The rubber duckies are here: five trends affecting public education around the world

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Date: July-August 2014
From: Childhood Education(Vol. 90, Issue 4)
Publisher: Association for Childhood Education International
Document Type: Essay
Length: 1,555 words
Lexile Measure: 1530L

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In 1992, a cargo ship sailing from Hong Kong to Seattle ran into heavy seas in the Pacific Ocean. During the storm, some freight fell overboard, including 29,000 floating plastic duckies, turtles, and frogs. Most of the loose toys found their way into Pacific currents, with some landing along the North American west coast. Others remarkably managed to go north through the Bering Sea and across the Arctic to the Atlantic Ocean; 11 years later, the ducks washed ashore off the coasts of England and New England. While that trip is amazing enough, other bath toys found a different route and eventually bobbed through the Pacific moving south across equatorial waters to the west coast of South America. And some lucky duckies steadfastly made their way to eastern Australia. (See Figure 1.)

While this ducky diaspora was occurring, policymakers in the United Kingdom, concerned by the lagging performance of British students on new international education measures, rolled out high-stakes assessments for students in public schools.

In 1996, soon after these new British policies were floated, American politicians during the Clinton Administration jumped in the pool with Goals 2000. This initiative, driven by the perceived need to reboot education reform for the demands to produce a 21st century technology-driven workforce, set "higher" standards for schools, again accompanied by high-stakes assessment of students. President George W. Bush, with bipartisan support and co-sponsorship from Ted Kennedy (Democratic Senator from Massachusetts and normally against most Bush Administration policies), launched No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001.

NCLB is rooted in the assumption that teaching quality can be effectively measured by results of high-stakes tests for learners. If students do not show consistent improving results on these tests, the prevailing view of policymakers is that educators and school leaders should face tough penalties. The high-stakes proponents, based on a distorted notion of competition, believe that teachers do not want to be labeled as failing nor called out in the newspaper as low performing and that this perceived negative incentive of scrutiny and public embarrassment will drive improved instruction, thus leading to better test results. This "cart-in-front-of-the-horse" assumption that a state or nation can improve achievement for all students through punitive testing followed the prevailing currents to Australia about the time the rubber duckies crossed the equator and washed up near the Great Barrier...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A377775422