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

Friday, November 02, 2012

Shove Your Yardstick and Your Calipers and Your ETS

Indiana has recently released its "report card" assessments of its public schools.  I'm sure I don't need to go into the reasons the grades themselves are only political and have nothing to do with the welfare of our children but rather the welfare of our business managers.

In fact Diane Ravitch had a brief post about it yesterday which reads in full:
Two recent analyses show how convoluted and confusing Indiana’s school report cards are.

Matthew DiCarlo has been reviewing state grading systems and concludes that the one concocted in Indiana is the “probably the most rudimentary scoring system” he has seen. Like other school report cards, the Indiana marking system gives low grades to high-poverty schools and high-grades to low-poverty schools.

DiCarlo doesn’t say this but I will. Report cards weighted heavily by test scores, like this one, set up schools to fail if they enroll poor kids and make them prime candidates for closure and privatization.

If you want to see the full measure State Superintendent Tony Bennett’s wacky and punitive scheme, read this letter by Chris Himsel, superintendent of the Northwest Allen County Schools in Indiana. Himsel tries his best to explain why the A-F grades are confusing and incoherent. He ends up admitting that no one can really understand them. They make no sense.

The A-F report cards only make sense if you recognize that they are intended to demoralize educators and set the table for the privatizers that Tony Bennett represents.
Here is the closing paragraph of the DiCarlo piece from the Shanker Blog (Shanker Institute) that Ravitch is talking about:
So, overall, Indiana’s system reflects, at least on the surface, a standard “balance” of growth and absolute performance, one that’s in line with its counterparts elsewhere. All schools can get at least decent grades if they do well on the growth component, but some face a severe structural disadvantage (or advantage) at the business ends of the grade distribution (F and A). Thus, as is the case with most states’ systems, policy decisions will proceed as much by student performance/characteristics as by actual school effectiveness. Whether or not this is appropriate or effective will depend on how teachers and administrators respond, as well as by type of decisions that are made using the ratings. 
This is not much of a statement: Policy decisions will be made as usual, to benefit the constituency in power and this data will be used in the way it best serves that constituency.  Always the case with data. ALWAYS.  There is no scientific method in place here, folks.  Or rather, the method is a movable feast.

I would reiterate here what I've said elsewhere about the Shanker Institute--this is a facet of our competing pot and kettle syndrome.  Just as we have a two-party political system that has been shown to be institutionally meaningless--all parties want the same "progress" in the end--so too the reform parties.  Be advised that no one involved in this "fight" is not a reformer of some kind, including Ravitch.  Reform simply means a kind of re-allocation of power and money--sometimes a reorientation of "ideology"--but these too always serve "progress."

["Progress" is something like that Israeli tank bulldozer that simply rolled over the American protester Rachel Corrie, or something more staid and somewhat sacrosanct to so many, the National Parks system, which ultimately offers a bulwark for proponents of land use and resource depletion--destroy the planet, but let's save the pretty parks.  Progressives are always approving (if "lamenting") the crooked path to "betterment."]

Ravitch then offers up an "open letter" from an Indiana school superintendent tearing the grading system apart in many ways.  While I fully applaud this takedown of the nakedly political manipulation of Indiana's public school evaluation system, I think it does as much to lay bare our continuing cultural AGREEMENT--validation, acceptance--as regards the work of "measurement."  I've written about this over and over again--as have many others--but most of the endless blather seems to settle on the idea of "right" measurement, or who's in charge of the measurement.*  This is only a difference in degree from deciding who gets to use the drone program to murder people...would you want president X to have that power?  and one half of the electorate shudders...of course,  NO ONE should have that power.

I would note one telling and "common" result coming out of the Indiana DOE's testing regime--something extremely measurable, by the by--the man (adolescent?) in charge of implementing the grading program, Jon Gubera, recently quit "serving" the public in order to go to work for "Common Core" Coleman's The College Board.  Find Gubera's name here at the CB website as a listed "expert" in administering the CB products for the state.  Here Gubera is promoted at the Jeb Bush Corporatizing Joint in a "reformer's profile."

This is akin to the revolving door that we talk about nationally regarding government officials leaving their "service" to go to work for lobby groups or other "interested" parties.

In other words, you don't know anyone who is making your systemic life decisions and you don't have any influence over them.  They get into the work out of self-interest and they do their work according to the "tide" of economic approval.  This is why, always why, proponents of "change" must focus on shrinking the "influence" of "interested parties" when those parties are only "interested" in benefits accruing outside of the system being influenced.  In other words--go "small town" and stay "small town."  There is nothing you can do "globally."

Many words have been written on the corporatization of the public system in Indiana and if you know Florida you know Indiana--many, if not all, of the same basic "ingredients" have infiltrated the public school system.  I'll confess that I've come to find the term "corporatization" meaningless as our schools are already model corporations with a CEO and a Board and a top-down compliance attitude.  "Privatizing" is better I suppose, but the problem is that the loss of funding for those in poorer districts is not conveyed.  Wealthy schools and wealthy districts have done well and will continue to "educate" their children to their satisfaction be it within a "public" system or a "private" system or some hybrid thereof.

We must admit that the public system we have is already a privatized system, though.  Much of it's money goes to education corporations whether for materials, supplies, tracking and grading software, computer hardware, or food-stuffs.  Heck, my local school corporation (in Indiana, we at least use the proper appellative as all our "districts" are called corporations), has (and has had for some time) a local teacher education publishing and consulting company on the payroll.  In this way, a private business has been directing teacher instruction and at least some aspects of the local curriculum.  Not only that but members of this business have taken leadership positions on the school corporation's fund-raising body (this is what "foundation" means, yes?) and so are directly involved in much that passess for both policy and operations.  This Foundation is heavily involved in choosing the superintendent.

What then makes a system "public" and what makes it "private"?**  When the interested parties are focused on profit and political (read that as "legislated profit") influence and have a constant and consistent voice in public "policy" then we should no longer pretend there is anything remotely "democratic" or "public" about the content and management of our school systems.  Perhaps the school, like the nation itself, is at best a "republic," banana or otherwise.

So, what is the "public" interest?  Whose public?  Which public?  Why do the wealthy have any say in public education at all?  Can we simply put it as baldly as it is: that public education is training for service--be the service in the military, in the "public" sector, or in some kind of economy.  If that is true (and I think it is), then why are some of us "for" the changes in public education and some of us "against" the changes in public education?  Those "for" changes are going to benefit from those changes while those "against" are not.  But I'd go so far as to even assert that both parties are benefitting from the very "antagonism" itself.  Careers are served by either ideology.

Now, let's ask ourselves this: what are the ends of education when considered a "state" function?  If we can establish a clear end then we can establish a clear curriculum.  (The "common core" plans to create model Americans but it seems to misunderstand its own bureaucracy...that is, the patriotic injection will miss the vein due to all the paperwork.) But, listen, if I want an informed electorate, why don't I use the newspaper as a curricular requirement?  Every day starts with all kids reading the newspaper and chatting about the "news," local, national and international.  Yes, you'll protest bias in some direction--be my guest--but isn't the act of participation our goal, our end?  If I want to raise the percentages of citizens who are voting, then that too must be inculcated by behavioral modification.  All day, every act, is a "voting" opportunity.  Hands up for "Walking Taco"...Hands for chicken sticks?  Sally, you have the floor: why do you feel Walking Taco is the better meal?  Perhaps you can convince those who chose chicken sticks to switch.  What can we do about those who brought their lunch--are these "undecideds" or are these "dissenters"?

These seem actually measurable to me.  Behavior outcomes CAN be measured.  We can't with any confidence offer up "causation" for anything, but we can "train" and "measure" the outcome of training.  This takes "single-mindedness," it takes disciplined focus, it takes daily, hourly reiteration.  And if behavior can be instructed and trained to yield outcomes then, well, what have we been doing?

Look at your school right now.  What is the behavior that is being trained?  What is its end?  (Be clear there will be a "stated" end, but it will be ambiguous such as, "prepare students for the 21st century world or market or economy or whatever.")  Abstractions are not measurable.  Test performance is ONLY a measure of a variable event--tomorrow you will score everyone differently than today....Remember, schools (and governments, of which the school is an arm) do not care what students think as long as it falls within an approved range.  Rather, they care about what students DO...But this is not true beyond the borders of the school.  We "manage" and then release.  At least that's true of the white population--for those of color, the poor, the underclasses, the future majority, we simply do our best to minimize their participation in management systems and then we hold onto them in anyway possible, debt and prison being our two finest "holding" institutions.


Here's my simple proposal: stop allowing the political and legal systems to be in charge of you via their proxy "oligarchs"--these people infest every level of our lives because they have been raised to fulfill that particular function.  Take your municipalities back.  Stop voting for "business" interests--it is a lie of "social management" that their "good" is your good.  Has anyone ever believed that "left overs" and hand-me-downs are what you deserve in life?

So here's my new proposal for a new school.  Early grades are for training love of story and love of sharing.  Read aloud, dance together, play music, play outside--all with the goal of working together towards whatever we propose for that day.  In secondary grades we would focus on citizen participation in "what's going on" in the world and voting on all actions.  Measurements occur daily--these are called assessments--this is not "achievement" but rather a biological, emotional, and intellectual development.  Yes, more people need to be involved, not more technology.  And the assessment is only to insure general health and happiness.  Anyone who starts this conversation with "budgets" or cost-benefit analysis is a person interested in something other than the lives of children no matter how much they defend their "functional utilitarian economics."  Finally, voting percentages must go up and more folks should be involved in how their world works.

Ultimately the human brain is a randomizing engine.  Social systems are "prediction" machines.  These two "existents" are at odds.  Wide latitude for "accident" is what is needed for development.  We are "ordering" ourselves to death.  Schools are one way we diminish ourselves.

It occurs to me that life, your life, my life, a kid's life, is too short, too damn short, to be trained to serve economics and ideology rather than living in "creative" joy with friends and family.  Seriously, you will soon be quite dead.  I don't care what you've "achieved" or what you will say stands as a monument to you.  What in hell are you DOING that brings joy and happiness to you and your personal attachments?  Why let the self-serving decide for you?

*Weighing Capital Intent in Public Systems
**Reader, What is a School?

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