Thursday, May 29, 2014

What Reformy Thing Most Needs To Die?

It's a fun thought experiment. If you could erase one aspect of the Reformy test-driven high-stakes privatizing Core-loving status quo, which would it be. If you had the political power to eliminate one head of the public-education-crushing hydra, which decapitation would lead your list?

Yes, this is like playing "What would you do if you won the lottery," and yes, the various parts of the beast are interdependent. But the debate about priorities often erupts in the Resistance, so it's a thought experiment worth having. So how would I rate the hydra heads on the Evil Bloodsucking Monsters That Must Be Killed Scale.


It would be less destructive to teachers if we simply divined evaluations with tea leaves. And when your entire labor force is in a state of fear and uncertainty and general beaten-downness because of an evaluation system that is unscientific, invalid, irrational, and just plain crap, that cannot be good for your institution. Sam Walton, of all people, famously said that the way you treat you employees is the way they will treat your customers (Sam is dead now). Public education is seriously damaged by this assault on its own front line troops; public education can't function when every employee and every building always live under the threat or imminent disaster.



It's not that charters as currently practiced don't deserve to die. They do, and they can be relied on, for the most part, to kill themselves. When hedge fund managers and investment dilettantes rushed to this market because they thought they could produce some ROI, they forgot that they wold also have to produce some results. I am truly sad that a whole boatload of students have to be chewed up by these fraud factories for the public to figure things out, but sometimes things have to break before they can be put right. I know it's harsh, but better tens of thousand of students today than millions tomorrow. But charters will mostly die on their own, sooner or later, depending on how much political capital their bought-and-paid for legislators are willing to invest in them.



I look for the day when reality penetrates college campuses fully on this issue. There's a lot of good work being done to help idealistic young college students understand that if they want to be teachers, they should, you know, become teachers, and not under trained temp shock troops in the battle against having to pay professional wages in schools. But time and mission drift are starting to catch up with this decades old group, and people are even getting smart enough to ask "Is that real teaching on your CV, or just some Teach for America bullshit."

Still, they're a blot on the profession, a destabilizing influence in the schools they descend upon, and a work force that unnecessarily prolongs the life of deserve-to-die charter schools.



This goes beyond being a simple education issue and challenges what we want and what we will accept as a society. It has yielded the odd spectacle of adults trying to protect a generation that, when it comes to data, are making no effort to protect themselves. Its specific threat to education is that it has shaped too much of what we do. Policy and curriculum decisions are made not on educational merit, not even on "hey this is easy to do, anyway," but because we want to structure things for best data generation and collection. But its specific threat to society is that it's horrifyingly invasive and just plain wrong.



They're the face of the reformy status quo, the name that everyone uses as shorthand for the grand complex of all these other things. But how bad are they really? The answer is pretty damn bad, and the earn a "pretty damn bad" both for content and for the package its in. I swear I will go ballistic on the next CCSS apologist who says, "Well, yeah, it's a work in progress," because it's not a work in progress any more than the Washington Monument is a work in progress. If your claim is that you like them just fine except for a few things that need to be tweaked, then you don't like them just fine, because they will never be tweaked. And the content reads, particularly on the ELA side, as if they were written by overly self-confident amateurs (and we know why).

They are used as an excuse for testing and to bolster the idea that school is just vocational training and teaching is just content delivery. However, we do know how to deal with standards. We did it under NCLB. Close the door, keep an eye on the test, ignore the standards and teach as you know best. But other people learned, too, and they've set this game up so that CCSS and tests cannot be decoupled.



Badly designed, badly implemented, poorly executed, and given power way beyond anything that remotely makes educational sense. The Test provides the bad data to be crunched badly for VAM. As with NCLB, The Test is also the true delivery system for dictating curriculum; your curriculum is whatever is on the test.

There is no Test Prep without The Test. There is no loss of weeks of instruction without The Test. And The Test is not so much the teeth of CCSS; it's more like the balls. Cut them off, and the standards become manageable, docile, trainable, less likely to hump your furniture. Okay, maybe not that one, but you get the idea. CCSS apologists like to say that the Standards would be fine if not for the test. No, the standards would still suck. But it would be way easier to ignore them or simply pay paper lip service to them while doing our actual jobs. And there is no arguing simply for a better test. As long as your job is to come up with a standardized test to test the educational status of every single student in the US so that they and their schools can be compared, your result is going to be ann educational abomination, every time.

The other factor here is that the Test is vulnerable, now that every parent in the country is seeing what a ridiculous fiasco it is. It is the factor in the reformy status quo that is most vulnerable, and on which so much of the rest of the worst rests on.



  1. VAM must die! If teachers can't rally around THAT idea, we're a sad bunch.

  2. Put the high-stakes tests at the top of the list. They are bad for the students and, as you noted, they are needed to drive so many of the other reform elements that you are criticizing. My two children are about to endure a week of testing in North Carolina, and they have been prepping for them for several weeks now. It's all a waste of time. My children will pass easily but learn nothing in the process. How sad.

  3. Agreed, it's The Big High Stakes Test. Why? Because the BHST puts the goal of passing the test above the goal of studious engagement with the material. And engaging kids is what schools are meant to do. The BHST kills passion for learning instead of fostering it. It therefore does to our children the exact opposite of what we send them to school for.

  4. YES. The test. Parents are huge allies. We can help them understand the wisdom and necessity of OPT OUT. That they can REFUSE to participate.

  5. Does this include using a guillotine on the people behind each of these elements in the fake education reform movement?

  6. To me, the root that feeds the reform monster is the premise that learning standards are an appropriate foundation for the entire reform movement. Not Common Core Standards, but standards. The very use of the term in reference to student learning boggles the mind of anyone who knows a whit about student learning, brain growth and development, or even had a conversation with two or more children. There is no "standard" kid, folks. Any attempt to press them all into a mould, any mould, is doomed to distort some and to leave gaping holes of unfilled potential in others. Standards are for inputs like resources, class sizes, safe environments, and qualified teachers but never for student learning.

  7. Ed tech in the classroom! Of all the things here, the whole "disruption of the learning process" BS that the ed tech folks want to force down our throats is the one that endangers our profession the most. Everyone should read Terry Moe's article from the Hoover Inst. to see the dystopian future he and others want to create:

  8. The thing that most needs to die is neoliberalism, the insane ideology that underlies ALL attempts to destroy the public sector for private gain. This goes way, way, way beyond education..

    Not mentioning the obvious that needs to die is not addressing the issue.

    Without the neoliberal ideology, there would be NO "reform" movement in the first place.

  9. I think if you don't have a kid in school right now, it is easier to go with the tests, because in the long run, they are a key to control and data as Peter says. However, I have a child in fourth grade, doing 2 1/2 hours of homework each night and being totally turned off to school by CCSS. It's worse than that, CCSS has unnecessarily screwed up elementary school math so badly that most of his class can't divide, too much time on those area models, etc., although hey, they can write a good equation they can't solve. No worry there I suppose, they can rely on their calculating devices. The school year has been horrible. I can have my child refuse the test, and did, and thereby deny them data, but they are literally ruining my child's education as I watch. How do I get that back? And I will just add here, this is why I am furious at endorsing unions and every other CCSS backer who didn't demand that CCSS be better, and not be dumped on our kids mid-stream. How could I feel differently--they have decided tough rocks for my child, just another casualty in the great cause that is CCSS.