The Mischief of Standardized Teaching & Learning

The conservative world-view is at the root of educational reform, not only in the United States, but in most countries around the world.  This world-view has set in motion the reform of education based on a common set of standards, high-stakes tests, and accountability metrics that demoralize not only students and their families, but the educators who families regard as significant others in the lives of their children.

The Mischief of Standardized Teaching & Learning is a new eBook that is available on Amazon Kindle.  For readers on my blog, the book can be downloaded free from December 21 – 24, 2014.

Figure 1. The Mischief of Standardized Teaching and Learning.  Free download from December 21 - 24, 2014

Figure 1. The Mischief of Standardized Teaching and Learning. Free download from December 21 – 24, 2014

This eBook explores how these educational reforms, which are rooted in authoritarianism, have damaged public education with its canopy of a Common Core, high-stakes tests, and market based tactics which are nothing but hooey.

These reforms have largely been funded by non-educators, and very rich people, who think that because they made a success in the business community, then their ideas should be accepted by public education.

The Gates Foundation has invested more than $3 billion into standards development & test-based reform.  Did you know that since 1999, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (technically founded in 2000) has made over 4,000 grants in its US Program, one of the major categories of funding for the Gates Foundation?  The 4,000 grants were distributed among 16 categories such as College-Ready Education, Community Grants, Postsecondary Success, Global Policy & Advocacy, etc.  About 2,000 of these grants were made to carry out the Common Core State Standards, the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers, and support technology that would increase the surveillance of students, parents and teachers to create sets of “big data” that can be mined by private companies to seek out customers and clients for their products.

Corporate Spray

Lets think of corporate standardized education reform as a kind of “spray” whose mist and slag has covered public education killing creativity, innovation, and spontaneity. This corporate designed “standardized” spray is analogous to DDT spray which was used as an agricultural insecticide, to control malaria and typhus among civilians and troops,  and as contact poison against several arthropods.  The academic formulation of the corporate spray mechanisms is planned violence with very little intellectual , moral, and emotional basis.

For example, from 1940 – 1972, 1.3 billion pounds of DDT were released into U.S. communities indiscriminately.  In 1962, Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring (Library Copy) explained how the release of DDT into the environment caused havoc and great harm to the affected ecosystems, as well as human health.  Even though the bio-chemical industry tried to subvert Carson’s work, she was eventually vindicated of the criticisms being leveled by this industry, and the US Congress went on to pass legislation banning DDT.   Later the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established.  Carson had started the environmental movement, and many leading ecologists and environmentalists from around the world looked to her work as an inspiration.

Rachel Carson, in the word’s of Mark Hamilton, one of Carson’s biographers,  was a “gentle subversive.”

There is a vanguard of gentile (and not-so-gentile) subversives who are leading the way to uncover and expose the damage that is being done to educational ecosystems, as well as  student  health (social, emotional, intellectual) by the standardized, test-centered and market-oriented reform that is spreading like a virus with global implications.  This vanguard is composed of educators who offer different accounts of what teaching and learning is about.  They are leading an effort to challenge the current reform movement.

And  just over the past two years, we’ve witnessed the movement to get states to vote against the use the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), to support parents who choose to opt their children out of high stakes test and support back lash against the U. S. Department of Education (ED) from using an unsubstantiated Value Added Model (VAM).

Please follow this link to read about some of the people identified as part of this vanguard.  There are many more, and most of them are teaching in classrooms across the United States.

So, what is this vanguard voicing opposition to?  They all are questioning the lack of wisdom, the signs of ignorance, and ineptness of an educational reform movement that is rooted in a very narrow purpose of schooling: teaching to the test.  Many of the ideas integrated into The Mischief of Standardized Teaching & Learning are fruits from the voices of the vanguard of teachers and researchers that I identified earlier.

Global Educational Reform Model (GERM)

The Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) promotes and spreads the “strategies and interests” of global agencies, billionaire donors, and private consultants as if it was a live virus (Sahlberg 2013).  According to Sahlberg, three primary sources led to the spread of the GERM virus including:

  1. The need for proficiency in literacy and numeracy,
  2. A guarantee that all students will learn the same set of standards in math and language arts and reading, and value placed on competition, and
  3. Accountability by holding schools to a set of standards, and benchmarks using aligned assessments and tests.

The Guardian newspaper published a series of articles about the 2013 PISA international test results.   Sahlberg points out that creating league tables that showcase or shame countries based on their student’s performance on standardized tests is simply not a proper use of international test results, in this case PISA.   As I’ve reported many times on The Art of Teaching Science blog, international test results fall prey to newspaper headlines that predict the collapse of economies, or the inability of its students to compete in the ‘global market.’  The ‘sky is falling’ mantra was alive and well when the 2013 results were announced.

Imagine reading the headlines in Helsinki after its students fell from second place to 12th in just three years.  Sahlberg reports that in Sweden, the test result for its students was considered a national disaster.  In the United States, the Secretary of Education (Arne Duncan) said the U.S. the results are “straightforward and stark: It is a picture of educational stagnation.”

But Sahlberg suggests that the PISA results are proof that the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) is working and spreading itself around.  According to Sahlberg, GERM is a virus that has infected many nations in their march to “reform” education.  In his view, GERM is characterized by

  • standardization (Common Core),
  • core subjects (math, reading, science),
  • teaching to the test,
  • corporate management style, and
  • test-based accountability.

When Duncan commented  (Guardian News, 2013) on the 2013 PISA results, he said it was clear that this “must serve as a wake-up call against educational complacency and low expectations.”  And to correct American education’s shortcomings, “we must invest in early learning, redesign high schools, raise standards and support great teachers.”

Good examples of GERM schools can be found in the US, England, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden and Chile.  Here is how they fared in the PISA tests (Table 1).

PISA Results for Nations that have adopted the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM)

Table 1. PISA Results for Nations that have adopted the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM)

These nations have adopted a model of education based on competition, standardization, and test-based accountability.  In Sahlberg’s view,

GERM has acted like a virus that “infects” education systems as it travels around the world.

A New Vanguard for Educational Reform

But Sahlberg, if he were ever asked by Duncan how to improve American schools, would not suggest the “reforms” that Duncan has funded for the past five years.  Instead Sahlberg would suggest that the standards-corporate styled reforms (GERM) are based on premises that are rejected by educators and policy makers in nations that seem to be successful.

Another voice, if Duncan were asked to listen, is that of Mercedes Schneider, a high school English teacher who holds a Ph.D. in Applied Statistics and Research Methods.  She is relentless in her writing about corporate reform, especially the way the Common Core State Standards came into being, and how they have corrupted American education.  In her recent book, (A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education) I wrote this as part of a review on Amazon of her book:

In this book we have at our fingertips answers to important questions about how such a limited number of individual’s faces crop-up in various media outlets as the experts on public schools. If you want to find how to get wealthy and have a really big office, read about Joel Klein in chapter 1. Find out how Teach for America is transforming teacher education into a temp business by reading the Wendy Kopp story in chapter 3. You’ll find important episodes about characters including Eva Moskovitz, Michelle Rhee, Erik Hanushek, Arne Duncan, David Coleman, Chester Finn, and others. You’ll also find out about organizations that fund each other in the name of reform, but in the end seek to dismantle public education. Welcome to TFA, the New Teacher Project, the National Council on Teacher Quality (not), the Aspen Institute, the Gates Foundation, and cousins Walton and Broad.  And the best is yet to come as she saves the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the nation’s bill mill for the last chapter.  The content of the book is thoroughly researched and authenticated. If you read her blog, you’ll certainly enjoy this book.

Beyond GERM

The conservative view of schooling must be challenged and the battleground for this is on the front lines in American schools and districts.  There is a pressing need to reverse the overreach of a few organizations and very wealthy people whose foundations have reigned havoc on American schools.  Here are some suggestions that Sahlberg makes, and many teachers and researchers would agree with:

1. Schools should have autonomy over its curricula and how students are assessed.  Teachers should work collaboratively to design and develop curriculum, and make decisions about the nature of instruction in their own classrooms.  This is contrary to the reforms that have dominated American education for decades, especially starting with the publication, Nation at Risk, followed by the No Child Left Behind Act during the Bush Administration, and The Race to the Top during the Obama administration.  Sahlberg says:

PISA shows how success is often associated with balanced professional autonomy with a collaborative culture in schools. Evidence also shows how high performing education systems engage teachers to set their own teaching and learning targets, to craft productive learning environments, and to design multiple forms student assessments to best support student learning and school improvement.

2. Schools need to focus on equity by giving priority to early childhood (one point for Duncan), comprehensive health and special education in schools, a balanced curriculum that sees the arts, music and sports as equals to math, reading and science.

3. School choice does not improve academic performance in a nation’s schools.  In fact, the overemphasis on school choice and competition between schools leads to greater segregation of schools.

4.  Successful schools are public schools and are controlled locally, not by a state or federal government. If we want to improve education in the US, we need to move away from the competitive, corporate-based model that is based on standardization and test accountability.

As Dr. Nel Noddings says in her book, Education and Democracy in the 21st Century,

Education in the 21st century must put away some 20th-century thinking. All over the world today, many educators and policymakers believe that cooperation must displace competition as a primary form of relating. Competition is not to be abandoned— some competition is healthy and necessary— but it should no longer be the defining characteristic of relationships in an era of growing globalization. If we agree with this judgment, then we must consider how to prepare students for a cooperative world, not solely for one of competition.  (Noddings, Nel (2013-01-25).

American public schools are not failing.  The premise that they are failing is based on one factor–test scores.  We need to move beyond this concept of schooling and embrace collaboration, dialogue, interdependence, and creativity (Noddings, 2013).

The Mischief of Standardized Teaching and Learning

Mischief investigates the nature of the corporate reform by challenging its approach and results. We also investigate how progressive educators are marching to their own drummer charting new paths and walking away from The Mischief of Standardized Teaching and Learning.

The book’s 12 chapters are organized into three parts as follows:

  • Part I. The Cloud of Authoritarianism
  • Part II. The Ideals of Progressivism
  • Part III. Education: Public and Local

For a limited time (December 21 – 24, 2014, you are welcome to download my book for free from Amazon Kindle at this link.

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University.

...and I'M STILL FOR HER.

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