"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Educational Version of the Shell Game

Here is a link from the Washington Post featuring Marion Brady. Brady's analysis is spot on. The blind push for the "Trigger Option" or opening charters on every street corner is not the answer for US public educational problems. The underlying problem (that pesky white elephant in the room) with schools is HOW and WHAT they TEACH and TEST:

Consider as failing every school – public, charter, private, whatever – that assumes that corporately produced, standardized tests say something important about something important. Using test scores to guide education policy makes about as much sense as using the horoscope of whoever happens to be Secretary of State to guide US foreign policy.

That standardized tests are a useful tool for guiding education reform is a myth, pure and simple – a myth constructed from ignorance and perpetuated by misinformation, or conjured from hope and reinforced by cherry-picked data.

We believe you can't move the chess pieces (the students) around the educational board and expect a different outcome. It's the same game with the same mandates and inherent problems and it will result in the same outcome. The teachers' unions will be gone (perhaps), but will students really learn what they need to know from the mandated curriculum and testing? What benefit is there from having an excellent teacher when the material is faulty?

Standardized, subject-matter tests are worse than a waste. We’re spending billions of dollars and instructional hours on a tool that measures one thought process to the neglect of all others, wreaks havoc on the minds and emotions of teachers and learners, and diverts attention from a fundamental, ignored problem.

That problem? Longshoreman and college professor Eric Hoffer summed it up a lifetime ago. Because the world is dynamic, the future belongs not to the learned but to learners.

Read that sentence again. Then read it again. Even if standardized tests didn’t cost billions, even if they yielded something that teachers didn’t already know, even if they hadn’t narrowed the curriculum down to joke level, even if they weren’t the main generators of educational drivel, even if they weren’t driving the best teachers out of the profession, they should be abandoned because they measure the wrong thing.

America’s system of education is designed to clone the learned. And motivated either by ignorance or greed, the wealthy and powerful, using educationally naïve celebrities as fronts, are spending obscene amounts of money to convince politicians, pundits, policymakers, and the public that this is a good and necessary thing.

Brady has hit it on the nose. Legislators who are falling over all themselves to push school choice need to understand exactly what they are pushing. It is not necessarily about educational excellence. School choice with charters will operate under the same standardized testing and expectations as traditional schools. It will take power away from the public schools and give it to the private company.

I'm a capitalist and understand the beauty of private industry. But what makes a private company fail or succeed? The success of private industry depends on excellence and innovation which doesn't exist for the current and coming standards for charters. The government is funneling money from the unions to private industry. The actual testing and curriculum are the same for both public and charter schools. What is most important? Should our legislators continue to spend money on curriculum and testing that isn't relevant for a true education, or should they be discarding the mandates by which schools must operate? Wouldn't a true revolution in education concern the ability for districts to exercise authentic local control?

When all is said and done, it's not much of a choice at all. It very well could be the newest educational version of the shell game.

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