Saturday, December 29, 2012

Changing the K-12 Reform Game:  Ten Cardinal Proposals

Reading "The Answer Sheet," or any of a dozen other knowledgeable sites critiquing present alleged school reform, then observing almost demented progression of K-12 standardized testing across over 40 states, along with simplistic VAM assessments of teachers, is a bit like encountering a novel without a plot, by a mad author.  One recoils, thinking, my God, has the US finally become an African nation devouring itself, or recombinant-modified by some rogue Texas RNA, or now been fully contaminated by spun-off machinations of the US House of Representatives?

The Gap and Bigger Gaps

A recent "Sheet" post is a jumping off point for this blog.  Jack Jennings, founder and former president of the non-profit Center on EducationPolicy, recently authored a post titled:  "The fundamental flaws of 'value added' teacher evaluation."  His ending counsel was temperate, even muted, calling for reconciliation of what research on such measures has demonstrated versus the aggressive and unqualified use of VAM.

And so it goes in present debate about alleged reform; the "Sheet," other vehicles, other media, and a litany of blogs continue to post reasonable questions about present reform tactics, their effects and effectiveness, and about reformers' motivations.  Parents are increasingly questioning present K-12 change tactics, in Indiana even voting to reject them.  The words are either beyond the cognition of the alleged reformers or their ideologies simply create selective perception in comprehending the arguments.  

The very best authorship and assessments have not even slowed the stupidity of present corporate reform, now threatening to debase US K-12 education by distorting it beyond practical short term recovery.  In turn, the reform call for school "accountability" reeks of hypocrisy, as our alleged reformers disavow their own accountability for short-circuiting higher order thinking skills, and for creating school environments where cheating has become the norm to avoid being torpedoed by ersatz state grades.

Even if the insanity of present reform was called for a grievous foul tomorrow, and that team ejected from the game, an assertion is it will take at least the rest of this decade to restore real learning and sanity in K-12.  Quickly add, that is assuming that most of our public schools will actually have an epiphany and find their self-diagnostic and change bootstraps.

Cutting Through the Bull

There has always been a no-man's land, between the presumption that morality, reason and ethics ultimately prevail in a society, and Lord Acton's dictum that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Present reform of K-12 is an expression of raw power by a combination of the conceited, the ideological, those seeking to create profits from demonizing or privatizing public K-12, and even the utopian well-intended who missed the classroom lesson on the law of unintended consequences.

The proactive goal for American public K-12 education, however, should now be to drag it off the battlefield of ideologies, and create the opportunity for rational strategic change.  So let's chum the waters

Below are some unabashedly aggressive proposals for changing the present reform game without giving up the quest.  They are envisioned as a five-year to decade's plan.  They require digging deep for the courage and bipartisanship to break some proverbial eggs to get to the omelet.

Smile, These May Sting

One, call a prompt time-out on expansion of standardized testing and VAM, backing up the testing to prescribed summative testing within 5-8 and 11 or 12 emulating the NAEP.  That pause remains in effect for at least three years while meaningful research and development are executed on learning performance measurement.

Twopromptly replace Arne Duncan as US Secretary of Education, and replace the cadre of test and charter advocates brought into that Department by Duncan with competent educator/theorists and educational researchers (perhaps this is really priority #1, followed by priority #2, finding Bill Gates a different hobby).  

Three, put the billionaire dollars being expended to undermine public schools to better use by funding legitimate research on better alternative methods of both testing students for genuine learning, assessing professional performance in K-12 classrooms, and developing true longitudinal assessment of learning transitioning into adult performance.  Subsumed, rediscover the work of psychologist and former Harvard education professor, Howard Gardner

Four, the most egregious links in the present chain of reform implementation are our state governments' education departments.  Almost invisible to most of the public, they have become depositories of educational bureaucracies that are like cancers, resisting transparency, and representing the opposite of our best and brightest in K-12 education.  Many of the practitioners are doubled-down versions of the "Peter Principle," including prior school administrators either ignorant, unethical, or sociopathic, rewarded for those virtues by promotions to county superintendency, or oversight of RttT spending, or to a state's department of education.  Oversight of standardized testing and grading has given state departments power over public schools they didn't previously have, inviting Lord Acton's dictum.  Harsh?  Yes, but states - Ohio for example - have exhibited state education department performances that represent outright corruption. Start a process of withholding all Federal funds from states pending complete housecleaning of their state education bureaucracies. In the case of Ohio, that reform could also save millions of dollars of school funds being skimmed by duplicative and corrupted educational service centers.

Five, by legislative action, require all subsequent K-12 testing be created within the education community, by some combination of K-12 and US collegiate assets; the present publishers may in the traditional sense competitively publish the material, and mechanically score tests, for profit, but cannot create or scale any aspect of those tests or results.  All tests need to pass muster, first, within applicable state K-12 infrastructure, then by a reformed US Department of Education, then finally be certified by the academic source of accepted knowledge, i.e., chemistry by chemists, physics by physicists, maths by mathematicians, history by historians, and on. Erase the present alleged common core (that are neither national knowledge standards, nor contrary to myth a product of the US Department of Education, nor represent the contributions of our intellectual best and brightest), creating national subject matter task forces to develop both a compendium of present knowledge scaled to K-12, plus mechanisms to periodically update both curricular contents and networks designed to extend changes in knowledge to classroom teachers.

Six, launch a true national K-12 school census, managed by a reformed US Department of Education, that actually measures at least once what is happening in all material aspects of our K-12 schools, going beyond the bureaucratic minutiae gathered by the present NCES.

Seven, launch state-by-state legislation that requires all K-12 systems to go beyond present alleged open records requirements to make transparent all aspects of both system operations and board deliberations excepting only those topics prescribed by law as confidential.  Make proactive school sharing of teacher qualifications, school policy deliberations, curriculum, textbooks, lesson plans, and handling of all stake holder relations with a school, mandatory on a par with Title I enforcement.  In related state action, increase the requirement for school board election to minimal possession of a post-secondary degree, and require a program of educational indoctrination before the elected can be seated.

Eight, first, create a set of national managerial standards for school administration, based on the best knowledge of managerial performance from US B-schools, public administration academic programs, and the principles that have evolved from work on general systems theory.  Second, over a five year period, require state vetting, recertification, retraining, or repositioning of all existing public K-12 superintendents and principals.  The premise is that this process would be powered by interdisciplinary and public-private human resource teams recruited for excellence from a state's successful practitioners. Third, all future candidates for K-12 school leadership (CEO) positions would require in addition to the requisite teaching education, the MBA from an accredited B-school or a masters in public administration, and all PhD work would be steeped in educational and organizational psychology, administrative science, research methodology, and neural science.  Subsumed, coincidentally establish non-profit research programs to develop and test alternative organizational forms for K-12 schools consistent with contemporary management theory.

Nine, require the comprehensive reform or restructuring of US collegiate schools of education, potentially changing their position to a function within colleges of arts and science.  Require all K-12 candidate teachers to complete an accelerated four-year program featuring the contents of a minimum of three full years of subject matter education, and one year of teaching methods/rubrics, classroom research tools, and learning assessment.  Set new and demanding national SAT, ACT, and other admission standards for acceptance in any K-12 'teaching prep' concentration.  Extend the concept of nationally board-certified teachers to every public classroom teacher before a status beyond probationary can be vested.

Lastly, ten, create a national inter-institutional task force, to attempt to bridge the last great gap, the disconnect between K-12, especially secondary versus collegiate education in the US.  Reconcile their values and goals that have diverged for over a century, along with the critical deficits of K-12 knowledge and its currency resulting from that conflict. Pragmatically, its time is now, because sans critical thought and initiatives some amalgam of private sector interests and non-traditional education -- at the minimum massive online learning expansion and ad hoc and for-profit postsecondary programs -- will further fracture and muddy traditional education infrastructure and the 12 to 13+ transitions.


There is no conceit that the above are either comprehensive, or actionable without great organizational and political pain, or are fully and properly targeted.  But the sincere belief is, that without some major vector change, the present alleged public school reform movement is capable of and already delivering more strategic national harm than remediation, and continued on its present trajectory, producing the capability to disable rational US K-12 learning.

The present K-12 reform movement viewed from an elevated vantage point -- akin to witnessing present dogmatic and destructive beliefs of the extreme ideological wings of both US political parties, but on a balance scale already bottomed out on the right -- appears just a micron short of some national madness.

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