Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Four Reformy Problems in a Single Tweet

This is the kind of statement that brings me up short. It's neither notably nefarious, nor is it larded with some deliberate obfuscation, and yet it is loaded with so many assumptions.

Measure schools' progress

Is "schools' progress" really a thing? It sounds more sciency than "is the school getting better"? But it has the same problem. Progress is a giant tribble of a word, so fuzzy that one cannot really make out a shape within the furry expanse. Progress from where to where? Become a better connector of the community? Become safer? Develop a stronger arts program, or more successful sports program? Do a better job of creating students who are able to function as self-directed learners? Graduate more students who get into college or get good jobs?

There are so many ways in which a school can progress (and most schools are tying to move in several of them at once. How exactly will standardized test results measure all of those many and varied forms of progress?

Measure schools' progress

Annual standardized tests will only measure one sort of progress-- how well the school is doing at housing students who do well on standardized tests. That is a standard for progress that can be met many ways, including paying close attention to which kind of students you're housing. This truly does measure the school's progress-- but not the progress of students, which would be a nice goal for a school. But we've moved from measuring student achievement to measuring student progress to measuring schools' progress.

Why? Why is measuring school progress useful? Why is it the end goal? It seems a little like checking the oven temperature as a way of determining if the turkey is cooked. Why not just check the turkey?

And that gets us right back to progress. When we talk about great schools, schools or students that are making progress-- what do we mean?

Without annual tests

Is that what we mean? Progress will be defined as "whatever we can measure with a standardized test?" Thomas Newkirk gets to the heart of this:

It all comes down to the parable of the drunk and his keys, an old joke that goes like this: A drunk is fumbling along under a streetlight when a policeman comes up and asks him what he doing. The drunk explains he is looking for his keys. “Do you think you lost them there?” the policeman asks.             
“No.But the light is better here.”

Neither of the necessary questions is being asked-- what do we really want to measure, and what would be the best way to measure it?


What do you mean "we"? Who is this we? And why do they need to have a measure of schools' progress?

Is it parents? I don't think so-- why would parents care about any plural schools beyond their own singular one? Who is it that needs a national scale everyschool rundown of how things are progressing? When exactly did the US appoint a Grand High Overseer to whom all schools must answer, and whom did we appoint? Is this the US DOE talking? A representative council elected by all the American taxpayers?

I know it's picky as shit to peel apart a simple tweet, but I want to highlight how many unexamined assumptions find their way into the education discussion. If we could start examining them more often, maybe we could start talking about the real concerns that should be on the table.


  1. Assumption #5: the people to whom he posed the question are more likely to have answers than teachers.

  2. What should we expect from America's foremost poli-sci major?