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

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Conservative "Reformers" Oppose and then Support Standardized Testing

Chester Finn’s “Accountability Dilemmas,” in the Fordham Flypaper, seems to be an example of a conservative “reformer” acknowledging at least some of the failure of bubble-in "reform." Finn recognizes that parents “fret” over the overemphasis on testing that “fosters dull, drill-centric classrooms.” Finn is open to some sort of testing hiatus as Common Core is introduced.  Turning down the heat on educators would allow them to “focus on what’s coming rather than on the academic expectations that are going out of style.”  Teachers could adjust to the new standards “without having to look over their shoulders at the same time for fear they’ll lose their jobs—or their schools—on the basis of scores on the old tests.”

But, Fordham's Mike Petrilli, in "The Right Response to the Atlanta Cheating Scandal," now embraces the worst possible use of testing. He wants to allow principals to consider test score results when evaluating teachers, but without even the central office providing checks or balances.

Petrilli, like Diane Ravitch, had argued that NCLB-type testing should be used for Consumers Report-style transparency, not for high-stakes accountability. In The Diverse Schools Dilemma, he recognized that affluent parents oppose the way that testing drives the joy of teaching and learning from the classroom.  And, he criticizes Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for his imposition of "formula-driven" teacher evaluation using test scores.

Petrilli must have once known that the only thing worse for teachers than imposing formulaic test-driven evaluations is arbitrary test-driven evaluations. After Joel Klein did in New York City what Petrilli now proposes, Petrilli said, "fantastic veteran teachers — the very people that Klein wanted the rest of the system to emulate — were just as frustrated and beaten down by the changes as everyone else.” In "Alfie Kohn's Message: Half-Crazy, Half-True," he wrote, "even the most hawkish reformer must blush at depictions of the endless test prep and shamefully narrowed curriculum that is present at too many inner city schools."  I had once hoped that Petrilli opposed Kohn's idealism but that, being a realist, he would distance himself from the "reform" movement's teacher-bashing ideologues.

Because Hess, Petrilli, and other conservatives are sensitive to the concerns of families and educators in affluent schools, I had hoped, they would be concerned about abusive testing regimes that have failed to improve schools for poor children of color.  Because they acknowledge that teachers fearful of unfairly losing their jobs will not properly implement Common Core (which has the potential of improving affluent schools), I had hoped that they would understand that abusing urban teachers is not a good way of helping their students.

I am happy that Hess now acknowledges the inherent contradictions of the policies that he has helped impose on all schools. In the past, half of Petrilli's positions  seemed to realistic, while the other half seemed to be going through the motions of supporting the crazy wing of the "reform" movement. I am disappointed that he seems to be subordinating the improvement of actual schools to his coalition's goals of turning up the heat on teachers and schools, and instilling fear in them

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