Washington Post blogger Valerie Strauss reported last week on the recently formed alliance of three dozen opt-out groups, describing them as “…an alliance to expand efforts to bring sanity to education policy.” Here’s her description of the group’s intentions, with emphasis added to one phrase:
The alliance, which is called Testing Resistance and Reform Spring, will support a range of public education and mobilizing tactics — including boycotts, opt-out campaigns, rallies and legislation — in its effort to stop the high-stakes use of standardized tests, to reduce the number of standardized exams, and to replace multiple-choice tests with performance-based assessments and school work. The alliance will help activists in different parts of the country connect through a new Web site that offers resources for activists, including fact sheets and guides on how to hold events to get out their message.
The notion of replacing multiple choice tests with performance based assessments and school work would have been impossible a decade ago because there would be no way to ensure that the basis for evaluating such assessments would be consistent from state-to-state and no way of knowing whether the school work was completed on worthwhile goals. Ironically, the combination of the Common Core standards and “big data”, both of which underpin the standardized testing movement, could serve as a means of implementing a uniform basis for assessing individual student performance and school work… and absent SOME degree of uniformity in curriculum there is no assurance that students in TX would learn about evolution…. and absent some degree of uniformity in expectations there is no assurance that students in MS would be expected to achieve the same outcomes to earn a diploma as students in MA. I fear the opt out movement’s reflexive opposition to the CCSS and “big data” will work against it’s ultimate goal because absent a viable replacement to standardized achievement tests the opt out groups will be painted as “anti-accountability” reactionaries who are echoing the “union line”.
At this juncture, the length of the list of members of the opt out movement is long, but the money underwriting the movement is a pittance compared to the money behind the testing movement… to win this battle against these wealthy behemoths the grassroots groups need to come up with some kind of viable alternative to testing… and IF that alternative used the CCSS and the available technological tools to its advantage it would use the tools of the behemoths to provide a viable option to their straightjacket standardized tests.
Jonathan Chait, an editorial writer who usually writes insightful posts for the NYTimes completely misses Diane Ravitch’s point on public schools, painting her as a union apologist with no desire to “reform” schools. His concluding paragraph captures the essence of the article:
The Ravitch and union view of the world, and its deep suspicion of any attempt to apply empirical metrics, leads to a nostalgic embrace of the old-fashioned organization of public school. That, in turn, leads to a defense of what would ordinarily be seen as an insanely right-wing system. (emphasis added)
Ms. Ravitch’s world view is not as simple as Mr. Chait describes it… nor is the divide between charters and public schools as neat and clean. Ms. Ravitch looks at public education through the lens of social justice. She wants schools serving poor children to provide the same kind of opportunities that schools in the affluent suburbs have. She wants every child in every neighborhood and community to have art, music, physical education, and counseling. Because Ms. Ravitch seeks social justice, She opposes funding formulas that shortchange schools in poor neighborhoods or poor communities… and she especially opposes taking the scarce resources available for public schools serving poor children and giving them to for profit businesses.
Ms. Ravitch also wants every child to have an excellent teacher and believes that accomplishing this goal requires that teachers receive competitive compensation for their efforts. She questions how a teacher in the Bronx or in a poor rural district in upstate New York can be paid substantially less than a teacher in an affluent suburb.
Ms. Ravitch does NOT believe student achievement or teaching excellence can be measured by standardized test scores. She reasons that if standardized tests are the primary measure for student achievement and teaching excellence the students will be taught only those subjects that are tested and “excellent” teachers will focus on preparing students for whatever tests are used to measure their performance. She can provide reams of evidence where this occurs… and notes that it occurs most frequently in for-profit charter schools.
Contrary to the “reformers” mantra, charters do not address social justice issues… The children of disaffected parents, the children of parents who are incapable of accessing and completing application procedures, and homeless children are not afforded the opportunity to enroll in charter schools. These children should be served by a neighborhood school that provides the same per pupil expenditures as the schools serving affluent children.
And finally, nothing reinforces the factory model more than standardized testing. If Mr. Chait wants to see change to the “old-fashioned organization” of schools he would be advocating metrics that do not compare age-based cohorts of children based on reductionist fill-in-the-bubble-tests. I hope that he reads the comments that attempt to set him straight.
The NYtimes editors persist in demanding a continuation to the school rating system imposed by Mayor Bloomberg despite the fact that it made no difference in terms of overall student performance over time. Why? Because they, like all “reformers” are stuck with the factory school paradigm that expects students to progress through the age-based grade levels at a constant rate like widgets moving through an assembly line. diBlasio has a chance to change that. Here’s what I suggested in the comment section:
I hope diBlasio replaces the standardized tests measuring a student’s performance against age-based cohorts with standards-based tests that measure the students mastery of material no matter how long it takes. All students can learn given sufficient time and targeted instruction. It is unrealistic to expect a third grader from an educationally deprived home to learn as much in three years time as a third grader from an educationally enriched home. Yet our batching and measuring of children by birth date persists because it is administratively efficient. We can use technology to individualize instruction like never before but instead we are using crude educational statistics to “rate” schools.
While this is unlikely to occur, it would be helpful for those who want to abandon the 1920 model system we have for a 2000 model to let the NYTimes and other media know there IS another model for schooling and its one that more and more parents are moving towards.