Thursday, September 25, 2014


Secrets are rarely a good thing. Sure, there can be secret treasure maps and secrets of hidden temples, but mostly, secrets are bad news.

I'm not talking about simply postponing information for a bit, like hiding a surprise birthday party until it's time. And I'm not talking about confidentiality, which is all about not telling people a story that is not your to tell. I'm not even talking about privacy, which is just the business of maintaining appropriate boundaries.

I'm talking about a pattern of consistently withholding information, usually in an attempt to manipulate somebody else's behavior.

If you are just starting to date someone and that person won't share a home phone number or work history or family details or bits of information such as, say, a full name-- these are not signs that Things Are Going Well. People who keep secrets are up to something. Institutions that keep secrets are definitely up to something, and it's not something good.

So what are we to make of so much reformy stuff that is so very secretive.

High stakes tests, on which so much of the reformy architecture rests, are given the kind of secrecy blanket usually reserved for things like plans to overthrow third world dictators. Teachers are sworn to twelve kinds of secrecy, promising that they will never divulge what they see in the bowels of the testing dungeons of America. The tests are given the kind of trade secret protection that we usually see with, say, the Colonels special blend of herbs and spices.

Some trainers have told us that the tests must be kept secure to preserve their validity, which strikes me about like buying a chastity belt to preserve Charlie Sheen's virginity.

Then there are the secrets of teacher evaluation systems, the Special Super-Secret Sauce that goes into VAM and turns student scores on standardized tests into measures of the educational effect of teachers-- and ONLY the effects of the teacher and not the effects of poverty, home life, emotional state, phases of the moon, or student attitudes about stupid standardized tests. VAM sauce has been criticized mercilessly (in much the same way that gravity will mercilessly criticize your decision to step off a high roof), and if the VAMsters wanted to build support for their technique, all they need to do is pull up a stool and a power point slide show and say, "We will now show you exactly how the VAM sauce works so that you need never have doubts again."

And yet, years into the VAMification of teaching, that conversation has not occured. VAM sauce remains secret in the same way that fracking wonder-chemical mixes remain secret.

All these secrets. We can't know exactly who is backing Campbell Brown-- it's secret. In fact, we can't know who's bankrolling many reformster enterprises, nor who's profiting from them. We are not meant to know where from the great deep to the great deep the money flows.

So many secrets, and the great wall of secrets suggests only one thing-- that reformsters are Up To Something. They like to call for transparency (particularly when publishing teacher ratings)-- well, let's have some. Because if all your methods and tests and proofs that your methods and tests work-- if all those things must be secret, it only gives further credence to the theory that it's all baloney, and we must not be allowed to look behind the curtain or check out the emperor's new tailor or we would give the game away for the scam it is.

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