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Living in Dialogue: Education Reform Hypocrites

New York principal Carol Burris’ latest post is infuriating. In it, she describes the inaccurate data that the New York state Department of Education has published which fails to show the true number of students attending college. The Department of Ed published the faulty data by district alongside the districts’ own college statistics report. In many cases, such as in Carol Burris’ school, there was a substantial gap which made it appear the district was not telling the truth. The problem was that the state left out students who were actually enrolled.

This data manages to overlook a significant number of students who have enrolled in college. A local news article said this:

Harrison schools Superintendent Louis Wool said he felt the state’s reform agenda was based on the faulty notion that public schools were failing, and that the new data was designed to bolster that view.

“The reality is that most school districts across the state are already doing an effective job of preparing kids for college. To misrepresent the facts in such a clear and purposeful way is irresponsible,” he said.

New York is among a number of states where leaders have embraced aggressive, supposedly “data-driven” policies, including test-based teacher evaluations, and Common Core-aligned tests that label the majority of students as below proficient.

The question that comes to mind is: “If these officials really cared about data, wouldn’t they make sure that the data they are using to drive their decisions is accurate?”

And this then leads me to a whole series of similar questions about the mighty agents of reform that are disrupting and transforming our schools from coast to coast and beyond. To be clear, the proponents of reform I am describing include the Gates Foundation, the Federal Department of Education, and their allies and grant recipients around the nation.

If these so-called reformers really cared about the quality of education, why have they encouraged the deregulation of charter schools, allowing the growth of schools that have demonstrated poor quality, such as the charter chain K12 Inc?

If they really care about the quality of teacher preparation, why have they invested millions of taxpayer dollars in Teach For America, which places teachers in difficult settings after only a five week summer training?

If they really want to prepare ALL students for college and career, why are they designing tests that label two thirds of our students as below proficient – and thus unready?

And if they are concerned about the fate of struggling students, why replace the previous GED test with a Pearson Common Core version that drastically reduces the number of students who will receive a GED?

If these systems thinkers really believe that students need to be creative critical thinkers, why do they promote adherence to standards and test prep curriculum? Why not allow teachers to model the creativity we want from our students by giving them some autonomy?

If people like Arne Duncan do not want teachers teaching to the test, then why have policies that demand a significant part of teacher evaluations be based on test scores?

If education is truly the Civil Rights issue of our time, why has the goal of desegregation been abandoned? Why are state and Federal programs promoting the expansion of a highly segregated charter school sector?

If the US ranking on international test score comparisons is so vital to our economic future, how is it that the US ranked near the bottom on these rankings in 1963, and yet has had the greatest economy on earth since then?

If promoters of innovation truly wanted to “personalize” education, they would not support ever-larger class sizes enabled by computerized devices, but would support the smaller class sizes they insist upon for their own children.

Getting back to the all-important data we are being required to obsess over, we are seeing the exponential increase in the QUANTITY of data, but a parallel deterioration in the QUALITY of the data being used to make life-changing decisions. Florida will soon begin using machines to score student essays used to determine where they stand academically, and of course, to evaluate their teachers. The American Statistical Association this year warned: “Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.” When will those driving us with data be held accountable for their miscalculations?

I know, it is considered bad manners to question the sincerity of the sponsors and agents of corporate education reform. But these repeated violations of the clear interests of students leave me left scratching my head. We are far beyond the honest mistake one might make in trying out something new.

Motivations are difficult to ascertain, but we are beyond the point where the veil of good intentions can be used to excuse this mess. Hypocrisy, uncovered, reveals the truth.

What do you think? Have you encountered situations where you were forced to ask yourself questions that began with “If they really…”? 

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Anthony Cody

Anthony worked for 24 years in the Oakland schools, 18 of them as a science teacher at a high-needs middle school. A National Board certified teacher, he no...