A recent article in Education Week indicates that Arne Duncan NOW believes that it is a mistake to publish teacher’s “value added” rankings in the newspaper but still adheres to the belief that schools should inform parents when a teacher’s “value added” test results are poor over an extended period of time. The article’s penultimate paragraph suggests that Duncan’s critics will accuse him of “trying to have it both ways”… which ISN’T a criticism, it’s an accurate description of what is going on!
One of the conundrums of merit pay is that it categorizes “excellent” teachers from “un-excellent” teachers in the same way that “gifted and talented” programs identify “un-gifted and talented” students. Nothing can be more dispiriting to a child (or a child’s parents) than being classified as “un-gifted”… but there is a public identification associated with the classification of students whether administrators like it or not. Similarly, identifying and rewarding “excellent” teachers will result in a public disclosure of the list no matter how hard administrators try to contend the information is confidential… and if student test results can purportedly be used to rank teachers and districts DON’T publish the results or calculate them, enterprising parent organizations or media outlets WILL do it.
The real problem with all this is that “value added” analyses are completely unproven as a basis for evaluating teachers except on the grossest level. When student test results are interpreted in a granular fashion, they assume an exactness that does exists mathematically but not practically. Until the USDOE abandons it’s illusion that value-added analysis is worthwhile we will continue to publicly humiliate teachers over nothing.
The Naked Capitalist posted an articleby George Irwin from the Guardian titled “When Privatisation Doesn’t Work”. Much of the article is devoted to an overview of economic theory as it applies to the provision of public services, and in addition to making a case that medical services should be thought of as a public good, Irwin has one sections that directly discusses education:
…. Universal literacy may be instrumental to developing a skilled workforce – a notion much loved by Tories – but the real reason we value education is because it is a necessary (though insufficient) component of a well-functioning democratic society. Education is not a commodity to be purchased according to individual preference; it’s central to the meaning of civilised society.
The article concludes with a clear explanation of what “efficiency” means to many businesspeople:
The notion that competition always makes the private sector more efficient than the public sector is… quite unjustified… What politicians typically mean when they speak of greater efficiency is lower costs, typically achieved by employing cheap, non-unionised labour. This is the real reason so many public services are outsourced.
In short, arguments favouring private over public provision are not just theoretically flawed, but typically favour the few at the expense of the many. The pendulum has swung too far to the right: it’s time to stand up for public provision.
Irwin is writing from Britain where the pendulum has swung even further to the right than here… but one can easily envision the following sequence of events occurring in our country: “failing” unionized public schools are replaced by lower cost “turnaround” charter schools that are NOT unionized (and therefore less costly) that achieve modestly higher test scores… and of course TEST scores are the ultimate metric for defining “success”… Of course the affluent suburban schools don’t have to worry about this happening in their communities because THEIR test scores are safely above the “failure” level…
A recent Education Week article describes the problems a competency-based school systems faces when it tries to work within the Factory School structure that measures “progress” based on age-based cohorts. The curriculum needs to be completely re-written because test-books are designed to match the age-based cohorts system in place, a system reinforced by the accountability system imposed by the federal government. Educators know that students learn at different rates and in different ways and technology provides us with the opportunity to develop individualized learning plans based on that reality. Unfortunately our metrics are designed to reinforce a model put in place at the beginning of the 20th Century. Here’s hoping CO will be open minded enough to allow Adams 50 to continue to pursuing this approach.
Mark Bittman’s NYTimes column discusses the issue of whether advertising for junk food that is targeted for children should be protected by the first amendment. The column addresses constitutional issues, citing cases that “protect” advertisers because they provide consumers with information they need to make an informed decision. The article then notes that psychologists have determined that children under 12 cannot make an informed decision given their intellectual development. For that reason, the government has developed some dietary guidelines and accompanying advertising limitations. Of course, “Big Food” has successfully pushed back. In the meantime, cash-starved school s have expanded advertising, which leads to the The concluding paragraph:
Clearly, public schools need all the revenue they can get, but if the only way to sufficiently fund the schools is by undermining the nutrition of the kids who attend them, we’d better bring in more junk food ads, because we’re going to have to pay for something else our kids will need: Health care.
The knots continue: public schools are charged with educating student-consumers to eat wisely but need to sell advertisements to keep their doors open and programs alive. Oh, and pizza is a balanced meal on the menu.
Two recent articles shine different lights on the roles of corporations play in directly supporting… or indirectly NOT supporting public education. A Fast Company article by Judah Schiller and Christine Arena titled “How Corporations are Helping to Solve the Education Crisis” opens with an analysis of how schools are turning out students who lack STEM skills and describes the steps corporations are taking to remedy that problem. One paragraph stood out from my perspective:
The questions Anthony Salcito (Microsoft VP for Worldwide Education) contemplates are fundamental to the process of reinventing a system that no longer meets the needs of the population it serves. Today’s public schools were designed for 19th-century industrialism, not an era of globalization and interconnectivity. Evidence of this inadequacy abounds: Standards and textbooks have grown outdated. Campuses are becoming dreary and homogenized. Teachers are increasingly disenfranchised. Students remain largely uninspired. And as a result, corporations are hard pressed to recruit new talent. These issues require more than federal funding and moderate reforms. (emphases added)
From Microsoft’s perspective, improved public education is in their enlightened self-interest because they are seeking new talent, and the talent they need must have a strong background in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.
Paul Krugman’s NYTimes column describes a darker form of self-interest: the private sector’s desire to take over public enterprises and/or drive down their costs. Krugman’s article is NOT about education per se; it is about ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council that I wrote about in an earlier post. ALEC provides training and writes bills for State legislators, bills that “…seem to have a special interest in privatization — that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons, over to for-profit corporations. And some of the most prominent beneficiaries of privatization, such as the online education company K12 Inc. and the prison operator Corrections Corporation of America, are, not surprisingly, very much involved with the organization.
I am a proponent of businesses working with schools in their enlightened self interest and very interested in ways to integrate technology into public education. But the wholesale privatization of public services is an anathema because private corporations answer to private stockholders and private stockholders are only interested in profit. McDonalds makes a profit selling food that is full of calories but lacking in health. If the only measure of education quality is test results, there will be an educational enterprise analogous to McDonalds: it will turn out students who score well on tests but who lack a wholesome, well rounded diet.
This recent ASCD article offers two examples of community engagement in two different venues: urban and rural, and in both cases makes it clear that it is the schools responsibility to reach out to the community and not the other way around. The article also offers examples of how the parent and community engagement resulted in improved test results. Here’s a question that some State department should explore: is there ANY case where a school’s performance improved WITHOUT increased parental and community involvement? If not, why aren’t we using some kind of school and community metric as part of the accountability plan? And if that IS the case, why don’t we make the expanded mission of public education more explicit?
Truthdig writer David Sirota writes in his article “Charter Schools are Not the Silver Bullet” that the results for charter schools do not suggest they are any better or any cheaper than public schools. Now… to be consistent I must point out the the measure being used to determine if charter schools are “better” is…. you guessed it… standardized tests! The beat goes on… how are we ever going to know if your schools are getting better if the only measure we use for their quality is standardized tests?