Obama’s Educational ‘Reforms’: More of the Same Old, Same Old

And they don’t appear to actually fix anything either. From The Washington Post:

But Duncan reiterated his commitment to testing and accountability: “I will always give NCLB credit for exposing achievement gaps and for requiring that we measure our efforts to improve education by looking at outcomes rather than inputs. . . . Today, we expect districts, principals and teachers to take responsibility for the academic performance of their schools and students.”
The standardized testing culture has sunk deep roots in public education under the federal mandate to assess students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. State tests are widely criticized for uneven rigor and quality, but they provide data crucial to many reform efforts. The administration has set aside funding to help develop a new generation of exams as a group of states seeks to write what could become the first nationwide academic standards. But for now, the regular state tests will feed into Race to the Top.
The administration’s proposed rules for the grants challenge the education establishment on several fronts:
— To create systems to track individual student achievement over time and link growth in scores to individual teachers and principals;
— To use those data in part to evaluate and compensate teachers and principals;
— To lift limits on independently operated but publicly funded charter schools, which usually are not unionized; and
— To shake up perennially struggling schools identified through No Child Left Behind.

Leaving aside the serious issues surrounding the measurement of individual teachers, this strikes me as the same old ‘progressive’ crap that doesn’t actually solve the problem. As I see it, there are several reasons why a school might fail:

1) The students. We don’t like to talk about this–if nothing else, it’s probably political suicide for a politician to do so–but a large component of academic success (or failure) has to do with the lives of students outside of the school. Poverty and poor health, family instability and so on matter. Admittedly, there isn’t that much a school can do about these things, although nutritional programs, along with adequate guidance counselor staffing to detect and help children in abusive or harmful environments can help.
2) The teachers. While some teachers should be fired, that’s not feasible or desirable for all poorly performing teachers. Likewise, we should be providing assistance to ‘average’ teachers too. Where is the help for teachers? Not only do teachers need ongoing educational training (i.e., keeping current in the disciplines they teach), but pedagogical instruction isn’t cheap (i.e., video taping and reviewing classrooms). Where is the funding for that supposed to come from? Magic ponies that crap bars of platinum? (And again, how one assesses a ‘good’ teacher is far more objective than people realize).
3) School infrastructure. This includes everything from having enough books, reasonable class sizes, adequate instructional materials (lab supplies, art supplies, xeroxing, and so on), to clean, comfortable, and quiet buildings, with enough space for students and teachers. How does a testing and assessment regime do anything to fix this problem? Answer: it doesn’t.

The school closing idea is, well, stupid. Closing schools costs money, money that could be spent on education. And consider each of the factors I listed above. To the extent that a schools fails due to the students, how does dispersing those students to other schools without attaching funding to meet their needs improve either their or their new classmates’ education?
To the extent that the problem is due to teachers, closing schools and getting rid of the ‘bad’ teachers, even if feasible will just lead to overcrowded classrooms for the remaining teachers. (The closing argument also assumes that teachers at charter schools are a sustainable resource, which is a dubious proposition).
Finally, school closings do nothing to improve the resources dedicated to school infrastructure.
If testing is used as a way to guide improvements–improvements which will require additional funding–then it’s worthwhile. But, as far as I can tell, this is assessment without aid, which doesn’t do students any good. Bombast about teachers unions notwithstanding, teachers aren’t the enemy here. Inadequate resources are.

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3 Responses to Obama’s Educational ‘Reforms’: More of the Same Old, Same Old

  1. Dr. Kate says:

    Unless I’m misunderstanding your point, I think you meant to say that assessing a good teacher is more subjective than a lot of people think.
    To me, the biggest problem is that all of the focus on testing doesn’t really get to the point. The goal is to improve students’ education–i.e., learning. But improvement in test scores does not necessarily = improvement in knowledge, learning, etc. As a corollary, teachers that are good at getting students to pass the test are not necessarily good at getting students to learn. As long as the sole measure of student learning/success is a standardized test, the ability of the educational system to prepare students for real life is never going to improve, because real life is not a standardized test.

  2. NCLB is pernicious corporatization of education. Decent education simply cannot be based on “metrics” and “outcome assessment” and all that other corporate doucheiosity.

  3. TH says:

    Teachers are not equal, and should not be treated equally. Good teachers should be rewarded. Create good incentives, and teachers will improve.
    How do you reward good teachers? You need some sort of data to analyze. You can try to balance good academic scores with student and parent ratings of likeability, etc.
    Obviously you have difficult decisions to make regarding what the statistics are. But I dont’ see why it’s preferable to let all teachers be treated equally.
    And yes, some neighborhoods are better than others… but I would bet that there are teachers in some areas that are performing significantly better or worse than their peers.
    If standardized testing isn’t a good enough gauge, then use other metrics as well. You can’t measure everything, but in this case, something is better than nothing.

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