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Il documento che ha segnato una svolta nelle politiche scolastiche di questi ultimi 25 anni

"25 years later", poco è cambiato ma l’attenzione riservata ai risultati dei sistemi scolastici non è scemata. L’interazione tra investimenti educativi e produttività resta all’ordine del giorno: Spende meglio chi spende di più per la scuola, oppure i parametri da considerare sono di un’ altra natura? Se si investe nella scuola senza conseguire effetti significativi, si può disinvestire senza conseguenze negative per la società?

Chi sono i vincitori ed i perdenti di un quarto di secolo di riforme scolastiche tese a rimodellare i sistemi scolastici ed a riconfigurare le modalità di regolazione del loro funzionamento? La comparazione internazionale ha fatto passi da giganti nel frattempo: venticinque anni fa non c’era un insieme d’indicatori internazionali dell’educazione e nemmeno un programma di valutazione ciclico sulle competenze di base alla fine della scuola dell’obbligo come lo è il programma PISA. Oggigiorno ne sappiamo qualcosa di più; i sistemi d’insegnamento sono diventati più uniformi e più comparabili tra loro, ma con quali incidenze sulle burocrazie scolastiche nazionali ed internazionali? Per altro sono migliori di un tempo? Più giusti? La scuola statale è un servizio pubblico equo ed efficace? Lo può diventare? Le aspirazioni che hanno ispirato le critiche di "Nation at Risk" sono state soddisfatte?

Nell’aprile del 1983 fu pubblicata negli Stati Uniti una relazione sullo stato della scuola in America, intitolata “A Nation at Risk : The Imperative For Educational Reform ” redatto dalla National Commission on Excellence in Education creata nel 1981, sotto la presidenza Ronald Reagan, dal segretario di Stato per l’istruzione allora in carica, Terrel H. Bell. [1] Le conclusioni della commissione erano impietose : lo stato della scuola pubblica americana era disastroso . I termini utilizzati dalla commissione non potevano essere più espliciti:

- “il nostro paese- si leggeva nella relazione- è in pericolo (....)";

- "le fondamenta del nostro sistema scolastico sono erose da una crescente mediocrità che minaccia il nostro futuro come paese e come nazione (....)"

- "se una potenza nemica straniera avesse tentato d’imporre all’America lo scadente livello attuale di prestazioni scolastiche , probabilmente saremmo stati indotti a considerare un simile gesto come un atto bellico (...)";

- "la nostra società e le sue istituzioni scolastiche hanno perso di vista gli scopi fondamentali della scuola, nonché le aspettative elevate e gli sforzi metodici richiesti per conseguirli (...)”.

Questa relazione suscitò un vespaio negli Stati Uniti. In pochi anni, la polemica si estese a macchia d’olio all’intero pianeta, quando gli Stati Uniti chiesero agli altri Stati del mondo occidentale dati comparabili per valutare il livello dell’istruzione statale in America. Il mondo della scuola, sia Negli Stati Uniti sia negli altri paesi, contestò la denuncia e negò a spada tratta che ci fosse una crisi della qualità dell’istruzione. Secondo Gene Glass , la crisi della scuola è un’invenzione politica che non ha nessuna correlazione con l’indebolimento degli Stati Uniti nella competizione internazionale sul piano economico. Le ragioni sono altrove. [2]

La difesa della scuola pubblica e la denuncia più argomentata dell’artificiosità della crisi è stata condotta da David Berliner e Bruce Biddle nel libro "The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America’s Public Schools" pubblicato nel 1995. [3]

In un lungo articolo pubblicato nell’ottobre 2007 sulla rivista Phi Delta Kappan (The 17th Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education The FirstTime ‘Everything Changed’) Gerald Bracey, che contesta da sempre la realtà di una crisi della qualità della scuola negli Stati Uniti, sviluppa una cronistoria degli attacchi rivolti alla scuola statale americana e ne colloca gli inizi al 1957, l’anno in cui l’Unione Sovietica lanciò lo Sputnik, il primo satellite artificiale della terra. Secondo Bracey, A Nation at Risk non è che un episodio di una strategia sistematica pluridecennale di smantellamento e d’indebolimento sistematico della scuola statale.

Già in occasione del ventesimo anniversario di questo studio si pubblicarono parecchi lavori nei quali si faceva un bilancio delle politiche intraprese dopo il bilancio allarmante del 1993. Ne citiamo due: Our School & Our Future....are we still at risk ?, curato da Paul Peterson [4] e "A Nation Reformed? American Education 20 Years after " A Nation at Risk", curato da David Gordon [5]

In occasione del 25 anniversario della pubblicazione di "A Nation at Risk" siamo da capo: occorre fare il punto alla situazione forse proprio perché la situazione non è cambiata, o forse perché le denunce d’allora continuano ad essere contestate nelle cerchie pedagogiche anche se svelano che il re è nudo. La conseguenza è l’apparizione di tutta una serie di studi che puntano i riflettori sui ruolo dell’istruzione nella competizione internazionale, sul quasi mercato scolastico, sul miglioramento delle scuole, sulla produzione del capitale sociale. Il paradigma di spiegazione non è cambiato e le conclusioni sono analoghe: la nazione (non solo gli Stati Uniti, s’intende) è in pericolo per il pessimo rendimento del sistema scolastico, conclusione che indigna gli apparati scolastici e la maggior parte degli insegnanti ( che sono ormai milioni) nonostante il parere contrario di larghe frange dell’opinione pubblica. Il sistema scolastico continua a fare acqua ed è lungi dall’essere un capolavoro di giustizia sociale. Forse non potrà mai diventarlo, tra l’altro: questo è il dubbio atroce costantemente rimosso nei dibattiti sulla scuola.

Il settimanale americano Education Week ha dedicato alla commemorazione del 25esimo anniversario di "Nation at Risk" un ampio supplemento pubblicato il 22 aprile 2008 che merita di essere citato sia per la qualità dei contributi che per il taglio dell’impostazione adottata.

L’indice del supplemento completato da un succinto commento è il seguente:

- America Scouts Overseas to Boost Education Skills

As state leaders reassess the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in a competitive economy, they are weighing plans to gauge how their schools measure up against those of Singapore, South Korea, and Japan, as well as Finland and other European nations—all perennial leaders on international assessments.

- Researchers Gain Insight Into Education’s Impact on Nations’ Productivity

Today, a mounting database of results from international studies has made it possible for researchers to start exploring the relationship between education and economic growth in much more systematic ways than in 1983.

- In Perspective: Catching Up on Algebra

The push to ensure that all students, not just the academically gifted, take introductory algebra and do so earlier has gained widespread acceptance in U.S. schools over the quarter-century since A Nation at Risk advocated strengthening graduation requirements in math.

- Commentary: An Epoch-Making Report, But What About the Early Grades?

The persistent lack of significant improvement since publication of A Nation at Risk is owing to the unwavering persistence of the very ideas that caused the decline in the first place—the repudiation of a definite academic curriculum in the early grades, argues E.D. Hirsch Jr.

- Trends in India: Expanding Middle Class Drives Private Schooling

India’s education landscape reveals that its image as a rising force in science and math fields is driven mostly by changes in the private school sector.

- Trends in China: Schooling Shifting With Market Forces

China’s educajavascript:barre_raccourci(’’,’’,document.formulaire.texte)tion system has undergone significant changes over the past quarter-century, some brought into classrooms directly by government policy, others swept along by the rising tide of free-market reforms.

- Trends in Japan: Japan Continues Search for Academic Triumph

The education system has long been viewed as a model because of its strong performance on international-comparison tests, but among its citizens, schooling in the nation is seen as inadequate.

- Trends in the European Union: Education Seen Driving Prosperity

The European Union has its share of education successes with Finland outperforming the world on international exams and several other European countries scoring above the international average.

Questo indice è rivelatore dell’ossessionante preoccupazione per la supremazia mondiale persistente in molte cerchie statunitensi. L’istruzione è al servizio di questo obiettivo. Serve e si giustifica nella misura in cui contribuisce allo sviluppo del capitale umano e della ricchezza nazionale. Il modo con il quale questa ricchezza è distribuita è un’altra questione, come se l’istruzione non avesse nessuna incidenza sui criteri di distribuzione della ricchezza.

L’articolo più interessante di questa seria è quello prodotto del gruppo di Hanushek che tenta di dimostrare con i dati disponibili oggigiorno quanto importante sia il livello d’istruzione della popolazione per il progresso economico.

Comunicato stampa

Low Performance by U.S. Students on International Tests Highlights Threat to Nation’s Economic Future

March 3, 2008 Contact: Eric A. Hanushek, Hoover Institution

hanushek@stanford.edu

STANFORD — New research published in the spring 2008 issue of Education Next shows that the cognitive skills of a nation’s students have a large impact on its economic growth. Using data from international tests administered over several decades, economists Eric A. Hanushek of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, Ludger Woessmann of the University of Munich, and their research colleagues found that increased years of schooling by the labor force boost the economy only when such schooling boosts cognitive skills, as measured by performance on math and science assessments.

In the latest international math and science test conducted by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), U.S. students again trailed the average international scores achieved by students in the 57 test-taking nations. Students from a diverse array of countries, including Canada, Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, scored significantly higher than those from the United States, with Finnish students beating those of all other countries. The United States now lags behind Poland, which raised its scores more than any other nation.

Hanushek and Woessmann’s findings demonstrate how critical the quality of the education students receive is to a nation’s economic performance: Had the United States joined the world leaders in math and science by 2000, as the nation’s governors called for in 1989, the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would, as measured by past results, be 2 percent greater than it is today. Although this may sound small, it would amount to more than $300 billion additional income this year. If one projects those effects into the future, the GDP could be 4.5 percentage points higher by 2015—enough to cover the full cost of the nation’s K-12 education system in that year. A reform in educational outcomes begun today that moved the United States to top world standards in 20 years would yield a real GDP 25 percent higher after 75 years than were there no change in the level of cognitive skills, the researchers note.

“The importance of good schools can be documented quite precisely,” Hanushek and Woessmann state. “A highly skilled workforce can raise economic growth by about two-thirds of a percentage point every year.”

The researchers also discovered that the results would apply to developing countries but that the size of the impact of cognitive skills depends on whether a nation’s economy is open to outside trade and other external influences. For greatest positive economic impact, the more open the economy, the more important it is that a country’s students are acquiring high levels of cognitive skills.

Hanushek and Woessmann used performance on 12 standardized tests to measure the average level of cognitive skill in a given country. With this data, they were able to assess how human capital relates to differences in economic growth for 50 countries from 1960 to 2000—more countries over a longer period of time than any previous study.

Although the United States continues to do poorly on international assessments of student achievement, its GDP growth rate was higher than average during the past century. Hanushek and Woessmann note, however, that the United States has benefited from advantages apart from the quality of its schooling—freer labor and product markets, less government regulation, lower tax rates, and less powerful trade unions—that encourage investment, permit the rapid development of new products, and allow workers to adjust to new market opportunities. In addition, the United States’ higher education system is a powerful engine of technological progress and economic growth.

Those benefits, however, may not stave off the rising competition from other countries much longer, the researchers warn. Half of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries now exceed the United States in the average number of years of education their citizens receive while also scoring better on the international math and science tests. And many countries are doing more to improve their higher education systems, secure property rights, and open their economies, which will enable them to make better use of their human capital.

 [6]

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Anche il mensile Phi Delta Kappan consacra una sezione speciale del numero di aprile 2008 al 25esimo anniversario di "Nation at Risk".. Il taglio di questo supplemento è totalmente diverso da quello di EducationNext. Phi Delta Kappan non pone l’accento né sulla competizione internazionale né sulla comparazione con altri sistemi scolastici ma rilegge il documento del 1983 nella prospettiva dei problemi che affliggono la scuola amaericana ancora oggigiorno, come per esempio la formazione dei docenti, il loro livello di retribuzione, i curriculi, quel che si dovrebbe insegnare nelle scuole. I titoli degli articoli sono significativi: Fatti o illusioni?; Déjà vu(in francese); Cocciutaggine nella valutazione.

Gli articoli possono essere scaricati su internet a pagamento oppure se si è abbonati alla rivista.

A Nation at Risk at 25 Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 89, No. 08 (April 2008)

Introduction. Jennifer Borek (572-574).

This introduction to the special section of the Kappan discusses the meaning of A Nation at Risk on this 25th anniversary of the report. The problems and recommendations from the document are reviewed and discussed.

Speculations on A Nation at Risk: Illusions and Realities

Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 89, No. 08 (April 2008): 575-579.

Thomas W. Hewitt

The importance of specific political and reform claims made for A Nation at Risk are reviewed. Its political importance is established. Assertions about its impact on reform and the school curriculum are questioned.

A Nation at Risk and No Child Left Behind: Deja Vu for Administrators?

Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 89, No. 08 (April 2008): 580-585.

John W. Hunt

This article examines the role of building- and district-level administrators, beginning with the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983 and continuing through the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002. The author examines three distinct reform movements which have spanned the quarter of a century between the release of A Nation at Risk and the introduction of No Child left Behind. The author concludes that while these two landmarks had some similarities, they are not synonymous from an administrative perspective.

A Much Delayed Response to A Nation at Risk: Recent Innovations in General and Special Education

Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 89, No. 08 (April 2008): 593-596.

Laura Baylot Casey, David F. Bicard, Sara C. Bicard, and Sandra M. Cooley Nichols

This article addresses the recommendations outlined by A Nation at Risk that are specifically related to special education. Special consideration is given to IDEA and NCLB as they relate to A Nation at Risk and the special education field as a whole. The article focuses on two primary issues: the role of standardized testing, and the need for classroom management.

A Field at Risk: Teacher Shortage in Special Education

Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 89, No. 08 (April 2008): 597-600.

Sandra M. Cooley Nichols, Sara C. Bicard, David F. Bicard, and Laura Baylot Casey

There is a low supply of individuals completing special education degrees compared to the high demand for special educators. As long as there is low enrollment of students in special education teacher education programs, the teacher shortage will continue to be a problem. The authors also discuss some possible remedies to this special education teacher shortage.

A Nation at Risk and the Blind Men

Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 89, No. 08 (April 2008): 601-602.

Sally Blake

Changes to policy, teacher training, assessment, and school funding have all evolved from A Nation at Risk. As in the story of the six blind men, each of us believes that what we know about schools and education is accurate. We all have preconceived ideas about what teaching and learning are, and these strong beliefs influence interactions with education environments. If we develop education systems that produce independent thinkers, not repeaters of facts and ideas but generators of ideas, we should be ready for the unknown future.

Redirecting the Teaching Profession in the Wake of A Nation at Risk and NCLB

Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 89, No. 08 (April 2008): 586-589.

Allen H. Seed

This article describes five conditions needed to improve teaching and five actions teachers need to take to earn those conditions. Collaboration, empowerment, reflection, time, and training are the conditions necessary for teacher peak performance. Improving current standards, developing standards for resources to meet content standards, developing school assessment systems, developing their own definition of highly qualified teachers, and developing processes for entry into and retention in the profession are the actions teachers need to take to earn the above conditions.

Enduring Issues in Educational Assessment

Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 89, No. 08 (April 2008): 590-592.

Gabriel M. Della-Piana

A Nation at Risk called for changes in assessment. Much of what was hoped for is now in practice in some form. However, the author highlights three unsettled or enduring issues in assessment surrounding validity, construct underrepresentation in outcome measures, and cognitive and management demands on the teacher for appropriate classroom assessment.

The Technology Implications of A Nation at Risk

Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 89, No. 08 (April 2008): 608-610.

Lee Allen

A Nation at Risk sounded a warning that schools were not preparing students to meet the country’s “demand for highly skilled workers in new fields.” Since then, digital technologies have become ubiquitous in everyday life, and students are becoming increasingly aware of the disconnect between school and the “real world” where technology is common. But most colleges of education continue to instruct aspiring teachers in the same way that the instructors themselves were taught, and No Child Left Behind leaves little time for technology.

Science Education: Cassandra’s Prophecy

Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 89, No. 08 (April 2008): 605-607.

Thomas E. Brady

The 1980s produced a number of reports that complained of declining science and mathematics achievement and a shortage of qualified teachers. The author describes a program at the University of Texas, El Paso, to produce scientifically literate teachers from the large group of educators who lack a good K-12 background in science and math.

Teacher Professionalism Since A Nation at Risk

Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 89, No. 08 (April 2008): 603-604, 607.

Michael P. Grady, Kristine C. Helbling, Dennis R. Lubeck

The personal experiences of one of the authors, a high school English teacher, offer a context for analyzing the effects of A Nation at Risk on the professionalism of teachers. This article concentrates on the pace of the teacher’s day and the use of technology. While teachers need to have a greater role in defining professionalism, the daily life of a teacher is designed to keep them out of the discussion.

Still in Search of Excellence

Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 89, No. 08 (April 2008): 611, 617.

Louis A. Franceschini

A Nation at Risk is perhaps the best remembered of the reform documents that appeared in the early 1980s, but it was merely one of many that called for greater emphasis on the academic purposes of schooling. Compared to previous demands made on public education, this emphasis on universal “excellence” was unprecedented.

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Anche il Dipartimento federale americano dell’educazione commera l’anniversario con un opuscolo dal titolo provocatorio: "Una Nazione responsabile", presentato da Margaret Spellings, segretario di stato per l’istruzione (ossia ministro dell’educazione) nel governo di Georges Busch, nei termini seguenti:

In 1983, the national report, A Nation At Risk, delivered a wake up call for our education system. It described stark realities like a significant number of functionally illiterate high schoolers, plummeting student performance, and international competitors breathing down our necks. It was a warning, a reproach, and a call to arms.

Fast forward twenty-five years to 2008. What has changed?

In some ways, we haven’t fully learned the lessons of A Nation at Risk, and continue to deal with the consequences. Today, half of all minority students fail to graduate from high school on time. But there’s an upside. A Nation At Risk inspired some state-level pioneers to think about standards and accountability in education, and put them into practice. This, in turn, led to the landmark No Child Left Behind Act. Now, across the nation, we’re finally measuring the progress of students of every race and income level, finally holding ourselves accountable for their performance, and finally producing and sharing data to determine what works.

Accurate, honest information is helping to show us the way forward, but it’s also revealing disturbing realities—like grave inequities between students of different races and income levels. As a result, the accountability movement to raise student achievement has reached a tipping point: will we hide from tough problems or redouble our efforts to help every student achieve their potential?

[1] Il rapporto si può trovare in extenso nella versione originale in inglese sull’edizione inglese di Wikipedia

[2] Gene Glass: Fertilizers, Pills & Robots: The Fate of Public Education in America

[3] Berliner, D. C. & Biddle, B. J. (1995). The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America’s Public Schools. Addison Wesley Publishing Company.

[4] Paul Peterson, 2003: Our Schools & our Future...are we still at risk? Hower Institution Press, Stanford University

[5] David Gordon, 2003: A Nation Reformed?. American Education 20 Years after A Nation at Risk. Harvard Education Press, Cambridhe, MA

[6] “Education and Economic Growth” is now available online and in PDF form.

Eric A. Hanushek is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Ludger Woessmann is a professor of economics at the University of Munich and heads the Department of Human Capital and Innovation of the Ifo Institute for Economic Research. Dean T. Jamison, professor of health economics in the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and Eliot A. Jamison, an investment professional at Babcock & Brown, are coauthors of the study.

Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution that is committed to looking at hard facts about school reform. Other sponsoring institutions are the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

Les documents de l'article

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