Friday, May 24, 2013

Education "Reform" in Maine, Part 2: How did we get here?

How did we get here?
Let’s look at a prescient statement made by Alfie Kohn  back in 2004:

I try to imagine myself as a privatizer. How would I proceed? If my objective were to dismantle public schools, I would begin by trying to discredit them. I would probably refer to them as “government” schools, hoping to tap into a vein of libertarian resentment. I would never miss an opportunity to sneer at researchers and teacher educators as out-of-touch “educationists.” Recognizing that it’s politically unwise to attack teachers, I would do so obliquely, bashing the unions to which most of them belong. Most important, if I had the power, I would ratchet up the number and difficulty of standardized tests that students had to take, in order that I could then point to the predictably pitiful results. I would then defy my opponents to defend the schools that had produced students who did so poorly.

Creepy, eh? We’re seeing this roll out in Maine. Our schools have not only been discredited, they’ve been nearly destroyed. There are many successes in many classrooms; I wouldn’t say that the misery quotient is so high that no parent should send their kids to public school. I will say that testing, and its cousin, standardization, have run like a very slow bulldozer over our schools over a dozen years since the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), leaving behind a quivering mass of desperation. Teachers nationwide are seeing their profession become corrupted and irrelevant. Students are ducking their heads and getting through it without a thought for how it can help them on their way to success.

The name of the game in any school today is struggle. Struggle on the part of students to get through the day, struggle by teachers to teach kids while satisfying the needs of the principals, who are beholden to superintendents, who are looking at their test numbers and shaking their heads.

What Money Problem?
The neighboring district to mine, RSU 20, is all of a dither right now over whether to break up the union that was established after Governor Baldacci’s wrongheaded attempt to consolidate school districts. Passions run very high in this conflict. It is almost as though the players in that debate believe that once their side wins, things will improve for their kids.

It’s difficult for me to watch. Nearly $16 billion are being spent by the 45 states who have adopted the Common Core State Standards, to implement those standards in the classroom, and pay for the tests from the Smarter Balanced testing cohort, which will replace the NECAPS. There are layers and layers of costs, and while one school district in this area is cutting funding for all art supplies, they are paying out $40,000 (a reduction of one Ed Tech position) for a new English curriculum that is aligned to the Common Core -- whether or not they were getting good results from the old one.

RSU 20 itself is paying out $168,000 for technological upgrades to accommodate the Smarter Balanced assessments....while laying off teachers.

We observe the money crunch in districts all over Maine (read also here and here), but there is no lack of money going into education. We’re swimming it it. We’re up to our eyeballs in it. It’s just going to the makers of tests, publishers of curriculum, developers of educational technology that will help teachers move kids through the standards and prepare for tests, and the consultants who we can’t live without, to come in and save us from drowning under the Common Core.

We could also add  to the pot the money that’s wasted on textbooks. There is a treasure-trove of open sourceware available free on the Internet, expressly for the purpose of being used by educators! Add to that the money that is spent buying computers for students who already have them. We could also take away the computerized local assessment system like NWEAs and Aimswebs. Assessments are part of learning; anything else is disruptive, so get rid of it.

Tomorrow, Part 3: Change the Ending

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