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

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Reformy Argument, And The Response

Watching Michelle Rhee once again on Real Time with Bill Maher, it becomes clear what the reformy argument all boils down to:
  1. There is a shameful "gap" in performance between affluent white students and poor minority students.
  2. But even our affluent white students suck compared to the rest of the world.
  3. The problem, then, must be in our schools.
  4. While there may be other factors involved, we really can't wait to fix those; we need immediate action, and we can take that by "reforming" schools.
  5. These "reforms" will create innovation and accountability, which is what has been missing from the public school "blob."
  6. These reforms - charter expansion, test-based teacher evaluation, vouchers, de-unionization, gutting tenure, merit pay, ending seniority - will raise student achievement.
The answer to these, in turn, is:
  1. No one argues that the lower performance of poor minority students is shameful and must be fixed. But in every country in the world, the poor have worse educational outcomes than the rich. Doesn't that tell you something?
  2. Affluent white students in America actually perform well in international comparisons. The few "studies" that claim otherwise do not take into account the curvilinearity of America's correlation between test scores and socio-economic status; in other words, poor and middle class students pay a greater price for not being rich than in other countries.
  3. At least 60% of student outcomes are based on student characteristics and background. America is a highly-unequal nation. While we can and should try to make our schools better, the solutions to the problems of inequality and chronic poverty clearly lie outside of our public education system.
  4. We will never equalize educational outcomes until we provide a basic standard of living for every citizen of this country. We could rapidly implement plans to provide universal health care, create jobs, rebuild our infrastructure, make taxes truly progressive, and get monied interests out of politics and our media. So why don't we? It is not a coincidence that the wealthiest people in this country are behind the corporate "reform" movement: they are happy to lay America's problems at the feet of our public schools system so that we, the people, are distracted from having a serious discussion about inequity, chronic poverty, and racism.
  5. Innovation in education is not the same as buying a lot of unproven digital junk. And professionals in every other field set standards of accountability for themselves, with appropriate public and governmental oversight. Teachers, however, have largely been left out of the "reform" conversation.
  6. There is no evidence that any of these "reforms" can be scaled up to provide meaningful improvements in student achievement.
I'll say that last one again so we are all clear:

There is no evidence that charter expansion, test-based teacher evaluationvouchers, de-unionization, gutting tenure, merit pay, or ending seniority can be scaled up to provide meaningful improvements in student achievement.

It's really this simple...


Mrs. King's music students said...

It's true that professionals in every other field set standards of accountability for themselves. WE DIDN'T. Instead, our union made perpetual victims of us. They looked the other way while we worked in districts we could never afford to live in - enforced 'blank slate' requirements for the blank slates and super stars alike - withheld information (or failed to monitor it at all) in their continuing effort to divide and conquer their own membership. Overall, they've blinded this profession to everything BUT seniority.

Now Mr Cerf has strapped a saddle to the NJDOE and plans to ride it to glory. Had we done this ourselves he wouldn't be doing it now.

Unknown said...

Re MKMS: Words matter, and I've always thought "seniority," when used as a measure of remuneration, advancement, and reward was a misnomer. A better word is "experience," and as in other professions, experience matters. Like other professions, such as law and medicine, education is one in which a 20 year veteran has the same job description, requirements, and responsibility as a first year plebe. They do the same thing on a daily basis. It is experience and -- when all else is equal -- outcomes that differentiate one from another. Experience does impact outcomes, so we shouldn't shrink from acknowledging experience. Few would argue with rewarding "experience" as they do "seniority." So a first step is reclaiming the lexicon.

Outcomes are more complex. One problem when comparing outcomes in a profession, is trying to compare and evaluate different situations with the same measure, which, in education, we do. The new "accountability" methods being proposed and put in place still do.

For example, when choosing a doctor, we do look at the success of his/her treatment or practice; ex. how many of his/her patients' health are improved. But you wouldn't compare the success rate of a primary care doctor to an oncologist because those s/he is treating come to him/her with different issues that affect the outcome and success of the doctor's treatment, irrespective of the doctors' talents and effectiveness.

Yet, it is -- wrongly -- entirely reasonable for those who are creating accountability and effectiveness methods for educators, to use the same measure on all educators who teach very different populations.

Unknown said...

That last comment from "Unknown" was from me :)

Mrs. King's music students said...

Experience only matters if you keep your mouth shut for 3 years and a day (no matter what) and stay put for the next 20 or 30 years after that. However, if you relocate - even if only to the next town - and even if your move has nothing to do with your track record - you're gonna take a hit. Why? Because your union "negotiated" that.

As flawed as the proposed reforms are, I think in the end we're gonna say "eh, what was that all about?"

Unknown said...

Re MKMS "eh, what was that all about?"

Like the many other "Great Moments in Education" that never had any negative impact? You mean like Whole Language? The 10 year failed attempt to "improve" reading instruction that produced functional illiterates who couldn't spell, who couldn't decode and therefore read vocabulary that they may not have come across prior to graduation, like anencephalic or even phlegm, and who couldn't read Jabberwocky. Or maybe that great "new math." Or No Child Left Behind.

Unfortunately, it's more likely this "reform" will be like the rest of our abortive attempts to rush to "improve" from which it typically took about ten years to recover. What that was all about was half a generation of kids who suffered.


Mrs. King's music students said...

But isn't your issue really the slap dash implementaion and lack of buy in and follow through more than it is the proposed reforms? For example, how can you argue with NCLB? Leave no child behind is a good thing. The brutalizations occured as everyone along the way interpreted it to suit himself/herself or thought this applies to the other guys not to me. The arts took a huge hit in this case where lazy/corrupt admins reinterpreted it to mean state mandated math and reading blocks REPLACED their obligation to provide arts education. Bush's primary failure in this instance was not anticipating that they would do just that.

And, not for nothing, the strides made in special ed under NCLB were monumental.