Seattle Schools superintendent has magnanimously chosen
not to behead those upstart employees who boycotted the MAP®
“universal screener” test earlier this year. Natch, his decision has
nothing to do with the public uproar any disciplinary action would have
provoked, or with the fact that the district was still able to implement the
test in spite of it all. So there.
how many progressive educators have bought into the testing craze, given that “progressive
education” used to denote student-centered policies that made schooling more humane, not less. Under the New
Clinicism data is king, even data gathered at any price. As is so often the
case in public education, the current reality was begotten by the worst of the
political left and right both.
of children, one has to ask whether this current generation of students will allow
their own kids to suffer the same testing regime under which they’re suffering
now. And will our policymakers apologize for their own arrogance when their
decisions are repudiated at the ballot box in the years to come? Perhaps educrats
and politicos should take more interest in timelines and less interest in maps.
Is Fabulous!” department, efforts are afoot to place every American
schoolchild’s academic records on the
cloud. In fact, it’s not just afoot: it’s
a done deal. A newborn nonprofit called inBloom, Inc. (love that stylized
corporate Esperanto) has already been forklifting reams of data from nine
states onto a digital stockpile, and more states are eager to follow. And it’s
all perfectly legal. Seems education
secretary Arne Duncan wisely arranged to have FERPA altered last year for
this very purpose, so that meddlesome parents and advocacy groups can’t assert
their privacy rights. Way to strike a blow for the privatizers, Mr. Secretary.
is truly cause for celebration. As the age of McLearnings™
advances, children everywhere will soon be able to enjoy the very best that commercial
education franchisers have to offer: pricey scams, constant text and e-mail
solicitations, “curricula” written by software developers, personalized trinket-trash,
and much, much more. It’s a good thing that opting out is not an option.
the scurrilous multitude of wrongs inspired by the most totally bitchin’
education law ever is the practice of field testing, in which students are made to undergo
standardized tests that don’t even count. Students are impressed into service
as guinea pigs with no due consideration in return, not so much as a thank-you
or a Tootsie Roll. Both education officials and testing companies call this a necessary—even
desirable—means of quality assurance. Others call it just plain child
tests are not-ready-for-primetime versions of the state juggernauts that
already dominate the time and resources of public school systems nationally, not
only because of the end-of-year administration of said tests but because of the
regular “benchmarking” and dress-rehearsals schools have put in place throughout
the year to prepare and remediate students. Often field tests occur in dumbfounding
conjunction with the real ones, as when, a few years ago, I was forced to
administer a full-day writing field test to my high-school junior English
classes in February, the same students who would take the actual exit-level
English Language Arts test in early March—another full-day testathon in itself.
Now, in April of this year, certain lucky Texas 11th-graders
will sit for a mandatory STAAR English field test even though they are the
last cohort to graduate under the old Texas Assessment of Knowledge
and Skills (TAKS) test regime, and even though they will have sat for their exit-level
TAKS Language Arts exam only a month before.
testing is an important part of the item and test development process,” says
the Texas Education Agency in one policy document. “[It] allows for the development
of tests that are fair for all student groups, are of high quality, are legally
defensible, and can withstand rigorous scrutiny when evaluated relative to professional
standards.” As if the damage wrought by lost instructional time, crowded schedules,
wasted resources, and additional stress is fair to students. As if field
testing itself is professional or withstands rigorous scrutiny. The phrase
“legally defensible” is telling as well, denoting as it does the state’s
interests, not students’. While field testing may indeed provide a ready CYA for
education ministries beleaguered by a litigious society, that is still a poor
excuse for shifting the burden onto children.
lawsuits over standardized tests involve incompetence and chicanery by the
private contractors who create and manage the tests. Both Educational Testing Service (ETS) and Pearson Education have paid out millions in recent years to plaintiffs damaged by botched
test scores. The shift of education assessment from the public sector into the
hands of a few powerful private vendors was probably inevitable under No Child
Left Behind, and even with such high-dollar foul-ups, business obviously remains
good. At the moment Pearson holds a $500 million contract with Texas to author
and administer the STAAR. At that price, one might reasonably assume Pearson—a
billion-dollar British conglomerate—has its own internal resources for determining
test reliability and validity. But one would be wrong, despite the fact that Pearson can somehow afford
six lobbyists to carry its interests to the halls of the Texas legislature. And there is still another
problem with privatized testing: when a commercial entity with contracts in numerous
states (New York: $32 million) is allowed access to students for the purpose of
product-testing, why is it not exploitation?
aside, there are other reasons why the Powers That Be should either put a stop
to field testing or do a better job of explaining it. Strangely, the Powers
That Be are rarely available to answer for their bad policies. When April
comes, juniors statewide will look at their teachers, mouths agape, and say “But
we just took our exit test! Why do we have to go through this again?” And hundreds of teachers, I
included, will look at our students and shrug, perhaps mumble a vague apology. Once
again, the system has sabotaged us. Once again, teachers are left holding the
bag, made to answer for decisions made by hypocrites and charlatans who are
nowhere to be found at the moment of truth. And what student wouldn’t hold such
a system, and the people who run it, in utter contempt?
testing is a deplorable practice, and it should end at once.
refreshing to see Texas
actually tap the brakes on testing this past week. But even if HB
5 or something like it clears the legislature, the age of the New
Clinicism, in which everything taught in schools must have direct and
measurable impact on student achievement, will surely continue in Texas and
own professional leadership now advocates linking teacher performance with
student outcomes as much as the political reformers do, then perhaps it’s
time for another type of education reform: truth in advertising. Because
students no longer complete course curricula but rather achieve “mastery” as
measured by standardized tests, then let the instruments of measurement be the curricula on student transcripts.
In other words, let’s drop the whole pretense of course names like “Language
Arts” and “History” and title each course for the specific test-prep boot-camp
that it is: Texas high-schoolers would no longer take English I, English II,
etc., but rather “STAAR
English I Reading,” “STAAR
English II Writing,” etc. (English IV would simply bite the dust since the
state test doesn’t assess British literature.) Let the test become the course
in name, as it already is in practice, and let student class schedules and
transcripts reflect this, so that parents and colleges don’t draw the false
conclusion that students have actually completed a traditional course of study.
And let us not insult the great traditions behind the humanities and the
sciences by claiming that test-mastery
and education are the same thing.
standards movement has so thoroughly conflated the benefits of learning with “outcomes”
that there is probably no going back. But at least we can stop deceiving
ourselves and our students with names and labels that try to have it both ways.
As a matter of fact, about that word “diploma”….
at AllThingsPLC, we have a
forehead-slapping rationale why even school-office
personnel should be trained in the ways of a Professional
Learning Community: they perform their duties “in isolation,” the
cardinal sin in PLC theology. Woe unto thee, O Dilbert.
fret not. In today’s cutting-edge, research-based, gluten-free PLC, the
phone-answering and copy-making continue, only now they occur “side by side.” When
office staff “view themselves as a practicing PLC,” they enjoy the advantages
of more meetings, more togetherness, and, apparently, more work. Because a true
PLC happily exploits that devilish phrase in every public-school employee’s
contract, “other duties as assigned,” office personnel can expect to have their
duties “updated,” expanded, inflated, and distorted. Why?So that principals can spend more time micromanaging
teachers and enforcing ideology.
in the PLC Shangri-La of “shared” this and “collective” that, do these newly
burdened office managers “share” in their principals’ salaries?
the hazy, crazy, late 1960s, a young bloke’s smokin’ blues guitar on a
one-album stint with a soon-to-be-defunct British blues band inspired some
other bloke (or blokes) to spray-paint CLAPTON
IS GOD on a London Underground station wall. A hero-cult was born, as the same
graffito soon proliferated throughout central London, a sort of rock’n’roll KILROY WAS HERE.
decades afterwards the Clapton in question, Eric, both profited by and suffered
from his early deification. A legend is hard to live up to, especially when you’re
still alive. Rock historians will say that to subscribe to the Clapton cult is
to ignore the ground broken by Clapton’s numerous contemporaries—Jeff Beck,
Peter Green, Jimmy Page, and perhaps a dozen others. Some say, when examining
Clapton’s musical greatness, that
there is precious little “there” there at all. It turns out that this early
Clapton fever was driven more-or-less by a technical gimmick, i.e. Clapton’s
use of a particular kind of Les Paul with two PAF humbuckers. Clapton’s anointing
as “God,” much like Springsteen’s “The Boss,” was the offspring of a few
nameless enthusiasts and the slot-machine of celebrity.
enough, this is the same process by which modern American education chooses its
own icons. A case in point is Dr. Robert
Marzano, author, meta-analyst, and all-around guru grande, whose products and services are among the most-sought in the
lucrative professional-development industry. Some teachers swear by his work, and
those who don’t have at least encountered it one way or another; “Marzano” the
brand is as commonplace at educational workshops as trinket-trash.
Meta-analysis is Marzano’s
humbucker, his fancy gadget whose precise function and nature are rarely
understood or even questioned—especially by teachers. Simply put, it is the
research of others’ research, ground
and processed through any number of statistical veeblefetzers and sprayed out on
a gigantic canvas. In a certain sense, meta-analysis is really mega-analysis: it’s BIG, damn BIG, IMAX
BIG, its very appeal being its supposed ability to make sense out of staggering
stacks of minutiae. That probably explains why so many administrators adore San Marzano tomatoes: needing
some way to manage teachers across all departments and disciplines, they seize
Works in Schoolsor The Art
and Science of Teachingand go scurrying through school classrooms and
corridors, looking for “evidence” that teachers are not just following Marzano’s
recipes for learning but following them CORRECTLY.
meta-analysis is not without
its critics, nor (thankfully) is Marzano. It’s just
that challenging the Marzano brand or the techniques behind it risks provoking
the “Marzano Is God” cult. Because whole school systems as well as individual
administrators have developed policies based on the work of Bob Marzano (May we
call you “Bob,” Doctor? I think we will, thank you!), the mere act of
questioning his meta-orthodoxy now carries the
additional risk of insubordination. That’s an awful lot of power and authority
for one man, one brand, or one vendor of educational products. Marzano and his namesake
company constitute all three.
has erupted in Florida over Marzano’s sexy, state-of-the-art
teacher-evaluation system. This in turn has caused some
commentators to start probing the Marzano cult more closely. That’s a good
thing, but the backlash against the Marzano brand is a little late. Even if one
accepts its research methods as valid, there is the added problem of the
conditions under which Marzanism arose. Educational leaders are big on paying
tribute to pseudo-scientific formalities like “data” and “research,” but in
their hearts they are still ideologues, susceptible to whatever floats their
precious boats, the same kinds of closet fanatics who vandalized that Islington
Station wall in 1967. And let us not forget either the hippie pretenders who sold out
in the 1980s, traded their suede for business suits and went mercenary. These,
too, are the kinds of personalities—administrative types who harbor their own
ambitions of joining the consulting racket post-career—responsible for
fostering the current educational reality.
knows that teachers don’t choose their profession for the sake of riches. But
there are a few ways to get rich in education, and every one of them reeks of
corruption. These paths include the testing industry, the textbook business,
and the consulting racket. Of these, consulting is the most vulnerable to
hero-worship. Over the years Eric Clapton at least had the good sense to
disassociate himself from the whole hero-cult thing, probably recognizing the
danger to his reputation was greater than whatever glory came from being “God.”
Still, it’s hard to say how much of Clapton’s legacy is legit and how much is
hype. Similarly, it’s hard to say how much of Marzano—the man, the brand, the
business, the tomato, the whatever—is legitimate when the consultant business
in general operates just beyond the kind of public scrutiny under which
teachers labor. Did he profit a little too much? Did he wield just a little too
much power? The world may never know.
a sophist by his linguistic perversions. The word “learnings”
is gaining near ubiquity in education circles of late, part of the ever-growing
mutant lexicon of congealed crap known as edspeak.
What an underwhelming surprise to learn that it originated in the corporate arena,
from among the same oily ladder-climbers who gave us “synergy” and “let’s do
lunch.” What a refreshing delight to learn it has inspired at least one parody website. By god, if subversives
like these keep insisting on thinking for themselves, we might just reclaim our
language if not our education system.