Monday, January 6, 2014

Standardized Competition

The average citizen can be excused for not entirely understanding the Masters of Reforming Our Nation's Schools, because they often speak out of both sides of their mouths. For instance, MoRONS are big fans of standardization, but they also like school choice.

Mind you, they know better that to say "school choice" any more, a phrase that has become education politics kryptonite. On google's ngram viewer, "school choice" peaks in 2002 and has been dropping precipitously in popularity ever since. So we don't talk about school choice any more-- we just promote the flowering of charter schools and cyber schools and the creation of a "robust marketplace" where students can have access to quality education blah blah blah. The rhetoric has changed, but the goal has not-- students who can take their portable funding with them as they choose among schools that are vying in the marketplace.

Except, at the same time, we have the rise of Reformy Stuff clustered around the CCSS. Let's skip here for a moment the argument where you say, "Oh, but the CCSS are not a national curriculum." Have CCSS resulted in de facto national curriculum imposed through federal fiat and testing regimens? I suppose we could argue that another day (though frankly at this point I think that argument belongs on the same day that we argue about the flat earth), but for now, even media and supporters are no longer bothering to maintain the non-federal fiction about CCSS.

No, we live now in a world in which people think having every school in the country teaching the same content at the same time is a great idea. It should be possible for a peripatetic pupil to plop down in any classroom in the country and not miss a beat.. In fact, some states really like the idea of scripting. For some educational thought leaders, a perfect world is one in which every teacher is saying exactly the same word at exactly the same moment.

Ignoring for a moment just how creepy that idea is (spoiler alert: very), how, in that brave new standardized world, would schools compete?

Competition has always existed between schools. It's why schools are part of te formula for property values-- do you want a house in the district with the great science department, or the one with the award winning music program?

But in a brave new CCSS world, all schools are teaching the same stuff at the same time in pretty much the same way (maybe reading the same words from the same script), exactly how are schools supposed to compete?

Personalizing the instruction? That can't be it, because "personalized instruction" now means "plunking student down in front of computer to interact with software we've paid a nice licensing fee to use." That experience would be identical at any of the Brave New Schools.

Better teachers? In Brave New School, teachers are just content delivery specialists. Most will only have a shelf life of two-three years and no experience to bring to bear. Everyone now knows that teachers who have been in the classroom for years are the worst and should be pushed out so they can be replaced with enthusiastic new teachers. So I guess Brave New Schools will compete based on staff enthusiasm, though with regular deep staff churn, it's going to be hard to market teachers sight unseen.

Test scores? But but but-- if all schools are doing the same teacher-proof programs, shouldn't all Brave New Schools be getting the same test results? So that's a wash.

School leaders? Perhaps this is the key. A Steve Perry or Michelle Rhee could be the key. They don't need to have actually ever successfully done anything. I have called Rhee a celebrity spokesmodel, the Kim Kardashian of ed reform (and I'm going to keep doing it till it catches on), but the fact is she's making mega bucks for opening her mouth while I'm still blogging and teaching English in obscurity, so really, which one of us really understands how to play this game (spoiler alert: not me). Wave enough money at these guys, and you could recruit some real heavy hitters as school leaders. We've already got sports figures and rap stars in the ed biz. What kid wouldn't want to go to school with The Rock as principal?

Maybe those leaders would come up with new ways for Brave New Schools to compete. "Hey look-- at our school all the content delivery specialists wear funny hats!" Or fun lunches. Or a cooler mascot.

No if Brave New CCSS Schools are all doing the same things, and it really doesn't matter who the teachers are or the students are or where the school is or what kind of population it serves, then there IS no basis for competition in a marketplace.

So it's possible that CCSS and attendant Reformy Stuff actually tolls the death knell of school choice, and that with Masters of Reforming Our Nation's Schools fully empowered, vouchers and choice and other market-based reform is going to be killed dead deader deadest.

Of course, there's another possibility.

That other possibility is that the rules for Brave New CCSS Schools will not apply to everybody.  It's possible that once we've dumped a giant pile of CCSS fertilizer on public schools, the marketplace will be ruled by schools that can say, "Hey, come over here where we aren't buried under a pile of soul-crushing educationally maladaptive baloney. Come over here where we let teachers teach and students are recognized as actual human beings instead of data-generating drones."

The other possibility is that one goal of Reformy Stuff is to take one group of runners in the race of life and tie their ankles together and duct-tape their hands to their heads so that another group of runners, the special group, the elite group, the group composed of The Right People, can have an unencumbered run at the finish line. The other possibility is that standardization is just for proles and drones, and that real education is to be reserved for only a certain few.

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