Backlash to Education Mandates Grows, Spreads

“It’s always hard to tell for sure exactly when a revolution starts,” wrote John Tierny in The Atlantic recently. “I’m not an expert on revolutions,” he continued, “but even I can see that a new one is taking shape in American K-12 public education.”

Tierney pointed to a number of signs of the coming “revolution:”

  • Teachers refusing to give standardized tests, parents opting their kids out of tests, and students boycotting tests.
  • Legislators reconsidering testing and expressing concerns about corruption in the testing industry.
  • Voucher and other “choice” proposals being strongly contested and voted down in states that had been friendly to them.

Tierney linked to a blog post by yours truly, “The Inconvenient Truth of Education Reform,” explaining how the movement known as “education reform” has committed severe harm to the populations it professes to serve while spreading corruption and enriching businesses and political figures.

Echoing Tierney, on the pages of Slate, The Nation, and elsewhere, David Kirp, education professor and author of a popular new book casting doubt on competitive driven, market-based school reform, declared that cheating scandals and parent rebellions over high stakes standardized testing were proof that much ballyhooed reform policies championed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are not “a proven – or even a promising – way to make schools better.”

Kirp declared that mounting evidence from school reform efforts in major U.S. metropolitan areas reveals “it’s a terrible time for advocates of market-driven reform in public education. For more than a decade, their strategy – which makes teachers’ careers turn on student gains in reading and math tests, and promotes competition through charter schools and vouchers – has been the dominant policy mantra. But now the cracks are showing.”

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Investment loser

Via the Public Education Network

In a costs-benefit analysis of testing mandates under NCLB and Race to the Top, Peter Smagorinsky on the Answer Sheet blog in The Washington Post writes accountability is profitable for publishing companies and school superintendents who cheat, and expensive for everyone else. The expense isn't merely the $20 billion annually in taxes to support the testing apparatus.

Teachers increasingly dislike their jobs, and according to one survey, 40 percent of new teachers nationwide are likely to leave within five years. For students, education has been reduced to the ability to fill in bubble sheets. Smagorinsky would invest the same $20 billion in a nursing staff in all schools, so kids in poverty can undertake studies with a reasonable degree of health and balance. He would expand free and reduced-price meals, and work to improve the healthiness of the offerings under these services. He would also staff school libraries with knowledgeable, helpful media specialists to direct students to books that benefit their educational development.

In general, he would invest in school infrastructure, so schools aren't falling apart at the seams. He notes he offers this proposal entirely for free, unlike in Colorado, where 35 percent of federal education money goes to consultants.

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Turgid mandates

Gov Brown of California just issued a veto of a state bill that would have expanded testing even further than an already prescriptive system. We're not sure what our favorite line is, because there are so many good ones, but if pressed, "Lost in the bill's turgid mandates is any recognition that quality is findamentaly different from quantity." would be a contender.

Here's the entire veto letter.

SB 547 Veto Message

Stretching the Truth, Not Dollars

Earlier in the year the Fordham Institute released a report "Stretching the School Dollar - A Brief for State Policymakers", that contained 15 right-wing ideological reform ideas, some of which we are currently seeing being implemented in Ohio.

  1. End "last hired, first fired" practices.
  2. Remove class-size mandates.
  3. Eliminate mandatory salary schedules.
  4. Eliminate state mandates regarding work rules and terms of employment.
  5. Remove "seat time" requirements.
  6. Merge categorical programs and ease onerous reporting requirements.
  7. Create a rigorous teacher evaluation system.
  8. Pool health-care benefits.
  9. Tackle the fiscal viability of teacher pensions.
  10. Move toward weighted student funding.
  11. Eliminate excess spending on small schools and small districts.
  12. Allocate spending for learning-disabled students as a percent of population.
  13. Limit the length of time that students can be identified as English Language Learners.
  14. Offer waivers of non-productive state requirements.
  15. Create bankruptcy-like loan provisions.

Some familiar stuff, mostly centered on teacher bashing and erosion of the profession. The National Education Policy Center took a look at this Fordham report, and let's just say their findings were not kind.

One category I might have included above is that at least two of the recommendations embedded in the report argue for stretching the school dollar, so-to-speak, by effectively taxing school employees. That is, setting up a pension system that requires greater contribution from teacher salaries, and doing the same for health care costs. This is a tax – revenue generating (or at least a give back). This is not stretching an existing dollar. This is requiring the public employees, rather than the broader pool of taxpayers (state and/or local), to pay the additional share.

Below is the report in full.

Unproven and Unsubstantiated Dollar- Stretching State Policies