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

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Mark Garrison's Review of The Mismeasure of Education

We deeply appreciate Professor Mark Garrison's thorough, analytical and clearly-delivered review essay of  TMoE.  Here is the Intro section, followed by a link to Education Review: A Journal of Book Reviews, where you can read the rest. jh & dw

Mark Garrison
D'Youville College
Buffalo, New York

Recently I was asked to talk to a large group of area educators and parents about the relationship between the Common Core Standards Initiative (CCSI) and the use of student test scores on high stakes standardized tests to evaluate teachers and principals  –  so-called valued-added models (VAMs). Public criticism of this disfiguring of teacher evaluation and the Common Core testing regime continues to grow across New York State and elsewhere, giving rise to many public forums such as the one described below. More than 40,000 parents reportedly opted their children out of New York’s Common Core tests this year. Many parents are “refusing the tests” on the grounds that consistent and vocal public concerns about the Regents Reform Agenda have been ignored (e.g., Strauss, 2013).
During the discussion following my talk
linking the rise of the test-delivery Common Core regime and VAMs to cuts to education funding and privatization, one teacher likened her experience to being flushed down a toilet, “day after day,” struggling but never being able to escape that dark vortex known as “education reform,” which, she said, “sucks the life out of education” and renders any authentic work of students and teachers “wasteful.”  After the crowd had left, the event organizer told me that a teacher sitting next to him during the talk, “cried quietly for the first half hour.” When I asked why, he said: “The talk put everything together for her, helped her understand the pain she had been experiencing over the last decade.” In no small measure was my ability to “bring everything together” based on having just finished reading Horn and Wilburn’s volume, The Mismeasure of Education (MME). Readers should know that MME is imbued with an activist spirit and so it seems imminently fitting to introduce the book in the light of its role in my own work as a public intellectual.
I’ve been studying and writing about standardized testing, and VAMs in particular, for some time, so I asked myself, “what was it about MME that proved so valuable to me?” The value of MME for me – and I believe this will be the case for many readers – is the manner in which it links the rise of test-based accountability policy to elite ideologies and efforts to block public demands for equality of educational opportunity, and demands
for policies that foster social equality, more
generally. Through its case study of the rise of VAMs in Tennessee, MME leaves the reader with a keen sense of the dynamic relationship between the increasing reliance on standardized tests, school finance litigations, and privatization efforts, which include increased expenditures on for-profit prisons and a simultaneous reduction in funding for public schools. This analysis and the author’s mode of presentation helped me put all that knowledge
together such that I was more able than before to effectively communicate an analysis to a public audience, one that was both partisan – unabashedly in favor of defending and renewing the democratic potential of public education – and eager for objective analyses of the actual conditions, developments and facts related to the “mismeasure” of the work of teachers and students.
In short, the value of MME is how it makes the case that testing is political. It makes the case that standards used to judge schools, teachers and students represent the interests and values of those who establish them. For me, it is further proof of the thesis outlined in my own work (Garrison, 2009) regarding the inherently political and value-laden nature of academic standards and assessments and their role in struggles between political factions and social classes. The Mismeasure of Education will help readers understand that fights over testing practices can be understood as means for sorting out larger political and economic contradictions. Horn and Wilburn’s work, then, can be summarized as presenting a case history and political analysis of
the mismeasure of education. This is an analysis of
who does and does not benefit from the systematic distortion of social reality and alteration of the goals and control of public education that emerges from VAMs and high-stakes testing more generally.

An Objective Yet Partisan Analysis

Horn and Wilburn present their argument about
mismeasurement in four sections. While each stands
alone – expanding the pedagogical uses of the book –
each section contributes to an overall argument, guided
by a definite method of analysis. . . .

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