Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Update on education in Washington D.C.

A great post from RSS at Daily Kos - I grabbed the whole thing, but here is the LINK in case you want to follow that blog.

As the Washington, DC, Board of Education announces it will be looking into news that schools former Chancellor Michelle Rhee rewarded as high performers showed suspiciously high levels of wrong-to-right erasure patterns on test sheets, Rhee is lashing out:

"It isn't surprising," Rhee said in a statement Monday, "that the enemies of school reform once again are trying to argue that the Earth is flat and that there is no way test scores could have improved ... unless someone cheated."

No, Michelle. Flat-earthers follow faith, not evidence. Just as you are doing by trying to cast this as your reform or no reform, good guys and bad guys, evidence be damned. Let's review: Noted enemy of school reform McGraw-Hill, which scores the test sheets, flagged the pattern. Fringe left publication USA Today investigated it—unlike your administration, which conducted only the most cursory investigation and that belatedly. And academics at Arizona State University, Georgetown University, and Western Michigan University agreed that the pattern called for thorough examination.

Dana Goldstein explains why things like this are exactly what we can expect from high-stakes testing:

Campbell’s Law states that incentives corrupt. In other words, the more punishments and rewards—such as merit pay—are associated with the results of any given test, the more likely it is that the test’s results will be rendered meaningless, either through outright cheating or through teaching to the test in a way that narrows the curriculum and renders real learning obsolete.

In the era of No Child Left Behind, Campbell’s Law has been proved true again and again. When the federal government began threatening to cut off schools’ funding if they did not achieve across-the-board student “proficiency” on state reading and math exams, states responded by creating standardized tests that were easier and easier to pass. Alabama, for example, reported that 85 percent of its fourth-graders were proficient in reading in 2005, even though only 22 percent of the state’s students demonstrated proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the gold standard, no-stakes exam administered by the federal government.

Simultaneously, instances of outright cheating were rising nationwide.

The idea of improving education is a good one. It's just that today's "education reform" movement is variously educationally bankrupt, corrupted by Wall Street money and privatization fever, and defined by Michelle Rhee's fame-seeking flat-earth approach. Before we can effectively improve education, we have to reform the "reform" movement.

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