Rep. George Miller is a forty-year veteran of Congress, has been ranking Democrat on the education committee, and was tagged by the National Journal as one of the seven most liberal members of the House of Rep. He was even on the ground floor of NCLB. He was elected in 1974, one of the "Watergate babies" who were going to help clean up DC. And he's helped push Head Start and early childhood ed. So if this guy doesn't get it, we must be in real trouble.
This guy doesn't get it.
Last week EdSource ran an interview with Miller by Kathryn Baron.
Miller was an architect of NCLB, and Baron leads with his surprise that NCLB ever brought us to the land of high stakes teaching to the test. And then he went on to defend testing and accountability, saying that the most important part of the law was the requirement for districts to publish data on how well kids were doing.
"In this education system, if you aren't counted, you don't count," says Miller. You remember how in the first Jurassic Park the idea was that T-Rex could not see objects unless they moved? What we have here is a similar condition-- politicians and bureaucrats who can only see data, not human beings. If people aren't generating data, people suffering from this condition cannot see them.
Testing was intended as a way to measure schools’ progress based on how
well their students scored and to show schools where they needed to make
improvements. Instead, said Miller “the mission became about the test."
And now I want to shake Miller by the shoulders and ask, "What the hell did you think was going to happen??" But that is a recurring theme of this interview-- Miller requests that people smack themselves in the head with a hammer and then professes amazement that there are all these folks running around with hammer-shaped indents in their foreheads. Rep. Miller, you said it yourself-- if it isn't counted, it doesn't count. If nothing is counted but the test score, how do you expect schools to respond?
Miller was "ruffled" when school districts reacted poorly to NCLB's requirement that 100% of students be above average.
“School districts and states came in, in the first year, and waved the
white flag, and said, ‘We can never make the goal,’” recalled Miller.
“Their proficiency was like 7 or 8 percent. I said, ‘Come back when
you’re at 70 percent.’”
Miller must be a hoot in restaurants. "Yes, I know I ordered this steak well done, but I figured you'd check back with me when it was rare to see what I really wanted you to do."
Miller has stayed in the ed reform business. He's most recently been busy trying to broker a deal between the state of California and Arne Duncan over testing. Miller wants the state to use the Smarter Balance test in the spring to garner great data for schools.
“My position, I think, is that we should extract the data (from the
Smarter Balanced field tests) that we can extract because it would be
helpful. I think it would be helpful for teachers. If the kids in your
classroom didn’t thrive, what would you change for next year?” Miller
said. “And from what the people at Smarter Balanced say, they’ve
developed a range of data that can be extracted, and supposedly, if this
is a road test, you’ve got to bring something back to analyze.”
I'm flabbergasted. That quote shows not a shred of understanding of how tests, teaching, students or classrooms work. It's not that teachers don't ask what they need to change for next year-- every good teacher does that. But what teacher ever said, "After working face to face with my students, grading their papers, watching them in class, talking to them, and seeing the results, what I really need here is a standardized test that they took on just one day to tell me what's happening in my classroom."
Also, Rep Miller, when you're trying to decide how a service provider's work is affecting its customers, you might want to ask the customers rather than the corporation concerned about its multi-million dollar contract.
Miller likes CCSS, and sees it as just a way to track progress. Freshman year of college is too late to consider whether you're college ready or not. What's oddly interesting about Miller's view of reformy stuff is that he expresses it in terms of what the students need, while being surprised that the laws passed to force certain behaviors on schools have unintended consequences. But it's on the subject of teacher evaluation that Miller drops this bomb:
From the very beginning, this was a question of whether or not teachers
wanted to be the architect of the system, or they just wanted to be the
Did I miss the meeting where teachers were invited to be the architects for ANY of this??? Did I miss the chapter in The Reform Saga where teachers walked away from the table, or refused to come to the table, or stole the tablecloth and silverware. Hell, did I miss the part where teachers were even allowed into the room to wait on the table??
The root source of much teacher opposition to evaluation under the current system has been precisely because we had NO opportunity to be the architects, meet the architects or even wave at the architects as they drove by on their way to the table.
Miller is retiring. After the ACA became law, he felt he had done everything he wanted to do. His retirement plans are unclear, but at the very least this interview is a warning for everyone who thinks electing liberal Democrats will improve the reformy climate in DC.