Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Seven Big Lies of Reformsterdom

Some of the classic Not-Entirely-Truisms of the Reformster Movement have been quietly retired. For instance, one rarely hears the claim that teachers had major input in creating the Common Core any more because there's hardly a soul left who can say it with a straight face.

But there are still some huge bogus beliefs ,falsehoods in the foundation of reformster policies that make everything built upon them a waste of time and energy.

Educational Standards Make Countries Economically Stronger

At the root of reform is the idea that America's economic competitiveness rests on educational standards. If we have higher educational standards, the argument goes, our economy will become strong and robust and internationally competitive. Not only does this idea ignore every other economic factor known to intelligent human beings and economists, it comes wrapped with a bow and without an iota of proof, either historical or theoretical.

The Common Core Standards Are Higher, Stronger, Better Educational Standards

They aren't. The hard core Core corps at Fordham Institute determined that some states already had better standards than CCSS. Experts in the math and language fields have picked apart the standards in a dozen different ways and revealed them to be what they are-- the work of amateurs. And can we please talk about the fact, rarely addressed, that the standards only address math and language. These standards are supposed to be elevating the entire education system, and yet they only address two subject areas.

We Have Proxies That Are As Good As Reality

Reformsters propose that standardized test results are perfectly good stand-ins for educational quality. We are supposed to be able to talk about teacher VAM or VAAS or [your prefix here] VAAS scores as if they are actual numerical measures of how good a teacher is at her job. There's no proof that standardized test measure anything other than a student's ability to take standardized tests (well, that and their socio-economic class), and there's plenty of proof that VAM scores are only slightly more reliable than dice that have been numbered with pencil and thrown by chimpanzees.

Better Educational Outcomes Will End Poverty

The promise of reformsters (including prominent gummint reformsters) is that once every young American is emerging from high school College and Career Ready, every adult American will be employed at an above-minimum-wage job that is personally and economically rewarding. Education reform has been presented as a means to end poverty. This is a bizarre assertion. When the day of 100% CACR graduates arrives, will US employers declare, "Well, now that these guys are so well-educated, we will start paying them more." Did well-paying US jobs move overseas because Indian and Chinese workers are so better educated, or because they are willing to work for American peanuts? Will being a burger flipper become a lucrative position, or will it disappear as a job entirely because the burgers are flipping themselves? Exactly how will having better-educated citizens make more jobs appear? If you want to see the falseness of this promise debunked with charts and numbers, read this and this.

People Are Only Motivated by Threats and Punishment

Every piece of reformster implementation hinges on threats and punishment. If third graders won't learn to read, we will punish them with failure. If teachers do not perform well, we will cut their wages and/or fire them. It's not just that the threats are part of the new reformy status quo-- it's the underlying assumption that they are necessary. It appears in the side battles as well-- tenure foes are just certain that teachers couldn't possibly be doing good work if their job isn't on the line every day. It's a sad, cramped, meager view of human nature that wants to found a society based on the worst possible view of what it means to be human.

Education Is Just Job Training

Speaking of tiny, sad views of what it means to be human. Over and over again, reformsters suggest that the only real purpose of an education is to prepare one for work. You get an education so that you can become useful to your future possible employers. That's it. That's all. Everything that is beautiful and loving and glorious about human life, everything that resonates in our connections to each other and the world around us-- none of that matters in education. The measure of whether a subject should be taught is simply, "Will this help the student get a job?" Learning about everything that is rich and joyful and rewarding in the human experience, everything about learning to grow and understand and embrace who you are as a human being and how you make your way in the world-- that's all stuff you can do in your free time, I guess, if you really want to.

Education Is Scalable 

The premise here is that the best education solutions can be applied to all students everywhere in the country. Let's stop for a second and think about how this concept has been successfully applied ever. We have the examples of... well, fast food, where we've provided the identical product for all customers. But we did that by producing a mediocre product, and even then, customers are self-selected, so we haven't really provided mediocre food for every single possible consumer (which is what a national education system would have to do). Or we can look at the example of Krispy Kreme donuts, a product that was highly successful on a regional basis, but when scaled to a larger market lost the qualities that made it successful.

But education is not a product, you say. That's true. So can we say that there are scalable standards for any other sorts of human relationships. Would you like to propose that we have a scalable national system for how to be a spouse, or a parent? Unlikely, since we can't even agree on the very broadest standards that we have in place now. No, education is personal and individual. No good education system is scalable on a national level.

These are seven huge lies of the reformster movement. There are other fairly hefty lies as well (free markets will make schools better, inexperienced teachers are the best), but these seven are lies huge enough and foundational enough that the reformster status quo cannot exist without them. Pull any one of these rotted jenga blocks of lies, and the whole tower or garbage comes crashing down. See any of these lies for what they are, see the truth they fight to obscure, and one can't help but look at the reformster program and recognize that it's just plain wrong.


  1. About Common Core which doesn't address our real problem poverty, but do any of the countries we are supposedly chasing use anything that approaches or resembles common core?