Sunday, February 26, 2012

SQUINTS 2/27/2012 – K-12: END OF REASON?

Today’s SQUINTS is intentionally brief, to provide links to thoughts expressed this week by resources with views based on long tenure with K-12 education.  The various thoughts also underscore the extreme, frequently thoughtless or distorted views of those driving present public K-12 education into an abyss rather than truly reforming the genre.

Continuing the theme of the transmittal email, an article not previously seen appeared in the influential magazine, the Atlantic, circa January/February 2008, by Matt Miller:  First, Kill All the School Boardswas its provocative title.  The point of view, and presciently, underscores the current insanity of chasing down for metaphorical slaughter our K-12 teachers who can’t either condone cheating, or are dealt a hand and classes that won’t produce politically acceptable standardized test scores.  Subsequent reporting of NYC's results for their 18,000 teachers suggests how complex assessment is, and how the VAM model can distort reality.

Acknowledging that in practicality our nation is politically stuck with school boards, Miller’s views also underscore that the alternatives are not supportive of maintaining local control of education.  Another story, for another day, the naïve interpretation of “local control” and how school boards are elected are major barriers to fashioning K-12 reform that might work.

Diane Ravitch, in turn, asks 13 questions of those pushing the testing model of reform; the questions go in, but no answers come out?

Lastly, a K-12 educator, curriculum designer and author for over a half century asks a revealing question:  Why are strong readers being labeled remedial?  The possible answer is not an endorsement of what is issuing from a corporate education sector that is starting to exude the same aroma as the firms that were earlier wallowing in derivatives termed "credit default swaps" – you recall those honorable folk who contributed to the last several years of US economic tranquility?

Inevitably, the question is also asked, are our public schools that bad?  Purely a vignette, but a February 25, 2012 New York Times op-ed by Dick Cavett, touching on home schooling, rings a bell:  Surely, there are parents caught in mediocre school districts with little choice but to give their kids the best shot at a rounded exposure to arts, letters, the sciences, and so on, and are admirably able to do so at home — thereby sparing them the teachers who can’t spell and who tell the kids, as in one friend’s case, that the band around the center of the earth on the globe is called ‘the equation.’”

So, is home schooling the answer?  Mr. Cavett is not an advocate:  “Especially when parents, complaining of their kids’ schooling, wrote in report card responses things like “I am loathe to critacize…”; “my childs consantration”; “normalicy”; “my daughter’s abillaties”; “her examatian grades”; “she should of done better”; “greater supervizion,” etc., into the night.”

But a voice of reason was just posted amid the scattershot of increasingly contentious views that are emerging, now almost daily, pitting critical thought against a liberal political obsession to by force eliminate differentials in learning concomitant with race or income differentials, and do so by ramming standardized tests through the system until that artificial goal can be claimed.

The author is “John Merrow, veteran education reporter for PBS, NPR, and dozens of national publications. He is President of Learning Matters, a 501(c)(3) media production company based in New York and focused on education.  His February 2011 book, The Influence of Teachersis published by LM Books.”  Jim Lehrer, former host of PBS NewsHour, said:  “Nobody reports on the treasures and traumas of public education better than John Merrow.  He is, quite simply, the leading education journalist in America.”

Mr. Merrow’s post is linked here; view it even if you check out nothing else.

US public K-12 education has created its own purgatory by decades of dry rot, self-righteousness, and rejection of both intellectualism and creativity; in turn, the extreme corporate wing of reform is being driven by retro thinking and charters forged by ideology, then by avarice of corporate testing firms that appear capable of educational fraud.  America's teachers are caught in an undiscriminating crossfire, while who should first be in the crosshairs are K-12 bureaucrats who have embraced hubris and abandoned ethical behavior, and many slack to incompetent school boards.

The question in introducing this SQUINTS was, is there a center? Without movement in that direction, renewing the public model, eschewing single-cause explanations of what's wrong with K-12, recognizing simultaneous multiple influences, and differentiating standardized tests from real measurements of complex learning effects, once viable American K-12 education by the end of this decade may reflect the present coherence of our financial markets and our political parties.

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