"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Tuckerism Replaces Taylorism in Colorado Education Reform

Everyone committed to education reform at the beginning of the 20th Century wanted to be known as a progressive. Progressive meant forward thinking, science minded, backwards shunning, philosophy scoffing, utility seeking, elitist enabling, common people patronizing, business friendly, efficiency driven, waste avoiding. A great deal of the inspiration of the time came from Frederick Winslow Taylor's The Prinicples of Scientific Management, still in print today and still hailed by many CEOs as the best book on management ever written. It was Taylor's little book that inspired time and motion studies, assembly line techniques, and the fixation on the elimination of waste in organizations.

His book came at a critical time for the early education reformers, who were busily trying to create respectability in 1911 for a new academic discipline to train superintendents and other school administrators to run America's public school system, then experiencing explosive growth. John Franklin Bobbitt, Elwood P. Cubberley, and Joseph Mayer Rice borrowed Taylor's ideas to create a "scientific management" of school systems, thus assuring that the future of schools would be guided more by economic concerns than by pedagogical ones. A history of schools done on the cheap went all the way back to Colonial times, and the new quantifiable management strategies of the early 20th Century offered a future that would be fixated even more on efficiency. It also set the stage for a long war with the teachers, who saw children as people rather than units or numbers, and who saw themselves as educators rather than production workers.

We can look back from 2008 to 1908 and see, in fact, the same 19th Century economics and science guiding education reform today as it did then. The biggest difference today is that business is not only interested in schools preparing future employees and assuring social control among the populace, but now business would like to assure that the charter school business does the preparing, with taxpayers to foot the bill for what was once a civic responsibility of elected representatives. Today's corporate socialism offers another example of corporate excess driven by corporate feeding on the jobs that cannot be exported. If not checked, it promises to gobble up the civic and civil space required for a democratic republic to exist. And it seems that Obama and Clinton, both, are oblivious to the reality of the corporate charter solution and the enabling that results when urban schools are turned over to mayors' offices to run.

And so the new generation of efficiency zealots are so similar to the ones at the beginning of the last century. For yesterday's Taylorism stands to be replaced by a 2.0 version inspired by Marc Tucker, whose connections to the Democrats promises him a shot at imposing his new efficiency model if Clinton or Obama is elected.

Today in Colorado there are signs that Tucker has found a petri dish to grow his own culture of 21st Century Taylorism that he spelled out in the fear-mongering Tough Choices or Tough Times, offered in a summarized form for the Kappan last year. (Here is the critique of Tuckerism offered by EPI. Read it!!).

Essentially, the Tucker solution aims to use, what else, testing to eliminate waste in school systems of the 21st Century. Better tests, of course!! Tuckerism envisions a P-22 curriculum designed for the corporate state, with testing as the trigger for moving through the system. In fact, 10th graders may test out of high school if they can pass a test, which will guarantee them acceptance into a state college or a vocational school. This test is for the low fliers, especially those who are at risk of dropping out. Solution here: test students out of school before they can drop out. And if they can pass the test, then they will not need remedial courses in college--more efficiency.

Now for those who are more capable and more ambitious, they can pass the same test in 10th grade at a higher level to stay IN high school, thus assuring them a Gold Plated honors diploma and a spot in the Research One universities or the exclusive liberal arts colleges. In other words, students have to score higher to stay in high school, where one can imagine then an unending series of AP exams to get them ready for college--and to eliminate the necessity of taking intro level college courses. More efficiency. Of course, family income (the gold), as it always has, will continue to determine who gets the Gold.

And this is the basis for the big talk of education revolution in Colorado. I am still wondering what happens to the 11th graders who don't pass the test low enough to get into trade school or who don't pass it high enough to stay in high school.

If this is the best that Democrats can do in terms of education improvement, they should never have been elected or they should never be elected. This is The Old Sham Redux, perpetuating the same stupidity based on the same old thinking and inept notions that seriously threaten our future as democratic republic. It would be better to let the entire current structure crumble than to put under it a new foundation made of the same faulty foundation materials, while hoping for different results. Unfortunately, Colorado parents, teachers, and children seem on the verge of a new edifice based made from the same sand.

Here is a bit from the Daily Sentinel last week to give you an idea of the same tired old crap, recycled for Colorado audiences:

Monday, February 25, 2008

The governor’s office and state lawmakers plan to unveil a comprehensive education reform proposal this week aimed at fundamentally rewriting the state’s content standards and standardized tests.

Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said the bill will work in three phases: first, to strengthen Colorado’s course content standards; second, to mesh the new standards with the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests and “deal with the very real deficiencies in CSAP” tests; and, third, to create a new diploma for advanced-level students.

Penry said the proposal, co-sponsored by Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, and Rep. Rob Witwer, R-Golden, will mark a revolutionary alignment of curriculum standards from preschool through high school.

“It will attempt to create a new philosophy, a belief system that in order to succeed in the 21st century marketplace, all kids need something beyond high school,” said Evan Dreyer, spokesman for the governor, “whether that’s vocational education or certificate training or traditional college.” . . .

And here is a very sensible commentary from the Denver Post last week by someone concerned with children. It reminds us that "quality doesn't depend on doing the wrong thing better":

By Angela Engel

In 2000, Citizens for Quality Public Education published "Senate Bill 186 and The Truth About Colorado Educational Reform," a report warning about the consequences of grading schools based solely on standardized test scores.

Under the leadership of Gov. Bill Owens, SB 186 was passed anyway. At that time, my daughter, Sophie, was 4 months old. The following year, the federal No Child Left Behind was enacted.

Since then, everything the report cautioned concerning high-stakes testing has come to pass: narrowing curriculum, negative school climates, disenfranchised teachers, frustrated parents, and children who quickly losing sight of the value of their own education.

Not only were the Citizens for Quality Public Education correct, but all of the outcomes associated with education reform over the past decade have demonstrated failure. Consider the following:

• Dropout rates have increased significantly. Since the implementation of high-stakes testing, including NCLB and SB 186, Colorado's dropout rate has nearly doubled, from 2.4 percent in 2003 to 4.5 percent in 2006.

• Students now have fewer course electives. A survey by the Center on Education Policy found that since the passage of NCLB and high-stakes testing, 71 percent of the nation's school districts have reduced the hours of instructional time spent on history, music and other subjects.

• Recess has been reduced or canceled. According to the National Parent Teacher Association, nearly 40 percent of U.S. schools have either canceled recess or are considering doing so because of the time constraints of standardized testing and budget cuts. Over the past 12 years, DPS has decreased physical education time by an average of 40 minutes per week.

• More than a dozen schools have been closed down. High-stakes testing promised to close the achievement gap, but instead districts are closing schools predominantly in low-income areas. Cole Middle School is on its third conversion in a decade, now that KIPP has abandoned its students. Before SB 186, Cole was a thriving school for the performing arts.

By all indicators, the state's version of school reform has not worked. Even test scores have remained mostly flat, despite the millions spent on McGraw-Hill tests, curriculum guides, and after-school tutorials. Littleton and Cherry Creek, some of the highest performing districts in the state, haven't been meeting federal guidelines for "adequate yearly progress."

The biggest complaints of parents include large class sizes, too much homework, insufficient time for our children to eat lunch or play outside, decreases in programming, and stressful learning environments. These complaints are echoed in the appallingly high turnover of teaching staff.

Assessments aren't the problem; high-stakes testing is. And there is a difference. In very simple terms, the problems we are facing today are the result of an education system that has been redesigned to serve the state. We need a system that serves our children.

Standardization and high-stakes testing rest on a paradigm of uniformity and conformity. If we graduate an entire generation proficient on a single skill set and mindset, we will have failed because our future will depend upon adaptability, imagination and collaboration.

The danger of this game is that it reinforces the misconception of a failing educational system, when what we really have are failing priorities and policies. We can no longer afford to defer the responsibility of our children to a one-size-fits-all test, or "all or nothing" reforms.

This session, Sen. Mike Kopp will introduce Sernate Bill 61, requiring exit exams for 11th-graders. Sen. Peter Groff is sponsoring Senate Bill 130, establishing a two-tiered system for accountability while maintaining the real barrier to innovation: CSAP.

It didn't work in Florida and it won't work in Colorado. Quality doesn't rely on doing the wrong thing better.

Before adding more layers of legislation, our government representatives first need to clean up the mess they've already created.

Sophie is 8 years old now; our children simply can't afford to wait any longer for the legislature to come to terms with its mistakes.

Angela Engel is project director for the Children's Action Agenda.

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