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

Friday, October 09, 2009

Echo Chamber Idiocracy

For the past few days, Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education has hosted a gathering of education whizzes, wonks, and wackjobs. To kick off the event, Jeb gave a keynote speech where he revealed his most recent epiphany. Get this:

I want to make a different comparison this year to something completely different. I wish our schools could be more like milk. You heard me, I said milk.

Go down the aisle of nearly any major supermarket these days and you will find an incredible selection of milk.

You can get whole milk, low fat milk or skim milk. You can get organic milk, milk with Vitamin D or milk enzymes to improve you the way your brain functions. You can get flavored milk — chocolate, strawberry or vanilla – that doesn’t even taste like milk. Most of the time, there is a whole other refrigerator case dedicated to milk alternatives – like soy milk, almond milk and rice milk. They even make milk for people who can’t drink milk.

Who would have ever thought you could improve upon milk? Yet, freedom, innovation and competition found a way.

But this milk-y logic is actually Jeb's second supermarket-inspired logic. The first:
Frankly, if Walmart can track a box of cereal from the manufacturer to the check-out line, schools should be able to track the academic growth of a student from the time they step in the classroom until they graduate.
By data, of course, Jeb means more of the high-stakes testing scores and test prep programs, NCLB-type measurements (with corresponding punitive consequences, as Jeb describes later in the speech), and DIBELS-like reductionist methods of teaching our children. Portfolio assessments? Not a chance. Detailed notes about the student? Nah. Professional learning environments for teachers? Forget it.
Our children are not cereal boxes; our schools are not milk aisles. But there are, sadly, those who agree with Jeb about how we should redefine education along market-based logic, albeit a version falling short of Milton Friedman's voucher idea or the more recent tuition tax credit schemes. Tom Vander Ark, former Gates education head, had this to say about the event:
Gov Bush keynoted the Excellence in Action 2009 summit. While moderating a conversation with the Governor, I had the opportunity to tell the audience that he was the best education governor of the last decade. His leadership on data, charters, and accountability put FL in the poll position for RttT today. He’s taking his edu-leadership to the next level and is on fire for the transformative role that digital learning will play.
For those of you interested, there are many interesting books coming out about the need to reexamine the way we've allowed the education debate to veer into market-based, economic parameters; see, particularly, Mike Rose's "Why School" and Gerald Bracey's "Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality." We've largely forgotten that education is a public institution, a public good, and an absolute essential part of a democratic society - and we should treat it as such. Eduidiots like Bush and Vander Ark fail to grasp this concept, and, hence, find nothing wrong with comparing schools to businesses and our children to commodities; the corresponding education system they envision will compel educators and children to be treated accordingly.

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