary, even at a symbolic level." While this may seem like a nitpicking complaint, it occurs too frequently for me to easily forgive, and you will probably find yourself frustrated as well). Despite these minor complaints, the book is worth reading, as the story is one that especially new students and educators need to hear lest we forget that reform is even possible. We remember taking standardized tests as children and hating the teachers for it, forgetting the knowledge immediately after the test ended, and we see kids completely uninterested in furthering their education today and are prone to attribute it to laziness or ignorance; stories like these are important in that they remind us that these educators and students have potential, it's simply the stifling system of education that we have let become institutionalized that causes these unfortunate consequences.

A teacher reflects

Linda McNeil creates a powerful picture in the minds of readers as she describes the effects of standardized testing on the education of the children in our classrooms. Her book is one that delves deeply into the magnet schools, schools that display all the qualities that teachers would want to create in their classrooms. These classrooms give teachers decisions on how and what is taught. Students are critical thinkers and builders of knowledge. Assessment is done in many forms, over time. McNeil takes the reader back to a time when the reform began, time decided by non-educators to "nuke the educational system." McNeil vividly describes examples of how the reformists took the learning out of the classroom. How they listened least to the professionals on these matters, the educators actually sitting in the classrooms. She gives chilling examples that make readers stare in disbelief at the words on the page. One teacher was actually told that her observation would be continued when she was actually teaching, not when students were working cooperatively. McNeil makes her opinion crystal clear about these reforms and reforms that have followed the Texas school reforms, for example, No Child Left Behind. She is adamant in her views that this reform is strongly impeding the education of those that it is intended to be helping, poor and minority students. McNeil's book is one that causes teachers, both new and seasoned, to reflect upon the teaching that occurs in their classroom daily. Are the reforms implemented by your state and nation affecting the teaching and learning in your classroom? McNeil's book, Contradictions of School Reform will certainly help you assess yourself!

At What Cost?

Like most teachers, I want to see kids engaged in building skills, figuring out a new concept, questioning each other, me, the text, their own assumptions. Like most teachers, I want my classroom to be vibrantly alive. Why then would I allow waking intellects to be numbed and a spirit of inquiry suffocated by repeated preparation for a state-mandated test? In Contradictions of School Reform, Linda McNeil raises this question and others that arise when a student-centered curriculum gives way to a standardized test-based curriculum.From her classroom observation come examples that illuminate the frustration and loss occurring when teachers try to maintain enriched instruction while also serving the higher authorities that give credence to only one form of assessment-a multiple choice test of minimum skills. Many teachers and parents see a more complex picture of the ways children learn and can demonstrate that development. Why have their insights been ignored? Addressing this issue, McNeil returns to the beginnings of the Perot movement for school reform, showing how its original intent was perverted by powerful political players who used standardized assessment to create a closed hierarchical system, with teachers, of course, occupying the lowest level. She shows that this "de-democratization" of public schools marginalizes anyone who does not speak the language of authority, the language of the standardized test. McNeil provides in-depth social and political perspective, but she also captures the salient moments in schools-- like the teacher of eighth graders who had failed at least two years being told he could no longer do the oral reading they loved because "they are too busy preparing for their TAAS test" or the students in a daily pep rally on test-taking strategies for TAAS chanting "Three in a row? No,No, No! [Three answers `b' in a row? No, No, No!]"Public schools could be helping young people acquire the deep understandings of concepts and the habits of rigorous analysis that will allow them to take active part in an age of technology and information. Instead many kids are learning that the classroom has nothing to do with real life or real learning or real engagement. It is instead a place where they have no voice but are at the mercy of the routine and mundane. And who can blame their cynicism when they once came to school so eager to learn? When the stakes are so high, the discussion cannot be limited. McNeil does us a great service with her penetrating analysis of the damage being done to children, particularly those in most need of constructing a new future. Her clear language allows us to see what we had only glimpsed in part. With this articulation comes the realization that the present problems are not inevitable. Her study of specific classrooms suggests what teachers and students, allowed to focus on full, deep learning, could accomplish.It is this faith in kids and hope for

Contradictions of School Reform: Educational Costs of

This book is excellent. It provides a very thought provoking argument against standardized testing. Mrs. McNeil's careful research shows the terrible cost that Texas students are paying as a result of standardized testing. This book needs to be read by every State Legislature, Teacher, Principal, Superintendent, School Board Member and Parent in Texas.

Another Houston Reader

This is an outstanding book that has much to say to everyone interested in public education. First of all, McNeil presents an encouraging description of what can happen when teachers and students are given permission and opportunity to excel. The public schools observed by McNeil had little in terms of resources, funds, or equipment, in spite of limited outside support. Yet, the schools had the magnet name and committed teachers and students who created havens of intellectual excitement, inquiry, probing, and rich learning. These classrooms were in stark contrast to the more typical classrooms described previously by McNeil in Contradictions of Control, and in opposition to the students' home schools where "success" meant merely passing the state test and graduating. McNeil offers compelling insights into classroom dynamics and why these schools were able to be so intellectually powerful based on concrete examples from many hours of classroom observation.The second major impact of Contradictions of School Reform is what it has to offer to the national discussion on school accountability. Her longitudinal studies on the same schools before and after the institution of various state and local reform measures provide clear evidence on the impact of these reforms and the costs to the students. It appears that tests, which originally had a useful purpose, have now been misapplied and misused to everyone's detriment. Furthermore, her evidence shows that the high stakes tests are creating a false sense of accountability in addition to being harmful to children's learning.Deborah Meier says on the cover of the book, "It's a story that everyone needs to read from start to finish." As a teacher and a mother, I heartily agree.
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