Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Succinct Summary of the War on Public Education

A man whose career was focused on educational measurement tees off on the emphasis on testing to measure public education:
In the last three decades, the public has largely withdrawn its commitment to public education. The reasons are multiple: those who pay for public schools have less money, and those served by the public schools look less and less like those paying taxes.
The degrading of public education has involved impugning its effectiveness, cutting its budget, and busting its unions. Educational measurement has been the perfect tool for accomplishing all three: cheap and scientific looking.
International tests have purported to prove that America’s schools are inefficient or run by lazy incompetents. Paper-and-pencil tests seemingly show that kids in private schools – funded by parents – are smarter than kids in public schools. We’ll get to the top, so the story goes, if we test a teacher’s students in September and June and fire that teacher if the gains aren’t great enough.
There has been resistance, of course. Teachers and many parents understand that children’s development is far too complex to capture with an hour or two taking a standardized test. So resistance has been met with legislated mandates. The test company lobbyists convince politicians that grading teachers and schools is as easy as grading cuts of meat. A huge publishing company from the UK has spent $8 million in the past decade lobbying Congress. Politicians believe that testing must be the cornerstone of any education policy.
The results of this cronyism between corporations and politicians have been chaotic. Parents see the stress placed on their children and report them sick on test day. Educators, under pressure they see as illegitimate, break the rules imposed on them by governments. Many teachers put their best judgment and best lessons aside and drill children on how to score high on multiple-choice tests. And too many of the best teachers exit the profession.
When measurement became the instrument of accountability, testing companies prospered and schools suffered. I have watched this happen for several years now. I have slowly withdrawn my intellectual commitment to the field of measurement.
The first two paragraphs do a pretty good job of describing how public education has been undermined over the last generation.  If he also mentioned that some business sharps realized that about 1/3 of their state budgets went to public education, and came up with a poorly regulated system for funneling that money into their pockets (vouchers and charter schools), I'd say he'd hit all of the ways our public school system has come under attack.  As far as I can tell, the testing requirements are just a way to justify slashing resources in the school systems which most need the money.

Really, whodathunk that rich, suburban schools would have much better test results than poor, inner-city and rural schools?  Anybody with half a brain could figure out that areas with high levels of entrenched poverty and very low property tax bases would require much more state funding than areas with high household incomes and high educational attainment among parents.  Those test results are a good way to claim that that state funding is "wasted." The solution? Why, funnel that education money through some campaign contributors who run charter schools and provide little oversight on how that money gets spent.  Somebody is going to be able to sort through the best of the students in the city districts and get some good test results to provide anecdotal evidence that charter schools "work." 

Ever wonder why rural areas with poorly performing schools aren't subjected to the charter school "solution?"  I'd guess it's because there aren't enough kids available to be able to skim off the best students to provide a workable example of a charter school.  Then you'd just end up with a poorly-run school, with teachers paid poverty wages and school "sponsors" skimming a large percentage of the budget.  Also, there is the whole political situation, with rural areas protecting their schools to prevent their communities from disintegrating, and protecting on of the largest employers in the area (for most rural areas, the three largest employers are the county government, the largest school system and the hospital [if they have one] or the largest city).  Since Republican gerrymanders by default over-represent rural areas, that is another solid reason you won't be seeing any charter schools in rural areas.

In the end, testing has been a very effective way to vilify all the schools that try to educate poor brown children, and justify filtering that money through the "private-enterprise" system so sketchy folks can line their pockets.  As with all Republican tax cut/spending cut operations, the benefits go to wealthy folks, while poor rural and urban residents take it on the chin.  It is only with political over-representation that rural folks are able to hang on to a little bit of their government largess.  And yet they never see it that way.  Race and pride and lack of self-awareness are powerful forces.

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