The big news in the edusphere this week was the release of the final version of common core standards outlining "what experts decided are the knowledge and skills students should have in mathematics and English/language arts."
"Reformists" immediately hailed the release, some even going as far as to claim that they will help "cure" poverty.
Many states, however, expressed their reservations to immediately adopt the standards. One of the most powerful incentives for states to accept the common core standards is the Race to the Top competitive grants that Arne Duncan is dangling in front of them. States that adopt the standards increase the eligibility for RTTT funds, and no doubt, many states will rush to accept the standards for this reason alone.
I've already written extensively about my reservations with national standards. And there's certainly an array of experts who disagree with me. But I found it ironic that in the same week that one of the cogs in Arne Duncan's grand mechanism to transform public education -- national standards -- was falling into place, two more of his precious ideas were proven to be complete and utter shams.
|One of the great promises of so-called education reformists such as Arne Duncan is that once business-style incentives and marketplace thinking are plugged into national education policy, then educators will be more apt to do "what works" for educating kids. Two key measures to creating this new utopia, we are told, are teacher merit pay and the "portfolio approach" to evaluating school performance.
Teacher merit pay, primarily in the form of linking salaries to student test scores and other "data," has been touted as a panacea for "what works for at-risk kids." The push for this notion has probably hit its high water mark this week in the announcement of an agreement between the teachers union in Washington DC and DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee to institute a "pay for performance" system of compensation based on "value added" approach to teacher evaluation.
The business-driven "portfolio approach" to evaluating school performance is supposed to be the sure-fast way to single out lousy schools and close them down and in turn reveal what works at the best performing schools and "leverage" those ideas systemically. In the portfolio approach, "the district superintendent is imagined as a stock investor who has a portfolio of investments (schools). These schools are run by different contractors, generally as charter schools. The superintendent holds the investments that 'perform' (in terms of student achievement) and ends the contracts for (sells) those investments that 'don't perform.' The portfolio concept puts into place what has been increasingly discussed in educational policy literature as market-based 'creative destruction' or 'churn.'" This portfolio model has been implemented in several of the nation's largest school districts, including New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and post-Katrina New Orleans.
Of course, neither of these ideas has had any research base indicating they would actually work in public schools. But I guess if you're in the general mass media and you see the promises of a Billionaire Boy's Club backing up a notion, then everybody in the general media immediately accepts these notions as fact.
However, this week the inconvenient truths leaked out, at least in the edupress, that neither of these notions works in application to schools. In the case of teacher merit pay, what Arne Duncan himself hath wrought has been brought into question:
"Education Secretary Arne Duncan and all of his acolytes who are rushing to implement performance-based compensation for teachers might want to take a close look at the preliminary results from a Chicago program with this focus that was initially started when Duncan ran the city school system.
A study released today by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. shows no evidence that the Chicago Teacher Advancement Program improved student math and reading tests when compared with a group of similar schools that did not use the system, Education Week reported.
Chicago's program is a version of the national Teacher Advancement Program, or TAP, which was first implemented in Chicago in 2007-08, when Duncan led the schools.
The analysis looked at the first two years of a four-year program, which has multiple steps, including increased teacher development, and an incentive payment scheme in which teachers are paid more when their students do better on standardized test scores.
The concept ignores the fact that standardized tests in schools today were not designed as teacher assessment tools and aren't valid measures, but that isn't stopping a headlong rush into implementation in school districts across the country."
In a similar fashion to the debunking that teacher merit took this week, a new study (pdf) about the portfolio approach to school improvement revealed that evidence of its success is by and large nonexistent. The only evidence of any gains in student achievement is anecdotal, from just one place (New Orleans), and probably not credible.
So, back to the issue of a common core curriculum: Since the biggest fans of teacher merit pay and portfolio management are also strong proponents of a nationalized curriculum, shouldn't we be pretty circumspect about that proposal as well?
Shouldn't we be listening carefully to the opinions of Yong Zhao who warns that the push for national standards "risks the loss of what really matters" in education? Shouldn't the media balance the propaganda from Arne Duncan's office and DC-based thinktanks with the views of Alfie Kohn who points out that "no evidence that students in countries as diverse as ours with national standards or curricula engage in unusually deep thinking or are particularly excited about learning?" Shouldn't reporters wonder why teachers themselves, such as Susan O'Hanian, say "I think of my students as I read the Common Core, and I weep?" And shouldn't some high-paid journalist somewhere take the time to investigate the issues brought up by TruthOut's Marion Brady:
"There has been, for example, no discussion of the wisdom of standardizing knowledge in the middle of a knowledge explosion. Nor is anyone asking if the 'core' school subjects - the ones being standardized - are up to the challenges the future will bring.
No provision has been made for coordinating or prioritizing the work of the various standards-writing committees.
No one has been assigned responsibility for mediating the conflicts which will arise as the supporters of various school subjects compete for learner time and public money.
No apologies have been offered to professional educators for telling them they don't know how to do their jobs.
No one is addressing the fact that the world that school subjects try to explain is an interconnected whole that can't be understood using a random handful of disconnected school subjects.
That last problem alone - the one that helped make NCLB an intellectual farce - is reason enough to dump Race to the Top and The Common Core State Standards Initiative.
But perhaps most curious of all, is the present reform effort's disregard for deep-seated American values."
This Week's Duncehat Award: The Washington Post
One after another, education reformists dangle the shiny baubles of charter schools, teacher merit pay, and content standards before the wide eyes of mainstream journalists and chant "now repeat after me." In one such mesmerized state, the editorial board of the Washington Post recently hailed the Obama administrations effort to link teacher pay to student test scores as "breakthroughs in teacher quality."
Echoing the teacher bashing that is so now the rage in the media, the Posts' editors enthuse over anything that bucks "the fierce opposition" of teachers unions and automatically assume that linking student test scores to teacher salary and tenure is a "solution" that can "only help teachers and students. Get that: "only help." Yes, like everything else about the Washington Consensus on education, there are not two sides to this argument.
Rethinking Schools clarifies what's really at work here:
"From the time of Reagan, who used his 'welfare queen' stories to scapegoat the poor as a basis on which to destroy the welfare system, this has been a tried-and-true approach to privatization: use visceral anecdotes to whip up hysteria that a system is 'broken,' argue that only market competition can fix the situation, and then sell off pieces of the public sector to private corporations. This time, teachers are the scapegoats."