Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

First Do No Harm

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

First Do No Harm

Article excerpt

A DOZEN YEARS ago, Linda McNeil, then an associate professor and head of the Department of Education at Rice University in Houston, wrote a three-article series for the Kappan pointing out the dangers of centralized school reforms and their power to create the very mediocrity that they are intended to eliminate. Those articles, published in January, February, and March of 1988, made many telling points. But one that bears repeating is that "good teaching can't be engineered into existence," though "an engineering approach to schooling can crowd out good teaching."

So here we are in the year 2000, and - in Yogi Berra's words - it's deja vu all over again. McNeil, now a professor of education and co-director of the Center for Education at Rice University, has just published a new book, Contradictions of School Reform: Educational Costs of Standardized Testing (Routledge, 2000). In it, she points out both the immediate and the long-term negative consequences of high-stakes, state-mandated standardization - from Ross Perot's education agenda of the 1980s to today's Texas Accountability System and its primary tool, the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS). McNeil has provided an article spun out of that book for this month's Kappan.

Her article is timely because many states - seduced by the smoke-and-mirrors of "rising test scores" - are now emulating the Texas Accountability System. But those states are probably unaware of the ways in which the Texas system has damaged education in Texas schools by substituting 'test-prep' for genuine teaching and learning.

The 3 January 2000 issue of The American Prospect featured an article by Peter Schrag that also looked closely at the Texas education 'miracle' and found it wanting. …

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