Tuesday, March 24, 2015

See "Defies Measurement"

Let me cut to the chase-- I cannot recommend enough that you watch Defies Measurement, a new film by Shannon Puckett.

The film is a clear-eyed, well-sourced look at the business of test-driven corporate-managed profiteer-promoted education reform, and it has several strengths that make it excellent viewing both for those of us who have been staring at these issues for a while and for teachers and civilians who are just now starting to understand that something is going wrong.

The film is anchored by the story of Chipman Middle School in Alemeda, a school that up until ten years ago was an educational pioneer, using the solid research about brains and learning (and where Shannon Puckett once taught). They were a vibrant, exciting, hands-on school that defied expectations about what could be done with middle schools students in a poor urban setting. And then came No Child Left Behind, and we see a focus on test scores and canned programs replace programs centered on creating strong independent thinkers, even as Laura Bush comes to visit to draw attention to the school's embrace of testing culture. It is heartbreaking to watch some of the teachers from the school reflect on their experience a decade later; one sadly admits that she sold out, while another says she still feels remorse, but that she didn't sell out-- she was duped, making the mistaken assumption that the important people making edicts from on high knew something that she did not. She no longer thinks so.

The story of Chipman is a backdrop for considering the various elements that have played out in the reformosphere over the last decade. The film looks at the flow of reform-pushing money, the smoke-and-mirrors rise of charters and how that has failed in the Charter Dreamland of New Orleans, the misunderstanding of how kids learn (if you're not a Howard Gardner fan you'll have to grit your teeth for a minute), the history of standardized testing, the false narrative of US testing failure, the rise of resegregation, the corrosive effects of reform on the teaching profession, the destructiveness of Race to the Top, and how teaching the whole child in a safe and nurturing environment is great for humans, even if it doesn't help with testing.

The array of people heard from is awesome-- Puckett has tapped into an amazing group of educational experts. I'm going to give you the list as an enticement to watch: Alan Stoskopf, Alfie Kohn, Anthony Cody, David Berliner, David Kirp, Diane Ravitch, Fred Abrams, Howard Gardner, Jason France, Joan Duvall-Flynn, Jordyn Schwartz, Julian Vasquez-Heilig, Karen Klein, Karran Harper-Royal, Ken Wesson, Linda Darling-Hammond, Mark Naison, Martin Malstron, Mercedes Scneider, Robert Crease, Susan Kovalik, and Tony Wagner.

I won't tell you the ultimate fate of Chipman School, but the story of Chipman really is a sad microcosm of the disastrous arc of reformster policy. It is a perfect hook on which to hang this tale.

Puckett has done a superb job of creating a clear, comprehensible picture of the complex forces that are crushing public education. If you get frustrated with trying to explain the complex and crushing forces arrayed against what we know works in education, this film is a great resource. It is not sensationalized, it's not super-slick and it's not hyperbolized. It is a calm but relentless and clear raising of the alarm and showing what we know to do well, and how we are being taken down a failed and fruitless road. Watch this film. Share this film. Spread the word about this film.

And that's easy to do-- because in one more sign of the difference between the reformsters and the advocates for public education, the film will not cost you a cent to watch. Puckett will even let you download it for free, as long as you agree to leave the film as is and spread the word.

This is a powerful work, a powerful voice quilting together a whole group of powerful voices. Watch this film. Watch this film. Watch. This. Film. It will take only a little more than an hour of your time. You need to see this, and you need to share this.


  1. Thanks. I think this is going to be the final for my classes this semester. :)

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this, and I am passing it on! It is the best amalgamation I've seen of all the reasons why equity, not "test-taking-excellence" should be our goal for education in America. Supporting ALL children and families would be a huge first step, together with banning standardized testing! :)

  3. Thank you for posting. And thanks to Shannon Puckett for documenting what went on then. From my angle, 2003+ were brutal years (see http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2004/09/01/01first.h16.html --a message brought to you satirically for your reading pleasure). Glad to know I wasn't the only one experiencing it, though it felt like it at the time.