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David Hursh

For the last decade David Hursh’s writing and political organizing has focused on the dangers of high-stakes testing. His most recent book, High-Stakes Testing and the Decline of Teaching and Learning: The Real Crisis in Education (Rowman and Littlefield, 2008), situates the rise of high-stakes testing in states like Texas and New York, and at the federal level with No Child Left Behind within larger debates about the purposes of education and the nature of society. Marilyn Cochran-Smith, John E. Cawthorne Professor at Boston College, wrote: "In this unusual book, David Hursh combines rich recollections of classroom teaching with trenchant analysis of the "real crisis" in education today-the neoliberal package of high stakes testing, accountability, markets and privatization. The result is a deeply disturbing but compelling and original book that puts democratic education back where it should be--at the center of discussions about schools and schooling.” In 1998 Hursh helped start the Coalition for Common Sense in Education, a group of parents, students, and educators working to changed education policy through lobbying in Albany and hosting forums. Some of the speakers the Coalition has funded include Jonathan Kozol, Angela Valenzuela, Deborah Meier, Peter Sacks, Monty Neill, and Susan Ohanian. Since the publication of his book in March, Hursh has delivered invited talks to numerous groups, including the Rochester Teachers Association, Monroe County School Board Association, and in the Arts and Lectures series at SUNY-Cortland. This upcoming academic year he has been invited to present at universities across the United States. David Hursh is a Professor at the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester.

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  1. Alfred Vitale
    Alfred Vitale at |

    I think it’s interesting that discourses about school are generally framed around the presupposition that 1) Schools are “failing” and 2) Some people are the cause of it.   Some blame administators, some blame teachers, some blame parents, some blame children, etc., ad nauseum.  It seems to me that even when no explicit blame is placed, current educational structures still legitimate certain notions of relative value, worth and causality. 

    For example:  We use biological age as generalized category that grades children into some type of epistemological hierarchy–but a 12 year old is not a 12 year old is not a 12 year old.  So this somewhat arbitrary (in the literal sense of judgment) aggregation is treated as a given and remains rooted in the school system.   In addition, we still operate with the tacit belief that teens are un-formed adults–that youth are not-quite adults, and they spend a chunk of their time forced into an incongruent structure where they are assumed to be responsible while simultaneously assumed to be uncontrollable.   Say what you want about who is to blame, when pedagogies still reflect these assumptions, we’ll only create ambivalence at best, tumult at worse. 

    I also think that parents are often unfairly labeled as the cause of problems by teachers themselves–whether explicitly, or when chatting with each other behind closed doors (or in classes at Warner or other schools of education).  In part, this may reflect certain notions about responsibility held by the middle and upper classes that are just not a naturalized part of working-class/poor families (who, by the way, may care deeply for their children but do not have the luxury of time to be on PTAs and boards, or the luxury of time/money to bring their kids to soccer practices and piano lessons, etc.). 

    Teachers may be scapgoats for the media, but this does not change some of the disparities that still exist in terms of teachers and the populations they are entrusted to teach…like not living in the school’s community, like the disproportionate number of white teachers in mostly black schools, like the difficulties faced by people in those communities who cannot afford and cannot access higher ed to become teachers themselves, like the unspoken presuppositions about “urban” schools and the students within them.  We are very fortunate at Warner that we have faculty who recognize and address these issues head-on–but perhaps we at Warner are an exception, rather than a rule.  

    Finally, I think that schools–as they are–will always be struggling against “failing.”  On the other hand, when we discover things in schools that actually succeed (whatever that means), we bump into the elephant in the room: that the structure of our current school system (from it’s age-groupings, its assessment practices, its assumptions about childrens’ development, its administrative functions, its mandatory nature, its constraints and compressive logistics, etc.) is just not going to ever work as a system.  And it is not enough to just have an “alternative” school here and there…there need to be alternative SYSTEMS (and there are movements to develop these – Free School movements, for example) and I think that until such time, this debate will simply continue to distract us from seeing the myriad of possibilities that could exist if we start to really legitimate the idea that the structure of schooling is, itself, the cause of its own failure. 

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