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

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

The Logic of "Reform" Hits a New Low

ConnCAN's “The Roadmap to Closing the Gap” joins the pantheon of data-driven "reformers" who love to issue heads I win, tails you lose analyses of school reform.  It argues that the number of Connecticut students who lag behind their peers is surprisingly small.  So, that doable target requires radical change of the system!?!?

The Shanker Blog’s Matt DiCarlo, in “The Cartography of High Expectations” is always diplomatic to a fault, but even he blasts ConnCAN's tract as another example of “reformers” who cross “a point at which well-intentioned ratcheting up of the expectations rhetoric crosses the border from healthy urgency to counterproductive fantasy.” DiCarlo then dismantles their so-called methodology.  It takes a snapshot of the modest number of Connecticut students who are seriously behind their peers.  Illogically, ConnCAN’s low numbers (2% of the state students and 6% of the students in three urban districts) supposedly prove that radical solutions are necessary. 

Common Sense would say that their data shows that the system is not broken and argue for incremental and sustainable change. These “reformers’” guestimates supposedly argue that their agenda could close the achievement gap by 2020 - if we had “high expectations.” 

DiCarlo then addresses the larger faith-based genre of "reform" manifestos. He agrees that it would be nice we knew how to close the achievement gap in eight or ten years, but real improvement must be gradual and sustainable. Saying that we don’t have the know how or resources for anything close to meeting ConnCan’s aspirations, DiCarlo writes, “won’t win you many friends or funding in education, but it’s true, and we all know it.” Ending the achievement gap would take a multi-generational effort. (emphasis is DiCarlo’s)

Real harm is done when ConnCan and other reformers set impossible targets. DiCarlo concludes, “If we expect miracles, we will make bad decisions. We will shut down programs and schools that actually work well, just because they’re not working quickly enough to meet our impossible demands. We might create disincentives for investing in long-term improvement, and incentives for unwanted behavior

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