Monday, October 7, 2013

Don't Look Now but Ed Reform Is Leaking

Hard to say what forest this is with all the damned education trees blocking the view these days. If your head hasn't been on a swivel the past week or so with all of the ruckus against Common Core, High Stakes Testing and parents pissed that their kids are spending 3 hours of homework in their Spongebob footie pajamas then you must have been vacationing in Washington or Colorado.

Wednesday the Partnership for Smarter Schools packed 2500 people into Kleinhans to ask some very basic questions about the absurdity, arrogance and mal-education associated with the High Stakes Testing craze. Politicians were tripping over each other to have their names attached to the movement. Hmmm, you ask, why is that a good thing? Well nobody can spot a hot topic that's going to send people to the voting booth like this one will. I am not so much thrilled to have Tim Kennedy and George Maziarz's names attached to anything I care about as I am encouraged by the reality that these guys are a little like the odds makers in Vegas. They know how to handicap an issue the way a good bookie can tell you if a sore knee is going to affect the final score. The fact that so many elected officials are eager to get in on this real life grassroots backlash tells me there are plenty of fireworks ahead and our side stands to enjoy them. And if Sean Ryan or Jane Corwin come out ahead next time they run then good for them for backing a winning cause. The idea that public servants are showing some signs of interest in serving the public -- even if their motives are really just politic -- is the first good sign I have seen from the elected caste in quite a while.

Kara Kane, an astute Board of Ed member in the Springville Schools offers a few thoughts that emerged from the gathering :

Students who used to take 625 minutes of assessment testing 10 years ago are now subjected to 3200 minutes – that’s more than 50 hours by my math. Factor in the time needed to “prepare” for each exam, and these tests are crushing the traditional school day and turning it into something monstrous.

The principal of Lafayette HS in Buffalo talked about the challenges her school faces—despite the bewildering circumstances that many of her students and their families face (learning English, learning American culture, and their experiences as refugees and immigrants), they are forced to participate in testing that in no way measures their ability to achieve.

Other topics touched on: test validity (extreme, paranoiac secrecy surrounding questions and answers) and reliability (shifting cut scores), the impact on kids with special needs, the fact that the tests are not developmentally appropriate, this regime is a one-size-fits-all approach, more kids than ever are taking anti-anxiety/depression medications, student data is being shared with profit-making corporations without parental consent.

So the issues we've been hammering away at for years now are finally getting some play. The amount of testing, the hours wasted in test prep at the expense of real learning. Non English speakers test results being used to fire competent teachers. The sale of kids' data to people like Gates and Bloomberg. The entire "reform" mess has been dragged kicking and screaming from the shadows where they've labored Dick Cheney-like spinning their false narratives about "Failing Schools!" "Terrible Teachers!" "The Civil Rights Issue of Our Day!" etc. etc. The last is my personal favorite as most charter  school franchises target the poorest and most defenseless minority neighborhoods where they open up their little Zero Tolerance and No Excuses madrassas and any kid who doesn't take their crap is out in the time it takes Whitney Tilson to short sell a stock. 

Oh there's plenty more to come and a lot of it's good too. In keeping with my effort to say less more often I think this will give us something to feel good about  on a Monday in lieu of a Bills win.

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