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6/30/14

An Alternative Universe

 I grew up reading Superman comics, and especially enjoyed those that featured stories of an alternative universe.  Bizarro World was one such universe, where the planet and its inhabitants were diametrically opposite to everything on earth.  Even the name of the planet, Htrae, was “earth” spelled backwards, and the planet was a cube shape rather than spherical.  
    Education seems to have entered it’s own Bizarro world with Arne Duncan’s policies and beliefs.  It would seem President Obama’s appointee to head the US Department of Education, second only to Bill Gates as the most powerful force in US educational policy, believes strongly in the Bizarro theory of educational improvement; whatever research says, do the opposite.  For the first example, we need look no further than Common Core, the Federal standards that aren’t Federal standards because Arnie says they’re not.  Used as a carrot in the RTTT program, acceptance of CC was inferred for states to receive money.  Not the only carrot, but  large enough to attract the most timid of state DOE bunnies to implement the standards before they had been tested on a smaller scale and, even more unbelievably, before they had been written.  Like the publishing company that paid Mrs. Clinton millions before her new book was written, many states now wonder at just what they could have been thinking when that particular deal was made and are re-thinking their participation in CC and the accompanying testing.  Perhaps the Bizarro mentality was momentarily contagious, or perhaps the teachers, students and parents left out of the initial decision have expressed their displeasure at CC adoption through such an asinine process with an unknown product.
    Another Bizarro idea is VAM, as in vam-boozled.  The development of teacher evaluations using student test scores as a percentage of the evaluation is also another prerequisite for RTTT money and an exemption from NCLB regulations for states, and the process has wound its tortuous way through several state legislatures in spite of it’s mind-numbing inanity.  A doctor, policeman and lawyer must all take into consideration the history and past performance of their clients, but through the VAM process teachers are not allowed to do so.  Parental input and student motivation are conveniently omitted from the equation and there is no current research that says incorporating VAM into the teacher evaluation process is a good idea.  Even Bill Gates, whose word is usually tantamount to command, says that perhaps a moratorium on teacher evaluations using VAM would be a good idea.  Arne and his minions, however, continue to insist on the process being a part of RTTT because “its better than the evaluation system we had.”  For someone responsible for formulating national educational policy, that doesn’t really seem to be a well thought out, reasoned, insightful response, does it?  http://dianeravitch.net/2014/05/19/strauss-what-does-arne-think-of-new-vam-studies/
    In the category of “you can’t make this stuff up,” Mr. Duncan recently noted that the performance of special education students in several states were not meeting his lofty expectations.  His solution, again meeting Bizarro requirements, was to raise expectations and subject SPED students to more standardized testing by using NAEP as an indicator of the progress of special education students.  Even though the test was not designed to measure this, Bizarro reasoning says it’s OK to use it because “it’s the best we have.”  Parents of students with a learning disability will be happy to know their concerns, fears and worries over their child’s learning disability can be erased with the amazing combination of higher expectations and more testing.  Who knew?
    The Bureau of Indian Affairs will be happy to note that the President and Mr. Duncan have proposed that Race to the Top methodology, including increased standardized testing, evaluation of teachers using VAM and implementation of the CC standards, that have been so wildly successful in transforming public education across America that the Bureau of Indian Education will be “reformed” using a similar model.  As if we hadn’t already done enough to “help” indigenous Americans - http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/06/27/obama-expands-use-of-standardized-tests-for-special-needs-and-american-indian-students/
             Just like kids in other American public schools, they will be subjected to myriad standardized testing administered in a post-mortem fashion in the belief that such testing accurately measures both student learning and the effects of individual teaching upon student learning without evidence that supports either contention.  Recent research indicates that the best predictor of student success in college is high school grades and not the ACT, SAT or standardized test scores (http://articles.courant.com/2014-02-18/news/hc-sat-research-0219-20140218_1_fair-open-testing-s
      Consistent with his stance on other research that contradicts what he knows about educational reform, Mr. Duncan will, of course, ignore this too.  I would also venture that if standardized testing were an effective measure of teacher performance and student academic achievement that private and parochial schools and post -secondary institutions would have already jumped upon the testing bandwagon so their students would not, so to speak, be left behind and deprived of the benefits of that testing.  That there is no such groundswell seems to indicate the benefits of standardized testing presented by accountabullies in the name of accountabalism seem to believe the only students that could possibly benefit from more and harder testing are public school students.  Isn’t it a shame that the children of those making the rules are almost always students in schools exempt from those policies?  
       I believe I see a pattern in Mr. Duncan’s ideas.  Surely no educational leader could implement so many Bizarro-like strategies in the face of contrary research and common sense...unless the intention was not educational reform but distraction. Perhaps standardized testing, VAM, RTTT and Common Core are simply distractors for public outrage while the true enemies of public education continue their efforts to expand the opportunities in public education for market based solutions.  You remember market based solutions, don’t you?  That’s the euphemism for using public money in ways that benefit investors and not students.  Perhaps the real issue here is that Mr. Duncan is a high level Bizarro #1 lightning rod for the outrage of teachers and parents, and bases his decisions about processes and policies on which will be the most controversial without calling attention to the real problem...the privatization of public education through vouchers and for-profit charters.  The alternative is too terrible to contemplate...unless, of course, you are Bizarro #1.
    


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