Since my rushed and poorly constructed post yesterday yielded a big fail, I thought I'd use this interview with Diane Ravitch as a way to take another stab at it. This is a long one, but I wanted to address the issues that arose in the comments to the post and previous comments among our raucous but happy community. My goal is to clarify, not antagonize. If it comes across as such please attribute it to the difficulties of written communication and not to my intentions.
On the Common Core:
I’m not a supporter of Common Core and I’m not an outright opponent, but I’m not a supporter. I don’t like the way that it was developed with very little input from teachers. The early grades – I’ve read the English Language Arts; I wouldn’t presume to judge the math parts, others do that — but in the reading and English Language Arts, the early grades are developmentally inappropriate. They expect things of 5-year-olds and 6-year-olds that are just wrong. It’s very scripted in terms of what teachers are supposed to do and my biggest problem with Common Core is not the fact there are standards, but that these standards have never been tried anywhere...
Standards are a matter of human judgment and human beings decide what’s going to be the passing mark. When a test is put together, the people who put the test together know exactly how every question will perform. They know how hard it is or easy it is, and they typically put together a test that produces a bell curve, where half the kids are above and half the kids are below.
In the case of the Common Core test in New York and apparently in Kentucky, they created a curve where most of the kids failed. They didn’t have to do that. I saw one of the tests in New York – it was a fifth-grade test, which I would say was written for eighth graders. I don’t know what the point of that is, other than to add to this narrative of “our schools are failing, failing, failing — we need more charters,” that people throw up their hands and give up on public education.
Problems: 1. Developmentally inappropriate; 2. Not field tested; 3. Tool for power politics to produce failure.
On Big Data:
I think what we’re seeing nationally is an effort to apply something called “Big Data” to education, and education has always been understood in this country — and every other country, as far as I know — as first and foremost the interaction between teachers, adults and children. It can work well and it can not work well, and if it doesn’t work well, you try and intervene to find out why. But it’s primarily human interactions. What’s happened now is we’re in a moment of Big Data where management consultants like McKinsey and the government and the big thinkers think that everything can be reduced to data and, if you just manipulate the data, you can come up with the answers.
Problem: Distracts from the real process of learning
What I don’t like about it is that the real goal here is to replace teachers with technology. There’s an assumption that you can somehow get rid of teachers, reduce their numbers and have a hundred kids in every classroom, and they’ll have one teacher and a lot of iPads or a lot of other kinds of technology. That’s a mistake because, ultimately, kids will learn or not learn based on human interactions, not based on technology.
Problems: 1. Just another education fad, like the internet and Television; 2. Substitute for teachers, see the Gates Foundation consistent argument on class size.
It's a good interview, and I encourage y'all to check it out. As for the power politics, the real topic of my failed post...
I just finished up a chapter tracing the history of education reform from the 1970's to the present for a book project I'm working on with this fellow [an excellent read by the way]. The chapter teases out three over-lapping and mutually reinforcing themes that has brought us to this moment of bi-partisan consensus and the emergence of a 'deep state' in education policy. No quantitative data involved. It's an historical policy analysis.
Theme one traces the emergence of human capital theory a la' Lazear and Becker as the over-arching goal of public schooling. Theme two traces how the two parties came into alignment over the 'why' and 'how' of education reform. Theme three traces the emergence of an ever-expanding constellation of think tanks, advocacy groups, philanthropic organizations, and whatnot whose money became the driving force behind the political convergence over the 'why' [human capital theory] and 'how' [testing, privatization and competition, charter school, and YES the common core] of education policy.
In our debates here, the conspiracy theorist label has been bandied about as has accusations of guilt by association. However, if say someone were to dismiss 'research' produced or funded by the NRA on how having more guns doesn't lead to more gun related deaths b/c of that association, nobody here would blink an eye. Likewise, when I see a specific policy or idea in which the power players of ed policy are involved, I call BS until I see evidence to the contrary. Why? Because, just like the NRA, these organizations have a long history of intellectual dishonesty and hack PR work.
Let me give you one example: One of the biggest players [as we all know] is the Gates Foundation. In 2003, Gates was out hyping his latest miracle project The School of the Future in which every student is given a laptop and learning is driven by technology. It caught the attention of the national press, and the foundation made it sound like the greatest thing since sliced bread. Never heard of it? That's because it has consistently low test scores and has been extremely controversial.
Math Proficiency: 44% [State Avg: 60%]
Reading: 62% [68%]
Science: 1% [42%]
Writing: 74% [83%]
Gates just dropped the conversation and went onto his next miracle. The organization has a long history of this stuff. If one of the studies they fund has positive findings, the foundation's marketing arm swings into action and news outlets across the country report on it. [Why that is the case is a whole other story] If the study findings don't fit the narrative [like the Mathematica study on charter schools that reached the same conclusion as the majority of studies] then the study disappears into the aether. This is not unique to the Gates foundation. It is par for the course. The narrative and political goals come first; evidence and intellectual honesty comes second.
Now, to address the point I tried to make [very poorly] yesterday... The entrance of the nutjobs into the fray has only complicated the politics of education policy. The power players are already using the nutjobs to tar opponents of education reform as conspiracy theorists, see reviews of Ravitch's new book by folks [like J.P. Greene] who hadn't even read it. This is how power politics works. It's not about reality; it is about achieving ones goals. As Max Weber noted, achieving ones goals despite opposition is the very definition of power. The progressive community had better start thinking about how to differentiate their voices and separate themselves from the nutjobs, because this will be used as a cudgel to beat back their very real, reality-based opposition to current trends in education reform.
I hope this helps to foster a productive conversation. Now, I need to get to work so that I'm not at it until midnight tonight. Thanks to the fine proprietors of this site for letting a screwball such as myself post here.
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