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15 March 2013 @ 12:50 pm
Going Nowhere Fast  
Another thought-provoking post in Valerie Strauss' column in the Washington Post today about how George Orwell would consider the educational reform movement that is costing us time and money and our most precious resource: the kids themselves. Here is the link to this article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/03/04/how-george-orwell-might-explain-school-reform/.

One metaphor that has been lurking in the back of my brain for some time has to do with NASCAR. I admit up front that I do not "get" NASCAR even though my Dad and my baby sister love it. To me, it is a journey where you really do go nowhere, but you do it at breakneck speeds and in a CIRCLE. So, I apologize to NASCAR fans in advance. You should feel free to offer your own metaphor for what is happening in this RACE TO THE TOP (see it works with my metaphor nicely, right?). The CIRCLE in this case runs something like this.

Phase One: The Chicken Little Phase. Cries of, "the sky is falling!" become commonplace when discussing educational issues. We are falling behind, we are getting too lax, we are not creating the right kind of employees for the future marketplace (even though we cannot even begin to know what those jobs might be), college kids don't know enough to do well in college. There are variations of this hue and cry. We heard them right before NCLB; their echoes are still ringing with RttT and CCSS. This is the first quarter mile of the track.

Phase Two: The Here I Am to Save the Day Phase. Mighty Mouse, in some incarnation or another, appears and offers (out of the goodness of his or her own philanthropic heart) to address the falling sky situation. Blame is assessed (cue teacher bashing). Money will not be thrown at the problem because as we all know, we tried that once and it did not work (and I sure do wish I could access the history that showed where money was invested in teachers and it did not pan out). Mighty Mouse will propose reforms. This is the second quarter mile.

Phase Three: The Hercule Poirot Phase. The problem is identified by a master mind detective who pulls together lots of disparate pieces and, VOILA!, this is all we need do. New curriculum, new tests. Much money is spent by schools who do not have any to spare. Teachers are re-trained (programmed) in the latest sure-fire fix. If they just get on board, all will be well. If they will not, kill their unions, hire those alternatively certified *(some with a whopping 18-36 hours of coursework) to do the job correctly. This is the third quarter mile.

Phase Four: The Testing 1-2-3 Phase. Now, we test. It is a new test, and so kids do not always perform optimally (and there are plenty of reasons for this that have nothing to do with the quality of instruction, etc.). "See, we told you that it was a mess. We need to give it some time, put more teeth into it (value added comes to mind), develop more stuff (more outpouring of monies for ANYthing that might help)." We are into the last turn. And about to start the crazy mile all over again. SIGH. It is dizzying.

Back to the article from WaPo for this quote: The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history...Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful…and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." Not to be paranoid or anything, but we have seen it happen in Texas recently. Too many mentions of FDR in the textbook, cried one. Mentions cut. Why mention Cesar Chavez? Gone. Global warming? Jury is not in on that yet. Deleted. Toned down.

Want to see more narrowing? Look at the CCSS and its exemplar texts. Look at the insistence on more nonfiction (while all the time arguing they do not intend to eliminate poetry, drama, etc. in such disingenuous terms that surely somewhere Orwell is gasping in disbelief). Look at how narrowly nonfiction is being defined by some. Now look at the kids. Going around in circles will not produce kids who are college and career ready. It might produce someone with a diploma or a GED, someone who will work for minimum wage, someone who will not get ahead. How do we pull out of this centrifuge, this oval track? How do we get back to the true purpose of education: growing citizens?

Now, I shall return to my big project for today: completing the materials for an upcoming presentation in Richardson at the ESC 10 next week. Lots of books, some research, maybe a couple of new ideas. Will post to SlideShare once it is all ready. Happy weekend, folks!
 
 
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