Stop the Hazing
Maybe the tide is turning. Maybe momentum against the fake “reform” movement in education is reaching critical mass.
Maybe it’s too early to tell.
The worship of standardized testing, at least, seems to be lessening. Testing of this sort is seen, more and more, as the hazing it really is. In fact, according to a New York Times article the other day:
Although testing is central to the education reform movement, the word “testing” is considered crude in elite education circles, and in a three-page response to questions, the commissioner [John B. King Jr., New York State’s commissioner of education] never actually used the t-word. However, he did include multiple euphemisms like “data on the growth in student learning.”
The article is about a principals’ “revolt” in New York, one of the most optimistic events in education over the past few months, to say the very least.
One of the things goading the principals into revolt is a series of “training sessions” principals and teachers are forced into, if their students’ test scores are not high enough:
The trainers at these sessions, which are paid for by state and federal grants, have explained that they’re figuring out the new evaluation system as they go. To make the point, they’ve been showing a YouTube video with a fictional crew of mechanics who are having the time of their lives building an airplane in midair.
“It was supposed to be funny, but the room went silent,” Ms. Burris [Carol Burris, the principal of South Side High School in Nassau County] said. “These are people’s livelihoods we’re talking about.”
Who are these trainers? How can anyone think they can help teachers and principals when they are inventing as they go? These questions are analogous to ones asked by the subject, unidentified by name, of a recent Washington Post article:
“It makes no sense to me that a test with the potential for shaping a student’s entire future has so little apparent relevance to adult, real-world functioning. Who decided the kind of questions and their level of difficulty? Using what criteria? To whom did they have to defend their decisions? As subject-matter specialists, how qualified were they to make general judgments about the needs of this state’s children in a future they can’t possibly predict? Who set the pass-fail “cut score”? How?”
In both cases, the power of evaluation is being taken away from those best able to wield it (teachers and administrators with teaching experience) and is being placed in the hands of what are, essentially, faceless bureaucrats who, themselves, are accountable to no one with real experience in education.
The Post article concerns a successful man with graduate degrees and vacation homes who took and failed a 10th grade standardized test. The quote above is part of his reaction to the test.
One of the reasons we find it so hard to move beyond the testing mania (just not mentioning the word is no movement at all, of course) is that the people making decisions are those who have done best on the tests—but who will never have to take them again (the man in the Post story chose to take them; unlike students, he didn’t have to). They are the lucky ones—as I am. If it hadn’t been for luck on the GRE, I never would have gotten in to graduate school: my scores on the actual exam sections were all several hundred points higher than I had managed on any of the practice exams I took in preparation. I was damned lucky. As the man in the article says:
“If I’d been required to take those two tests when I was a 10th grader, my life would almost certainly have been very different. I’d have been told I wasn’t ‘college material,’ would probably have believed it, and looked for work appropriate for the level of ability that the test said I had.”
Standardized testing, as we have used it for over half a century now, is hazing. Today, that hazing is being expanding to cover teachers and principals as well.
Thank goodness, some of them are beginning to revolt.
(More about that revolt can be found here.)