ANSWERS LIE in the TRUTH

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!

To the Success of The Education Movement

CHEERS!

CHEERS!

“What are the ingredients that any successful movement needs?” asked John Blake in his article Why some movements work and others wilt. Here are excerpts from the paper:

“Remember four rules:

1.  Don’t get seduced by spontaneity. Spontaneity is sexy. Yet spontaneity is overrated… Successful movements are built on years of planning, trial and error, honing strategies for change. A good movement should already have an organizational structure set up to take advantage of a spontaneous act that grips the public…William Barber’s advice for movement builders: Don’t wait for the right spark to organize. Do it now. ‘No matter where you are now, now is the time to build coalitions,’ Barber says. ‘You do it now because when the moment comes, the only thing that will be able to save you is to be together.’

2. Make policy, not noise. Successful movements just don’t take it to the streets. They elect candidates, pass laws, set up institutions to raise money, train people and produce leaders, observers say…. A successful movement is filled with people who know that it is wise at times to compromise…. Cast a vision of America that appeals to all types of people.

3. Redefine the meaning of punishment. The belief that modern Americans lack the right stuff to rise up is ‘hogwash.’… ‘As dark as things may seem at a given moment,’ Sam Pizzigati says, ‘things can change very rapidly when a social movement takes off.’… The redefinition goes like this: ‘No punishment anyone can lay on me can possibly be any worse than the punishment I lay on myself by conspiring in my own diminishment,’ says Parker Palmer.

4. Divide the elites. ‘Elites help movements when they feel their own interests are threatened,’ says Pizzigati.

There is one final lesson for anyone who wants to join a movement. Victory is fleeting and setbacks are inevitable. At times, it can seem like it was all a waste.”

Now knowing what makes movements successful, can those of us that fight for strengthening public schools by doing what is best for students see why the standards, testing, and accountability movement has come so far?

In The Crucial Voice I wrote, “The modern standards movement politically overpowered, but did not destroy, the modern community education movement.” And I will tell you that when I read that the Mott Foundation now supports the Common Core National Curriculum movement, my heart sank a bit because it was Charles S. Mott who originally supported Frank Manley in his efforts to develop and spread the community education concept — setbacks? Yes, a few.

“Let’s have faith that right makes might; and in that faith let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.” — Abraham Lincoln

History Repeats

Some have marched across this bridge before.

Many crossed this bridge before.

Standards-based education reform of public schools has been tried before.

Around 1913, the industrial “efficiency movement” focused public attention on outcomes but when educators attempted to “routinize teaching,” or standardize it, it didn’t work according to Robert J. Marzano and Jon S. Kendall in “The Fall and Rise of Standards-Based Education.”

And by the late 1930’s research completed by the Cooperative Study of Secondary Schools Standards concluded, among other things, that standardized test scores as the sole means of evaluating schools tended to make “instruction point definitely to success in examinations,” cultivated “a uniformity that was deadening to instruction,” “thwarted the initiative of instructors,” and can “destroy the flexibility and individuality of an institution.” In addition to bringing about a rigid curriculum, the study concluded, this type of testing had little validity for identifying superior and inferior schools and a better method was available. In 1939!

But the plans were set aside while the country addressed the needs of World War II. We moved on, it would seem, unaware of what had come before. And in the process, we changed from looking to improve education by providing the necessary “inputs” to a heavier focus on “outputs.” (Recall the Coleman Report) So that is how we ended up repeating our standards experiment with an even greater emphasis on test scores.

By 2001, the country had become convinced that we needed a federal accountability system and the “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) Act was it! The law focused all of our attention (and dollars) on accountability for all schools totally based on student outcomes as judged by standardized test scores.

We replaced individual “performance” standards with state “curriculum” standards. Now we risk setting national curriculum standards instead of recognizing that children need us to identify their individual strengths and weaknesses and work with them to attain a level of mastery of the classroom curriculum. This isn’t a proposal that gets away from being held accountable to a standard; it’s one that is responsible for meeting the needs of the individual student along with educational standards. This is a philosophy that can take us from a classroom culture of test preparation to a culture of educating each child to the fullest extent of his or her talents — meeting the standards for American excellence and equality.

We made tremendous progress in the sixties and seventies because we followed an educational philosophy focused on providing the necessary “inputs” to the hardest to teach students. Desegregation of schools peaked in the 1980’s and a narrowing of the achievement gap occurred during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Now, the focus is the gap, is the test, is the score, and, the gap persists.

In the march towards equal opportunity in education, we got stuck in the ditch of standardization of children because we set test scores as our goal — in law and in the minds of Americans. The Modern Standards Movement politically overpowered, but did not destroy, the Modern Community Education Movement.

If we can only come to understand standards and their proper use, we have a shot at getting it right— in the minds of Americans and in law.

The big question is; does Congress know enough to get it right this time?

Part 5 of ten blogs on The Road to Educational Quality and Equality that started with The March Begins.