Good questions have been asked. The answers only appear elusive while in reality the answers to “education reform” have been overlooked, forgotten, ignored, and/or buried. And oh so many aspects of reform are misunderstood.

Prompted by Thoughts From a Former KIPP Teacher: Testing, Common Core, and Charters are Myths, I now firmly believe we have got to have a “come-to-Jesus” talk about the standardization movement!

Worth Searching For

Worth Searching For

First, is there a need to improve some schools? Yes, the inequality issue is to die for and least we forget, some have! I think we all know that the “gap” between rich and poor & minority is real – common ground that should be a common cause.

So, here is what pulled my trigger today — a misunderstood word —EXPECTATIONS. I tried to at least partially clarify the concept in a short blog many months ago. (Please read)

Today, I shot forward in this article to read something much more disturbing.

“…focusing on standards as one of many means to bolster achievement in high poverty/high minority schools is a way to strive for equity.  Unfortunately, as Diane Ravitch has accurately pointed out, the implementation of the standardization movement over the last 20 years has fallen short.”

Implementation fell short? Yes, but that is not the bigger thing wrong here.

Whoa to standards-based “reforms”!

Overlooked, forgotten, or ignored are the Effective Schools Correlates  which seems strange to me given that I very firmly believe the philosophy behind the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act is based on the REAL community education concept which produced the “effective schools” studied by Ronald Edmonds and others.

Why has it gotten forgotten?

The Modern Community Education Movement was shoved to the side of the road and almost completely buried by the Standards Movement that rose to the occasion when the “crisis” in education caught the public’s attention in the 80’s and that movement rolled on unchecked and not questioned enough…even today.

We need to talk about what standards can and can’t do in depth but for the time being, consider this; * effective schools had variable standards*. “Standards” themselves were not the key factor in the high-poverty/high-minority/high-performing schools that were dubbed “effective.” THE standards never deserved THE “focus.”

Why haven’t we talked about all this sooner?

“We can’t. We’ve got internal political problems.

If we had taken more time to analyze data as the Sandia Research Laboratory engineers did in the 90’s, we probably would have put the brakes on and questioned our focus on standards and testing. It might have occurred to us to discuss what we were doing right to produce the National Assessment of Educational Progress math scores that “had been steady for whites and rising for blacks and Hispanics.”

Talk about buried. I called Sandia Laboratories long ago searching for the Sandia Report. I asked them to put the report up on the Internet. I had a nice chat with a young man and we laughed over the fact that surely with the technology, and engineers at Sandia, they could scan the report and get it online. They never got back with me. Instead, I found a summary on micro phish at a private college library and spent some time copying the 50 page summary page by page.

I appreciate the view of the KIPP teacher that wrote the blog about testing, Common Core, equality and the acknowledgement made that No Child Left Behind-like “reforms” drive the focus to test scores. I’m sure for most people it didn’t open a can of worms like it did for me. It is so important, if you want the right answers to lead us forward, that we understand the history of American education. The history is convoluted but the truth, in my humble opinion, is more politically powerful than the politics of reform IF the truth gets a full and honest hearing.

I want to hear what others see as the truth starting with President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan. How do we make THAT happen?

As John F. Kennedy said at the 1963 Commencement at American University,

Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man.”….or woman!

Public Education: Is It Broken?

Depends on your perspective. If you are a parent or concerned citizen finding your efforts to improve your schools blocked, it is a broken system that allows that to happen. It’s a case of no one being responsible for inaction where and when action is needed.

What's broken?

What’s broken?

When “the system” becomes a barrier to improvement—through unacceptable policies and practices — the system is broken.

That doesn’t mean that all pieces are broken (not all schools, all teachers, all places), but it does mean the system failed to serve, protect, and educate ALL children as well as we can. So this is a place where my perspective differs from Diane Ravitch’s; she continues to say it “is not broken.” Where we do agree is here: “What began as a movement for testing and accountability has turned into a privatization movement.”

The result is unacceptable policies leading to unethical testing, scoring, and reporting practices furthering the already existing inequality of opportunity, segregation, and privatization. I hope people everywhere can agree on this; this is a cycle that is dismantling the system, piece-by-piece, policy-by-policy. Those openly aiming to privatize the public education system are boasting over the strides they have made in transforming the system.

One way the Friedman Foundation measures success is…

“the increase in the percentage of public dollars going to fund private school choice compared to the overall funds going to all K-12 education.”

This is the data they track! Comparing to overall funding!!!! Success is when the public system is fully privatized? Is that what the public has agreed to?

My theory, speaking as a parent with children in the system during the first big take-down (the No Child Left Behind policy), is that privatization never would have gotten this far if policymakers AND the public had been listening to the multitude of people trying to stop the political machine driving the movement and driving our children over the cliff in the process. But we can’t go back and change what happened; we can, however, change policies.

What we can do is move forward determined not to repeat the mistake of ignoring the crucial voices of people wanting to do the right thing for the right reason. We have to sort out those who are offering real, good, practical solutions to existing significant problems—true reformers —and those wishing to transform the system to fit their ideology or to profit the education-industrial complex.

What Do YOU Mean “Standards”?

Our modern-day standards movement can roughly be marked by the release of A Nation at Risk in 1983. And “standards” crept into federal law under George H. W. Bush with the help of Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ratvich who promoted the use of “academic” standards.

We use descriptors of every kind when we talk of standards: academic, performance, process, content, curricular, core, opportunity-to-learn, and always “higher.”

But let’s talk about how to use standards. As Charles M. Reigeluth explained in “To Standardize or to Customize Learning?”—“If not properly conceived, standards can do far more harm than good….They can be used as tools for standardization—to make all students alike. Or they can be used as tools for customization—to help meet individual students’ needs”

We can look at it this way: There is no standard way to drive; there are rules, there are guidelines, but when it comes to getting behind the wheel, it’s an individual thing with decisions made based on variables. Reigeluth provided this —“To use a travel analogy, standards for manufacturing are comparable to a single destination for all travelers to reach, whereas standards for education are more like milestones on many never-ending journeys whereby different travelers may go to many different places.

Who chooses the road for our young travelers?

Who chooses the road for our young travelers?

As long as we offer all of our education traveler’s quality opportunities along the way, we have fulfilled the promise of equal opportunity. But we have not.

The process for using standards is not simple. It seems reasonable to have content standards developed in cooperation with experts in the content areas; that is where “experts” can help “locals.” And after that (again quoting Marzano & Kendall,1997) “standards-based approaches must be tailor made to the specific needs and values of individual schools and districts.”

So, the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) regional educational laboratory long ago developed a data base of content standards along with advice on how to use them to develop classroom curriculum to meet the needs of the community. My advice is to use what we know.

This controversial and divisive topic of “standards” comes down to the fact that we can take a “content” standard, which is a description of what the student should know and be able to do (as defined by experts in a given subject) and turn it into a “curriculum” standard which takes into account how a subject is best presented along with suggested activities. This produces a usable instructional framework.

Ultimately, what is “best” for students in any given classroom can only be decided right there in the classroom, in real time, with much prior planning. This is a starting point in the travel toward excellence.

But we must be clear — standards for academic achievement are not the same as standardization of instruction.

And as was pointed out in A Nation at Risk, standardized tests of achievement should be “administered at major transition points from one level of schooling to another and particularly from high school to college or work.”

We sure as shootin’ blew that advice to hell and back!

Part 6 of ten blogs on The Road to Educational Quality and Equality that started with The March Begins.