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

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Arne Turns Sour On Testing?

(Click chart from Washington Post at right to enlarge for viewing)
Some of us knew that Arne Duncan's claims of a Chicago Miracle were fraudulent when he went before a Congressional Committee to make his case for his style of "portfolio management."

I am thankful that the big dogs have come off the porch finally to see what we have been barking about out here in the yard for a year now. From Nick Anderson's story today in WaPo:
Soon after Arne Duncan left his job as schools chief here to become one of the most powerful U.S. education secretaries ever, his former students sat for federal achievement tests. This month, the mathematics report card was delivered: Chicago trailed several cities in performance and progress made over six years.

Miami, Houston and New York had higher scores than Chicago on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Boston, San Diego and Atlanta had bigger gains. Even fourth-graders in the much-maligned D.C. schools improved nearly twice as much since 2003.

The federal readout is just one measure of Duncan's record as chief executive of the nation's third-largest system. Others show advances on various fronts. But the new math scores signal that Chicago is nowhere near the head of the pack in urban school improvement, even though Duncan often cites the successes of his tenure as he crusades to fix public education.

Now up until this time, before reporters finally began to ask Duncan about the details of the Chicago Mirage, the Secretary has loved testing. More testing, bigger testing, harder testing. National testing. And testing used to pay teachers and to fire them as well. Testing to tell which schools to turn over to charters. Testing to get ready for the test, and testing in kindergarten. Why, Duncan has loved high-stakes testing so much that conservative historian, Diane Ravitch, has called him Margaret Spellings in drag:
. . . .based on what I have seen to date, I conclude that Obama has given President George W. Bush a third term in education policy and that Arne Duncan is the male version of Margaret Spellings. Maybe he really is Margaret Spellings without the glasses and wearing very high heels. We all know that Secretary Spellings greeted Duncan's appointment with glee. She wrote him an open letter in which she praised him as "a fellow reformer" who supports NCLB and anticipated that he would continue the work of the Bush administration. (Recall, Deborah, that the media today defines an education reformer as someone who endorses Republican principles of choice and accountability.)
Now all of a sudden--overnight, you might say--these reporters with their rude questions may have just spoiled Arne's love for testing. Arne seems, in fact, to be rethinking his commitment to testing entirely, or at least when it comes to his own "accountability" in Chicago as CEO. Hoist with his own petard, shall we say?
"Obviously, you always want to get better faster," Duncan said in an interview when asked about the federal math scores. "I was focused on outcomes -- improving graduation rates, making sure that students who graduated had a chance to pursue higher ed. You can have the best test scores in the world, but if kids aren't going that next step, you're not changing their lives."
Remember that, teachers. Focus on changing lives, rather than the stupid test. Arne says so, after all.

1 comment:

  1. Duncan's shift in focus is towards the new Microsoft version of accountability. You can never make teachers accountable enough. Now they need, according to the Gates Foundation "research", to be held accountable for student success at universities. Too many students, it seems, are succeeing in high school only to fail at university. And that again, is a teacher failing a student by passing him without having taught him. Time to raise that bar another notch!