Monday, April 6, 2020

More Pandemic Prompted Reformster Baloney

I had put off reading Kevin Huffman's slice of baloney in the Washington Post because I knew it would tax my blood pressure medications. But as disruptors and refornsters and privatizers rush to adjust their various sales pitches and policy arguments to fit the new realities, we have to pay attention.

Huffman's disruptor credentials are solid. He ran Tennessee's education system based on his couple of years in a classroom via Teach for America (motto: "Just because you don't know what you're talking about, that doesn't mean you can't be an education expert"). Huffman pioneered the Achievement School District, a failed model in which the state took over schools with the lowest test scores. Since then he's become part of the City Fund, a group devoted to that wants to use the portfolio model to privatize education.

Huffman doesn't get everything wrong. He notes, for instance, that online education has been largely a failure, a failure notable enough that even the bricks-and-mortar charter crowd have turned on them. Huffman even manages a non-baloney quote from professional economist and education amateur Eric Hanushek, who notes that if companies investing tons of money in online education can't make it work, “it seems unlikely that parents and teachers Googling resources will” do any better.

So while some homeschooling and cyber-schooling fans are declaring that, despite all those frustrated parent memes you see online, the world is about to realize that home and cyber schooling is The Way, other disruptors like Huffman remain committed to other paths.

But next comes the old rhetorical sleight of hand. He talks about the 'summer slide" citing folks like NWEA, the testing company. He's throwing around terms phrases like "lose 20% of their school year gains," but what we're really talking about test scores.

If there has ever been a moment to drop the fiction that "test score" and "student learning" are synonyms, now is the time. (Okay, every single moment has been a moment to do this, but now is especially urgent.)

As the response to the pandemic blows holes in the standard school year, our focus must be bolstering actual education and not test scores. Get out your copy of Koretz's The Testing Charade and remind yourself that the Big Standardized Test does not deserve this kind of attention or regard. It's junk, and it is  wasting valuable time.

Huffman is, I think, correct in joining the chorus who sound the alarm that current conditions will favor the haves and leave the have-nots further behind, and that the impact may last for a while (this point would be better made without his reference to Hanushek and Chetty's baloney research about how having a good teacher makes you richer later in life.) But he doesn't really know what to do about it.

This  frickin' guy
Longer school year next year, or maybe longer school day? More social emotional support? Those are relatively innocuous, but other ideas he touts are less revealing.

At one point he talks about Chiefs for Change, Jeb Bush's reformy group that was supposed to be an education-shaking group of state education chieftains, but which has since had to loosen up its membership requirements and abandon all its early ideas about "success"-- well, the Chiefs are pushing collaboration between pub lic schools and charter schools, coincidentally the sort of thing that Huffman's City Fund is pushing (let public and charter schools collaborate and play by charter rules).

Then there's this howler-

Finally, since states are losing standardized testing this spring, they’ll need to administer tests at the start of the next school year to see what students know after the crisis. Assessments should be informative and not used to measure or rate schools or teachers. Without this, it will be impossible to know the extent of the challenge and where resources should be deployed to deal with it.

Wrong, wrong and wrong. No school "needs" to give these tests. Huffman, who we'll recall has minimal actual teaching experience,  subscribes to the reformster notion that classroom teachers can only assess their students via a formal standardized test. That's dumb. And the effects of taking students who have just gotten back from a seven month disruption and throwing a big standardized test at them--well, that's not good, and not helpful, and just dumb. Students should return to a safe, supportive environment that helps them ease back into the school thing; a BS Test will just get in the way of that. But don't worry-- it is not remotely "impossible" for teachers to assess the extent of the challenge.

But Huffman is running to prop up the test manufacturing industry, which appears to be part of the playbook for disrupters right now. Perhaps that's because even they can see that the time has come for those tests to go. They were canned this year, and next year they will be just as irrelevant, and if we can skip them two years, well, why not forever?


  1. I'm not the sharpest bulb in the stew, but over time I like to think I succumb to facts and reality and the sheer repetition of failure when my ideas repeatedly simply don't work. In a way, I somewhat envy folks unburdened by the slightest concern for the truth of their ideals, the practical impact of their programming, or the ethical consequences of their stubborn, blind, determined delusion.

    At least the Devil (in popular conception) enjoys his damnable victories - he knows he's evil and manipulative and all that and cackles maniacally for the audience. Folks like Huffman (or many current members of the GOP) don't even give us that level of clarity. They're more like NPCs in a video game - emotionless and unreal as they wander through their programming, no matter how much damage they do on the screen. It's bewildering.

  2. Did Kevin Huffman really say, "Assessments should be informative and not used to measure or rate schools or teachers"? This is the same Kevin Huffman who pushed the Tennessee State Board of Education to make teacher licensure decisions based on TVAAS results, which are not just assessments but worse (statistical estimates, with large margins for error, derived from assessments).