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06 April 2014 @ 09:28 am
Do not ask questions you do not want answered  
A headline on one of the ads I received from an online "leadership" journal asked if Arne Duncan would leave behind a legacy of teacher leadership. They have to be kidding, right? First, Secretary Duncan is not a teacher. He may have the degree. But he does not deserve the title. In order to be a teacher, one must actually TEACH or HAVE TAUGHT. Duncan has served as an administrator but not a classroom teacher. Will he leave a legacy of teacher leadership? I do not think so. What he will leave is an educational system in worse shape than what he inherited. The fact that no one has questioned his credentials to head the nation's schools is yet another indicator of the disregard many have for education and for teachers. Add to that the fact that Pearson advertised for folks to score essays on their tests for $12 an hour. Only requirement: a college degree and some "training." And there is one more insult this week from the CEO of Students First, Michelle Rhee.

Michelle Rhee did teach for 3 years after becoming an alum of the grueling 5 week training from Teach for America. So, I guess she has the most knowledgeable voice of all the so-called reformers. Here is her take on the opt-out movement: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/michelle-rhee-opting-out-of-standardized-tests-wrong-answer/2014/04/04/37a6e6a8-b8f9-11e3-96ae-f2c36d2b1245_story.html?utm_content=bufferbe85e&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer.

Let's see how Rhee constructs her argument, shall we? First, she likens tests to weighing ourselves and going to the dentist. Now I may not have the experience Rhee does (certainly not with TFA), but I fail to see how testing is akin to either of her examples. Weight does not necessarily how effective working out is. Cavities are more a measurement of our own oral health care but also of nutrition, fluoride, and other factors out of our control. Example: I do not floss. Yet, my teeth remain relatively plaque-free; the opposite is true for my BH. But let's move on.

In the next paragraph, Rhee asserts that the opt out movement makes no sense because ALL parents (emphasis mine) want to know, "how their children are progressing and how good the teachers are in the classroom. Good educators also want an assessment of how well they are serving students, because they want kids to have the skills and knowledge to succeed." But how is opting out of a test connected? Can we not know effectiveness without the standardized tests? Apparently not in Rhee's world view of education. Moving on.

Opting out, according to Rhee, is like shutting down health departments and water quality boards. What the what? I cannot even begin to see this connection. Kids are restaurants and water plants? Let us continue on this zig zag course Rhee is setting.

It is tough to follow her argument in each paragraph. It is almost as though we are seeing something that narrates her stream of consciousness. But here is something amazing: "We don’t need to opt out of standardized tests; we need better and more rigorous standardized tests in public schools. Well-built exams can tell us whether the curriculum is adequate. They can help teachers hone their skills. They can let parents know whether their child’s school is performing on par with the one down the street, or on par with schools in the next town or the neighboring state." I wish I know how standardized tests could measure the adequacy of the curriculum. The only information they can give me is how an individual student performed on one day on one assessment. Test results have never helped me hone my skills. Student feedback has. Colleague observation has. As for parents being able to compare schools via test scores, there is a huge flaw there. The school down the road or across town or in another state is not MY school. There are tons of factors that could contribute to score variations. But Rhee is not done yet.

Here we go: "Standardized tests are an indicator of the kind of service taxpayers are receiving — and whether schools, educators and policymakers are doing their jobs. In the United States, taxpayers spend almost $600 billion annually on public education, so it’s not unreasonable to ask what all that money is producing. In fact, it’s irresponsible not to know." I am more concerned with expenditures on the district level that do not go directly to the classroom: more administrators who are removed from classrooms, programs that are one size fits all curriculum, PD that focuses on ow to administer tests, etc. Still more fun to come from Rhee.

It is OK for kids to get stressed out about tests. Too bad, so sad; life is unfair. Wah, wah, wah, according to Rhee. Students First is apparently an empty motto. Opting out is dangerous, Rhee concludes. Instead of criticizing the tests and opting out, we would be better served by improving the tests. Well, I would love to do that. I wold love to improve CCSS as well. However, that is a closed loop. There will be no revisions of the standards despite the analyses that demonstrate they are not what they purport to be. Pearson is in charge of the tests. Already we have heard that they are using portions of older tests in the new exams. Of course, we cannot show that to the public because there is a secrecy clause that comes with these "new" assessments.

Opting out is the one avenue open to parents, the one way they can protest how reforms are being implemented, the one way they can keep their kids from becoming data points. I have a feeling that Rhee and others can see how this movement might disrupt their plans. That prompts pieces like this one, a piece that basically says we are all wrong and only Rhee and her ilk have the best interests of kids at heart. Be ready for the counter from these folks. Soon, if parents opt kids out, kids will not graduate, get credit for courses, be promoted. They will find a way to beat back the opposition. Their careers depend on everyone falling into line, into place. They depend on mindless accession to their "manifesto" even when their ideas are shown to be flawed.

Why not invite folks to opt IN? Give us the research that demonstrates testing is the cure all (and even Rhee admits there is more but it all adds up to achievement and never to anything other than that for her) or that standards will "fix" everything. Show us how this reform movement takes the WHOLE child into account. Prove that poverty is OK and that test scores show that (it seems to me that is the argument they make when a school in a low SES community doe we on the tests: see poverty is not an issue).

Better yet, Ms. Rhee and Mr. Duncan (and Gates and Klein and the rest of the reformers and those who support them including the mindless journalists who seem to give these guys a free pass), go into the classrooms you have created with your reforms. Teach for 5 or 10 or 20 or more years. Let us see the test scores from your students (and without test prep because as Rhee points out, there is no need for that is we are doing our jobs). Let us compare your results with the school down the street and across town and throughout the country despite the differences in SES and other factors. You want me to take your advice, put yourself on the line in the classroom.

A little sermon for a Sunday.
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