There has been a lot of talk about the evils of Education Reform, particularly the reliance on High Stakes Testing (which somehow comes capitalized now) and the blame heaped on teachers. On the other hand there are some real, large, and persistent gaps between our academic ambitions and the academic realities. More of what we've been doing isn't going to get us there. Something has to change.
So let me begin with what I LIKE about the Education Reform movement.
I like the accountability that the movement promises. Everyone who works for the District - teachers, principals, school staff and central staff - should get a meaningful performance evaluation and, if their performance is persistently poor, they should face the possibility of losing their jobs.
I like the idea that some adult in the system needs to take responsibility for student achievement below grade level and needs to deliver an early and effective intervention to raise those students' performance. I believe this is part of Education Reform.
I like data-based decisions. We should be basing our decisions on more than anectdotal evidence. Results should be measured and all decisions should have some sort of feedback loop for judging their effectiveness.
I like curricular alignment. Students should be assured of receiving instruction in the same core set of knowledge and skills at the same grade level and in the same classes at every school. The work that gets an "A" at School A should also get an "A" at School B and vice versa.
What I DON'T LIKE about the Education Reform movement is that they go about all of these laudable goals in exactly the wrong way. They shortcut everything.
They appear to want to hold only the teachers accountable - no one else, and they want to hold them accountable for results outside their control or authority. They do not expose themselves to this sort of accountability. Moreover, they rely far too much on high stakes tests as the sole measure of student achievement and teacher effectiveness.
They talk about intervention but fail to deliver it. This puzzles me, but it is consistent with a theme in which they are trying to provide all of the reforms on the cheap, and there is no cheap substitute for intervention.
They talk about data-based decisions, but lack the courage and humility to review the data honestly. They don't subject their own decisions to a feedback loop.
They shortcut curricular alignment with the cheap substitute of standardized materials.
The whole Education Reform movement puts me in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with all of their stated principles and disagreeing with all of their actions. I can certainly see how they can get lots of well-meaning people and groups to jump on their bandwagon. It reminds me of nothing so much as those disingenuous titles for legislation, like the "Clean Skies Act" that allows new air pollution. It all sounds perfectly wonderful until you see what they really do. In the end, the Education Reform movement appears, at its heart and despite its rhetoric, to be an attempt to de-fund and destroy public education. And that's a shame.
So I will continue, as I have been, to advocate for the stated principles and continue, as I have been, to resist the destructive actions of the Education Reform movement. I think it would be wonderful to have the big money people supporting that movement to join with me in a coalition to bring about real and constructive education reform. I just don't think that's what they really want.