Saturday, June 21, 2014

Is It Time for a Truce

As guest blogger over at Anthony Cody's Living in Dialogue, John Thompson asks the question, "Is it time for a truce."

He's responding specifically to the Gates Foundation call for a two-year testing moratorium. Now that they've put down that particular club, do we point down our pointy sticks and try to have a chat?

It is odd to watch the moratorium idea play out. Since it's a recommendation from Gates, the Arsenal of Reformy Stuff, I don't anticipate any reformsters standing up to say, "Don't listen to them!" if for no other reason than it's hard to transition from that to "Could we have our big fat check now, sir?"

But that doesn't mean reformsters can't fumble the idea. The Cuomo "compromise" in New York says essentially that we'll hold off on beating teachers over the heads with the testing, but we will go full speed ahead on beating up students with them. There's no way to make philosophically consistent sense out of that decision. Either the tests are a good idea, a good idea that's not ready for prime time yet, or a bad idea; in none of those cases does the Cuomo testing pause make sense. And it makes least sense if you're foundational motivation is "Let's do what's best for the kids."

The moratorium smells like a practical decision, the latest version of the Bad Tests Are Ruining Public Support for Our Beautiful Beautiful Common Core Standards argument that we've been hearing for a while, and the tension around it underlines one of the fault lines that have been present among the reformsters since day one-- there are reformsters who want to do national standards and testing "right," but they have allied themselves with corporate powers who got into this to have a shot at that sweet sweet pile of education tax money, and they have more inclination to wait than my dog has to sit and stare longingly at his bowl of food.

It's one of the interesting questions the moratorium raises. If Gates says, "Let's wait on testing," will Pearson say, "Sure, we can put off that revenue stream for a few years."

But Thompson correctly identifies the danger of the moratorium.

Gates blames others for not getting test-based accountability right. Presumably, a two-year moratorium would give top-down reformers the opportunity to hold management accountable for improperly holding students and teachers accountable. Apparently, the Foundation would use the moratorium to tinker with precisely the amount of coercion - not too harsh but not too easy - that should be imposed on the systems that make teachers and principals toe the line. 

In other words, the moratorium is not about "Hey, this whole high stakes testy thing might be a mistake that messes up our noble goal of high standards." It's more likely about, "Hey, we messed up the implementation of these high stakes tests. Let's get our PR and politics lined up and relaunch more effectively in a year or two."

The reformsters have put down their club, but that's probably because they've gone to pick up a gun.

Thompson is also correct in suggesting that we can use the interregnum to make our case against high stakes testing to the general public, the politicians, the people who have only been paying half attention. We have a chance to lay out our ideas, make our point. A moratorium gives the reformsters a chance to repurpose the energy and resources they are now using to defend the testing; likewise, it gives the resistance the chance to repurpose the energy and resources we are using to oppose the testing. As Thompson said on twitter, better for "jaw-jaw than war-war."

So, no, I don't think the moratorium presents a chance for a truce. I think it is at best a lull, and more likely represents a shift of the battle to other fronts.

[EDIT- John Thompson sent along a very thoughtful response to this piece which I have put up as a guest post here.]


  1. "Since it's a recommendation from Gates, the Arsenal of Reformy Stuff, I don't anticipate any reformsters standing up to say, 'Don't listen to them!' if for no other reason than it's hard to transition from that to 'Could we have our big fat check now, sir?'
    Actually, New Mexico's Pretend Secretary of Education, Hanna Skandera, said pretty close to that. She said, and I'm paraphrasing, that the idea of telling New Mexico what was best for us was 'ridiculous.' She did use the word 'ridiculous.' She said she wouldn't presume to tell Tennessee what was best for them, which is ironic, since all of us teachers in the Albuquerque Public Schools system got an email from her earlier this year that included a lovely video of her asking why we should go through with the teacher evaluation process, and then answering herself by saying she called a state that had already started the process and 'gotten great results from it', The state was Tennessee, which, if you may already know, has since had a number of problems with their Education Secretary, Kevin Huffman. Ironic, because I thought at the time that Mr. Gates might not like the idea of his moratorium being called 'ridiculous'. Actually, the idea of her asking for the check is one of the few pleasant images I have that include Hanna Skandera...

  2. So the guys at the top want more time to work on accountability for management for accountability of students and teachers (ore or less what I got out of the Thompson quote near the end of the post)..... but who holds Bill and Arne accountable? Certainly not themselves, certainly not each other.

    It's past time to hold Arne accountable; if he were being judged by the same metrics as teachers and principals and schools and districts, he would have been fired ages ago.

  3. Gates wants a moratorium because he knows the PARCC/SBAC roll out next spring will trigger the Great Parent Revolt of 2015. This is when the walls come tumbling down. He never imagined that LOVE would be his undoing. Parents love for their children will simply not allow this to continue. The parent uprising of 2014 here in NY was the tip of the iceberg; the precursor to reformster disaster. And he knows it. Truce my ass. The moratorium is their best chance to continue cashing in, to prolong their gravy train, albeit not a high speed one like they hoped. The Resistance should prefer that the tests go on as scheduled, because they will be the last nails in the CCSS coffin. At least that's what I saw in my dream last night.

  4. Beware the roadbuilders