Just in the last decade, the “school reform” movement has both captured the hearts and minds of liberal and conservative politicians alike, and become a favorite boogeyman of parents of either stripe. From No Child Left Behind, to Race to the Top, to Common Core, vouchers, and charter schools, our nation appears to be in the throes of a serious discussion on school reform. In the process, however, parents, students, and teachers are being left out of the debate on the present and future of schools, and specifically, public education. Sadly, this is intentional.
A recent article in Education Week entitled “Games People Play in Modern School Reform,” Sam Chaltain asks the question “When it comes to evaluating the overall health of a school – whether you’re a prospective parent or a state agency – which data is most relevant, and why?” It’s clear from the last decade (three if you, like me, live in Texas) that the focus is squarely on metrics, with an emphasis on assessment and punishment—for not only the failing student, but the teacher and school as well. You’ll notice that nowhere in the process of evaluating students in the current “reform” environment is there any credence given to what the teacher thinks about a child’s progress. This is a huge mistake, as a standardized test can only tell you what the kids know, not why they don’t know it.
At no point in the current high-stakes testing process do we learn anything about the quality of knowledge, critical thinking skills, or deep understanding of a given subject that a student has, or has not, acquired. As I used to say when I was still teaching, “many things are taught in my class, but not all of them are learned.” But in all the factors that make up both learning and teaching, what constitutes the perfect recipe for success? Hint: there isn’t one. The danger, though, is that high-stakes testing, charter schools, voucher plans, performance bonuses, all assume there is.
“Reformers” such as Joel Kein, Michelle Rhee, and Ron Huberman seem to think that we can solve our educational problems (which, as I’ll discuss in another article, don’t really exist—at least not in the way parents are led to believe) simply by waving their magic “try harder” wand at teachers and students. It is their idea of “performance-driven culture” that will ultimately doom the public school system in America. Why, you ask? Simple, really. There is no way, in our current system, to measure a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom using methods proposed by the “reformers.” Not one. At every step these people get it wrong, because they are seeing everything through assessment-colored glasses.
Now, these people are not idiots. Nor are they uninformed. So why, with their intelligence and knowledge, do they insist on “reforming” through a system which will not work?
As always… follow the money.
We’ll explore this in detail in part 2.