There is hope on the horizon, my dears.
For more than ten long, empty, intellectually dry and dishonest years, we’ve lived under the insanity of No Child Left Untested. (Someone told me not to be so negative. Trust me. I’m holding back.) Children, especially poor children, have been subjected to a corporate “reform” mentality of pass/fail by making their quota of test score points on some standardized garbage never designed to gauge anything more delicately complex than a child’s understanding of where the comma goes.
(Ironically, the only ones lately who have been afforded “social promotion” have been the morally corrupt CEOs who were awarded their gold star parachutes whilst bankrupting the global economy, but I digress.)
When I was kind (I used to be kind), I chalked it up to the ignorance of politicians who honestly did not know how their policies made no sense. I am a teacher, and correcting ignorance is my core business. Ignorance is not a sin. It is a state of not knowing, and this is always an exciting prospect to a teacher. Ignorance is job security to me.
It’s the opportunity to teach and to learn and knowledge to be got and used and the world to be a better place for it.
And this is what has plagued the education debate on the purpose of education and what it means to teach and what it means to learn and how to measure if you’re going in the right direction and what happens if you are measuring all the wrong things and what happens if you forget that education is a system that involves a teacher and a family and a student and learning conditions that include how many students are in a teachers care and whether or not the child is hungry and if one teacher has computers and libraries and a theater class and parents who take their children to their alma mater’s campus on alumni day and another teacher is holding a crying child whose father was arrested last night for running a meth lab in the kitchen.
These are not made up examples. I have had both these students.
But there is hope. Hope is another core business of educators. There is hope because one of the global think tanks that came up with this mess of cobbled and hobbled “accountability” is re-thinking.
They are looking at the metrics they themselves chose to determine pass/fail and they find that people who actually take their advice on corporate school reform are sinking and those who have systematically ignored their advice, have rising stock.
They are thinking that maybe they made a mistake. Thinking. Finally. This is a good thing.
Of course it isn’t only one misguided or ideologically blind entity responsible for the global slapping of teachers and standardized limitations on students.
There are lots and lots of idiotic ideas that get lots and lots of attention by people who didn’t stop to think beyond their MBA assumptions. But one institution that is more likely to be the culprit for the universal contagion of school standardized, privatized and “profitized” (must I use the term?) “reform” is the OECD.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development grew out of the rubble of post World War II as a way to avoid a repetition of the mistakes after World War I where the need for punishment and revenge sowed the seeds for the rise of Hitler. They were to help rebuild the economic infrastructure of post-war Europe. Today, they give economic advice to the world, and a country’s education system has a huge impact on its economy. That’s how the OECD got into the school reform business, and business was their market model.
First, we need to understand that this corporate school “reform” has been peddled to world governments for years now. Folks should have known better, because there was no research. None. As in Not A Shred of Evidence to Suggest This Might Work, With Human Children, but they went ahead and sold this factory model of school reform to governments, rich and poor. The pillars are privatization, de-professionalization of teaching and rewards and punishments by standardized testing.
That’s bad. But you know what really ticks me off? They stole all the good words.
They’ve taken all the good words that used to mean that good things were going to happen – reform, accountability, assessment and evaluation. The good meanings are all gone now. I can’t use them without my colleagues rolling their eyes to heaven in silent prayer, “Help me, Lord, they’re about to reform me again.”
For your Vocabulary List this week:
- Reform? We’re going to give you a script we bought from a textbook company. Just read it and be on the right page on the right day, and your kids will make their number because we have a guarantee from the company that sold us the script.
- Accountability? We’re going to blame you if we bought the wrong script and you don’t make your number.
- Assessment? The standardized test number that will be used to determine everything, like if you get to keep your job if the number’s low since you obviously didn’t read the script we gave you with enough enthusiasm to inspire higher test scores.
- Evaluation? You will be ranked, judged, paid and publicly praised/humiliated in the local paper by name as to whether your numbers were better or worse than the teacher across the hall or the teacher across the district or the teacher in Shanghai.
But back to my theme: Hope.
Because that OECD think tank in Paris that embraced corporate standardized reform as an act of faith in the business model is starting to look at the evidence.
And there is evidence.
This think tank in Paris invented a fairly sophisticated international assessment to see if their hypothesis (Privatize, De-professionalize, Standardize) was working. Was their approach helping kids learn what they need to know to thrive in a world that needs critical thinkers, people who question, people who create, invent, communicate, innovate, nurture, organize, inspire, choose wisely, persuade, reject, complete, show up, speak out, argue, believe or don’t believe but can tell you why they believe or don’t… well, was it working?
In a word: No.
Silly, of course, it’s not working. They can now see that countries that invested in massive boutique privatization through funding private schools and charters did nothing to improve the overall system and the privatized charter schools often, very often, more often than even the critics thought, performed dramatically poorly.
Even the touted islands of success often didn’t stand up to close scrutiny or couldn’t be maintained after a short surge, and the lion’s share (83%) never did out perform the public schools they were meant to replace.
They can now see that countries that encouraged shortcut teacher training could not sustain a profession that required thoughtful practice, collaboration, and knowledge of instructional design and intervention. Countries that invested in teacher recruitment of talented individuals, thorough preparation, rigorous intern and mentor induction programs and continuous improvements through true and meaningful professional development throughout the educator’s career beat the little panties off the teacher-shortcut folks.
They knew that measurements matter. But they can now see that what you measure matters immensely. The best performing countries do not focus on once-a-year standardized tests that cannot be used as diagnostic instruments, nor for guiding instruction, nor to design needed intervention when there are gaps in the knowledge base.
The test prep industry in the United States is a multi-billion dollar enterprise. In the top-ranked country, Finland, the test prep industry does not exist.
As full disclosure, she was NEA’s Friend of Education last year. She is perhaps the only Friend of Education we’ve ever had who had been booed publicly by NEA members ten years before as she defended what she sincerely believed was a new and needed reform in No Child Left Behind.
She’s a very tough cookie. She didn’t give a flip that we booed her. She said what she thought was right.
And ten years later, when she looked at the aftermath of No Child Left Behind and what this corporate reform had done to poor children to squeeze them into little standardized boxes and done to their teachers to squeeze them into little standardized boxes, she recanted.
Today she spends an equal amount of airtime denouncing the corporate-style school reformers as she did ten years ago denouncing the unions that fought No Child Left. And she doesn’t give a flip that all those corporate reformers are booing her as a turncoat. She will say what she thinks is right, no matter who likes it.
Our hope is that the corporate reformers of the international OECD will have a Diane Ravitch moment. A moment of intellectual honesty. A moment of profound professional integrity. A moment where they will look at what they believed would improve teaching and learning and see it for what it is: A global failure on a par with the global economic collapse we are still living through.
Diane Ravitch taught me to hope. Now, if only she can teach the OECD to rise above the rubble of education policy they helped create and to be fearless in building something better from its ashes, something that makes sense for all students.
There are a lot of politicians and corporations that like the ideology of corporate school reform because it might work in favor of their politics or their profits. But it’s wrong. Will the OECD have the courage to have a Diane Ravitch moment?
To follow the evidence and do what’s right? No matter who likes it?
We can only hope.