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Dan Brown: The “Achilles Heel” of Education Reform

Dan Brown, (Blog, Twitter) teacher and author of “The Great Expectations School,” effectively took on the wrong-headed notion that the best way to improve education in the United States is to reduce it to a single
numerical value, then apply that value to compartmentalize students and
reward or punish teachers:

Last week’s education speech by emboldened New York City Mayor-for-Life Bloomberg (who just dropped nine-figures of his own cash on his re-election bid) is depressing news
to people on the ground in schools. Conducting the Testing Express,
Bloomberg announced:

“As [Secretary of Education] Arne [Duncan] had said a number of times, ‘A state can’t enter Race to the Top if it prohibits schools from using student achievement data to evaluate teachers and
that’s why California just repealed its prohibition on doing so.’

“In New York, the State Legislature passed a law last year that actually tells principals: You can evaluate teachers on any criteria you want – just not on student achievement data. That’s like saying to
hospitals: You can evaluate heart surgeons on any criteria you want –
just not patient survival rates! You really can’t make this up!
Thankfully, the law in New York is set to expire this June – but that
is not enough.

“We will urge the State not just to prohibit but to require all districts to create data-driven systems to comprehensively evaluate teachers and principals. And we want New York City to lead the way…”

Teachers, and their nuanced dissections of these simplistic outrages, have no shot here. His disingenuous melding of testing and achievement is too smooth; his microphone and influence are too big.

Breaking down his words, the hospital analogy is problematic; as blogger Accountable Talk explains: “Any doctor will tell you that some of the best heart surgeons around have some of the worst survival rates because they take
on patients in the most desperate situations. What teacher will want to
take on the most challenging students, knowing that by doing so, they
are risking their careers?” C’est la vie, achievement gap. via

This type of thinking (Bloomberg, Ducan, et al.) will insure a permanent achievement gap that will continue to widen. Policy developed from this mindset will insure that, under NCLB dictum, schools in
low-income, urban areas will continue to be tagged as “failing” and
eventually closed because of the arcane idea that rather than pour
resources and support into these schools, you transfer students out and
financially penalize the school for doing so.

The public education system in this country is being positioned for a hostile take over by those who would privatize the system with an eye to making it a profitable endeavor. In the process the Federal
Department of Education will continue to try and commoditize the
teaching profession and will use students as pawns to do so.

I’ll say it again, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, “Educational reform is like an awards show host, it does not matter how many wardrobe changes are made – it is still the same host.” We do not
need the tired piecemeal reform processes of the past. We need to begin
anew, to “rethink school” from the ground up – literally from the
ground up. Until then, we will continue to send the host out in a new
outfit and the students will grow more cynical and less interested,
especially when the know they can go home after school and learn what
they are really interested in online.

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