Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Bill Ayers speaks out, on Arne Duncan and democratic education

Check this out, over at Huffington Post:

"...Much of what we call schooling forecloses or shuts down or walls off meaningful choice-making. Much of it is based on obedience and conformity, the hallmarks of every authoritarian regime. Much of it banishes the unpopular, squirms in the presence of the unorthodox, hides the unpleasant. There's no space for skepticism, irreverence, or even doubt. While many of us long for teaching as something transcendent and powerful, we find ourselves too-often locked in situations that reduce teaching to a kind of glorified clerking, passing along a curriculum of received wisdom and predigested and often false bits of information. This is a recipe for disaster in the long run...."

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Jim Horn said...

My reaction to Bill Ayers's endorsement of Duncan:

Anonymous said...

And you wonder why people who can afford it, like the Obamas, put their kids in private schools?

Anonymous said...

In a recent report by McKinsey & Company, How the World's Best-Performing School Systems Come Out on Top, this prominent consulting company finds that school success hinges on recruiting and supporting high-quality teachers for all students. The report looks at the world's top ten high-performing school systems, according to OECD'S Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), and seven rapidly improving school systems in the states. These school systems are characterized by these three attributes: 1) highly selective teacher hiring process, 2) a focus on developing effective instruction, and 3) access to high-quality teachers for all students. In brief, they invest in teachers as their most important asset, their human capital.

Interestingly, the business leaders and other "free market" advocates who have greatly influenced public education policy over the past two decades have not shared with educators this relentless focus on human capital, which is common sense in the best and most innovative companies. Instead their focus for improving schools has been on a stodgy version of standards-based reform, driven by accountability and testing from the top-down. In this view, federal and state education officials and testing companies, along with psychometricians and educational researchers, carefully calibrate incentives and penalties based on test data. Their intent is to pressure schools, principals and teachers to move in the right direction with this simulation of market forces. Whereas the leading companies strategically recruit and develop their talent as the foundation for their competitive strength, these thought leaders and advocates of standards-based reform continue to seek to perfect accountability and assessment, thinking of human capital as an afterthought if at all.

Moreover, our international peers like Finland and South Korea, outstripping us in student achievement in mathematics and science, recruit teachers from among their top college graduates because they have made teaching attractive not just in terms of money but in professional stature and decision-making authority. Yet our business leaders and education researchers have joined with the state education officials in a united front in the campaign to tinker with NCLB accountabiliity. As seen in the proposals for ESEA reauthorization, lobbying groups like Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and National Governors' Association (NGA) are offering tweaks at the margins of NCLB, suggesting, for example, growth models for accountability to better account for individual student growth, and differentiated consequences for varying degrees of failure to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). They would bring a substantial increase in the top-down system of testing with their proposal for "multiple measures" (i.e., adding local tests and other measures to the statewide tests for accountability) and the next generation of performance-based assessments. This reform consensus would continue to leave teachers and the public disenfranchised.

This would be more testing, more data, not less. It would make education even more complex, further removed from the simple wisdom gleaned in the McKinsey report that educational excellence depends foremost on investment in quality teachers. The utter failure of the current leaders in education policy to see and pursue investment in human capital reveals the impoverishment of the education bureaucracy. It suffers from a want of imagination, energy and creativity. What can explain this? It may be that business and educational researchers are highly vested in the current system of data-driven, not people-led, accountability and assessment. For business, aside from the obvious self-interest of test publishers and other vendors who profit directly from it, the emphasis on data and the focus on results is to speak their language. It shifts the very discourse about education to the language and methods of business management and thereby allows business leaders to speak from a superior position in shaping schools at the local, state, and national level. Similarly, the educational research world benefits from the current overemphasis on data, for this enables powerful research paradigms and the work of multitudes of scholars and students. Finally, given the exalted position of these two groups, educators themselves are self-selected to positions of authority in the education bureaucracy to the extent that they speak this language of data, accountability, and assessment. This vast preoccupation with testing and building systems of data-driven decision-making is blinding education reformers and leaders from the seminal insight that investment in human capital, recruiting, developing and supporting high quality teachers, is the single-most important factor in supporting achievement, confidence, and self-efficacy for all students. One wonders why the education system fails to act on this insight. It can only be that there is such a closed system of thought.

Given this state of inertia, it would be naïve to think we can reform the education system with mere legislation. Such is the complexity and interdependence of the many parts of this system that reform efforts are unsustainable and quickly overwhelmed by the status quo. The "education industrial complex," to paraphrase President Eisenhower's famous warning about the "military industrial complex," composed of bureaucrats, business leaders, and researchers, is continuing to tighten the bindings of data systems and accountability algorithms. Those closest to students -- teachers and principals -- are the least influential in this vast enterprise. Their voice is further diluted by the public face of teacher unions, regrettably caricatured in the press as jealously protective of the status quo, of various collective bargaining rights, work rules, pay and seniority. The real challenge of getting meaningful change, one based on investment in human capital, begins with restoring the stature and credibility of teachers and their unions as leaders in support of world-class schools and high quality learning for all students.

The current system, however, is highly resistant to change. In April 2006, in response to yet another error by a testing company resulting in wrong test scores, Secretary Margaret Spellings called the major test publishers to Washington D.C. to demand that they get together and fix these systems. She stated that they needed to create error-free systems to keep the public faith in accountability and assessment. Following this meeting, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) offered to convene the top state education leaders and the test publishers into a collaborative enterprise to resolve these problems in testing operations. But tellingly, this initiative never got off the ground as there was little real interest in the endeavor. One of the stumbling blocks was the demand by the state testing directors that test publishers include a code of ethics, and in particular a promise that they would no longer directly lobby education chiefs or governors. This missed opportunity to improve the quality and accuracy of the testing systems belies the reality that the education industrial complex is motivated by its own interests, not those of students. Another example of this is when a test publisher tried to rush through data reporting at the request of a state client, foregoing the usual regime of quality control checks, the resulting errors in scores revealed the fragility of these systems. They are increasingly coming under strain as pressure mounts due to the increasing volume of testing and the demand for quicker reporting. Interestingly, over this same period, CCSSO, a non-profit organization, has aggressively pursued business partnerships for revenue, selling access to the education chiefs through various forms of membership and sponsorship to most of the top companies in education, including the major test publishers.

The failure of the testing industry and education chiefs to regulate itself means we can expect further errors, and potential harm to students, every testing season. The implementation of NCLB and the emergence of this education industrial complex has subverted the integrity of testing and disastrously influenced the development of standards, curriculum, and instruction. It has corrupted the very processes of teaching and testing. And most tragically, it has blinded us to the true insight for reform, investment in and support of teachers and principals -- human capital -- that the top nations and top businesses understand to be the simple commonsense for achieving excellence.