I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Accountability For Thee, Not For Me!

But... but... but... I thought judging success by looking at standardized tests was "not perfect, but better than nothing"!
Standardized test scores are supposed to bring the hammer of accountability down on teachers, principals and schools. When scores don’t grow as expected, evaluations suffer, career trajectories flatten, jobs can be lost. Schools that miss out on the still-coveted AYP seal of approval face questions from parents and elected officials.
But for the D.C. school system as a whole, this year’s so-so showing will come without cost--even though the District fell short of what it promised the federal government in its successful 2010 application for $75 million in Race to the Top funding. D.C. projected a statewide (DCPS and public charters) reading proficiency of 56.6 percent in 2011. It came in at 43.9 percent for the elementary grades and 48.2 percent at the secondary level. Same for math scores, which fell about eight points short of the projected 56.1 
Private donations became a hot issue last year when it was learned that the foundations (Walton, Broad, Robertson and Arnold) helping to fund the teachers’contract reserved the right to reconsider their support if DCPS leadership changed hands in a way they didn’t like. That was all moot when Kaya Henderson was named interim chancellor after Michelle Rhee’s resignation.
Cate Swinburn, executive director of the DC Public Education Fund, the nonprofit fundraising arm of DCPS that handles the private largesse, said the scores are not an issue.
“Funders generally consider the full set of milestones and metrics in aggregate as part of an annual or semi-annual review of a grant,” said Swinburn, who once held the same job in New York City. “In my time in New York City and now here, I have never had a funder withdraw their commitment based on performance milestones,” she said.
So, as long as Eli Broad and the Wal-Mart boys get to say who runs the schools in cities where they don't even live, it really doesn't matter how well the kids are doing. And they'll keep pushing standardized tests to judge the teachers, but not the politicized district leaders.

And what about Rhee? In the fall of 2008, the then-chancellor offered 2011 projections in a performance plan submitted to the D.C. Council. She placed DCPS elementary reading proficiency at 54 percent (it’s 43) and elementary math at 48 percent (it came in at 42.3). Her projections were closer to the mark at the secondary level, with reading at 47 percent (it was 44.2). Secondary math was the sole category that performed better than expected — 46.4 percent to 44 percent.
She'll spin this like she spun her duct tape-laden teaching career: she's a miracle worker! Except she never really said that, and it's unfair to judge her by her own words, and it's not really about her, blah, blah, blah...

This kind of crap is happening all the time: the policy makers are dumping a completely unreliable "accountability" system on the heads of teachers, simultaneously smiling and nodding while "straight talkin'" politicians slash our pay and benefits.

By the time these same policy makers are found out to be hacks and frauds and liars (Rhee, Cerf, Klein...), they're off to the next gig: corporate or pre-corporate, it matters little, for there will always be a payoff in the end, and no accountability for their actions.

All while the rest of us poor saps try to deal with the mess they've made in our classrooms.


calugg said...

I'm going to be most "unacademic." A lot of these so-called "reformers" are an updated version the American "con man." It reminds me of the "Laetrile" craze of the 1970s (remember that one?). This when cancer treatments were still fairly primitive, especially chemotherapy. Laetrile was sold as a more effective option that the oncologists were thwarting. Oncologists were just evil, greedy, and selfish--the defenders of the ineffective "status quo."

Of course, it was 50 cents of moon shine.

The corporate-minded ed reformers are today's Laetrile pushers. They aren't interested in the established research base, and the working teachers and administrators are just evil, greedy, and selfish--the defenders of the ineffective "status quo."

No....education is a complex process. Mass public education is hideously complex undertaking. And anyone who says "public education isn't rocket science" is really clueless. It far more complex than that.

Duke said...

Catherine, you are quite literally a genus! That is the PERFECT metaphor for this!

I'm so old (but not you... ;-) ) that I remember that clear as a bell. I remember a whole expose on 60 Minutes. Wasn't Laetrile made out of apple seeds? Which are mildly toxic anyway?

This is snake oil on a much grander scale. The poor rubes who buy into this crap...

calugg said...

Duke, Laetrile tended to be made from apricot pits, which contain cynanide. There were a slew of cases of said poisonings in the 1970s, during the height of this nuttiness.

The corporate reformy types are selling a con, the most basic is that solving educational problems is easy. Since many of our educational problems are actually political problems (chronic poverty, malnutrition, unabated lead, lousy access to health and dental care etc.), many schools "look stuck" when it's the political system that is stuck.

So, along comes a fast-buck con promises simple answers to complex problems. As Laetrile is to cancer, "reformy-ishm" (sorry Bruce for the slaughtered term) is to public schools.

And no, I'm not saying public education is cancer. But addressing real educational needs is a complex as treating cancer or AIDS. There's a lot about the intersection of politics and student learning that still needs to be untangled.