Guest Post by Anthony Cody: Cui Bono? The Question Rarely Asked, Let Alone Investigated

This was written by Anthony Cody, who spent 24 years working in Oakland schools, 18 of them as a science teacher at a high needs middle school. He is National Board certified, and now leads workshops with teachers focused on Project Based Learning. With education at a crossroads, he invites you to join him in a dialogue on education reform and teaching for change and deep learning. For additional information on Cody’s work, visit his Web site, Teachers Lead. Or follow him on Twitter.

This post was initially published here.

By Anthony Cody

As our public schools are systematically re-engineered for dubious reasons, with questionable results, by people of uncertain motives, there is a disturbing lack of skepticism on the part of our watchdogs for the public good, journalists. One of the basic principles of reporting is to ask “cui bono” – who benefits? In the Watergate scandal, the key informant whispered to reporters Woodward and Bernstein, “Follow the money.” But very few reporters today seem to be “following the money” in the field of education.

Veteran education reporter John Merrow recently delved into cheating scandals on his blog, Taking Note:

In other words, we’re cheating kids on their tests and stealing essential courses like art and music from them! Add to that, we are lying — because when kids get phony scores telling them they are proficient when they need help, that’s an out-and-out lie.

At what point does this trifecta — lying, cheating and stealing — become a felony? Seriously!

In the face of this disheartening news, one has to ask, “who benefits?” I’m stumped. Certainly not children, parents and teachers. Could it be the testing companies? Perhaps it’s the bevy of expert ‘consultants’ who advise school systems on how to raise test scores, how to calculate the ‘value added’ that individual teachers provide, and how to make education more ‘businesslike’ and efficient?

A far more important question than ‘who benefits?’ is: What are we going to do about it?

I want to make a special plea here to John Merrow and other journalists. Reporters hold a sacred public trust and fill a role no one else in society can. Before the rest of the public is even aware that something ought to be done, they must be informed that there is a problem. We need some real reporting here. And that means taking some risks.We have had a very heavy push from a host of sources to convince us all that “reform” of a certain sort is required in our schools.

False Ideas

These are the false ideas we are up against:

1. Our public schools are failing.
 Establishing this is essential because it justifies their destruction – and replacement by far more profitable ventures. There is plenty of evidence that this is not true, if one cares to look.

2. Charter schools are far more efficient than public schools, and produce better results as well.
 A new report contradicts the first claim, and the largest study of charters ever conducted contradicts the second. But many stories about charters do not dig for these facts.

3. The problems associated with standardized tests will be solved with technical innovations and the new Common Core standards. Narrowing of the curriculum will be fixed by having more tests in more subjects. Critical thinking will be fostered by better standards and tests scored by computers. Research on this is hard to find – these are largely the promises made by those who are selling these solutions. But the unproven assumption that these things are so underlies many stories now coming out about the Common Core.

4. Teachers are the number one reason students are doing poorly, and thus if we can eliminate ineffective ones, performance will shoot through the roof.
 This has spawned a host of reforms, including the elimination of due process, and Value Added Measurement systems to evaluate teachers using their test scores. Media outlets have actively propagated these unreliable methods. The Los Angeles Times created its own VAM system and published teacher ratings two years ago, and more recently New York newspapers published teacher ratings and wrote exposes of the “worst teachers” based on them.

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