I wholeheartedly support the teachers and parents of Chicago in their objection to the imposition of another unproven test-based evaluation system on another city’s children and teachers. The teachers refusal to abide by this 'objective' evaluation system is a great blow for all the kids in America. NCLB is an incredible waste of time.
At first glance catchwords like "standards based evaluation" and "accountability" and "choice" sound reasonable. But these term masks both the unproven nature of the reforms and the political agenda behind the "think"tanks that spew out these ideas.
These ideas are unproven vaporware. The 'management' systems are designed by people without educational experience (such as management consultants). They are then imposed across entire schools systems without any pilot testing or feedback mechanism.
Rather than provide democratic and honest assessment of the effectiveness of reforms, politicians hire public relations managers to spew out distorted statistics and launch misleading attacks at teachers, administrators and parents who question the results.
Because the systems are unproven and require a huge commitment of teachers' time, this national craze for standardized testing is a huge and disastrous waste of taxpayer and school resources.
After a decade it seems to be a complete failure. I am most familiar with the results in New York City. The New York Department of Education has more than 1 million students in its charge (including mine).
Mike Bloomberg has been Mayor of New York City since 2002. Because of the New York State Mayoral Control Law, he has had complete control over the New York City Board of Education since his election.
Bloomberg and his Chancellors have used their undemocratic power to push numerous, untested “reforms” into the system. One of the biggest has been a teacher evaluation system based on standardized tests.
The results are unambiguous – all the smoke and dust and press releases Bloomberg has kicked up claiming to “improve” NYC schools have generated NO REAL PROGRESS IN TEN YEARS either in terms of improving outcomes or in terms of closing the 'achievement gap'.
TEN YEARS AND NO PROGRESS?
The US Department of Education has been administering tests on a sample of children across the country for decades. These test are called "National Assessment of Educational Progress" ("NAEP"). These are purely diagnostic tests, not involving any of the high-stakes testing and correlated system distortion and cheating we’ve seen since Bush’s No Child Left Behind (“NCLB”) was passed. No test preparation is possible, since it is not clear which schools or children will be tested.
As such the NAEP scores give us a reliable and consistent standard. State-level testing schemes are unreliable. Standards on state tests are often changed for political reasons.
Here are NYC’s NAEP results in math for eighth graders from 2003 to 2011. The earliest scores are based on tests taken by children who were in eighth grade when Bloomberg began his reforms - so they represent the placebo. The latest are the results from children who entered kindergarten after Bloomberg took office. Thus they should have benefited from these 'reforms'.
$15 BILLION WASTED?
What has this unproven system cost us? The indirect cost has been enormous – the NYC teachers union estimates that 10% of all teaching time has been devoted to preparation and grading for New York state standardized tests and taking and grading. (Story here).
Given that the budget of the NYC school system has averaged $15 Billion a year for the last 10 years, we can say that 10% of the system’s resources have been squandered on test prep. After all whatever we are spending the Department of Education budget on is supposed to support teachers educating kids. (And there have been numerous additional costs - 'literacy coaches' and 'math coaches' who are really just providing more test prep. Consultants to consult about what the last consultants did. New software, etc. etc. But 10% of the budget is a good estimate).
If I extrapolate this waste to the national level then I guess-timate that NCLB has wasted as much as half a trillion dollars of our educators' time over the last 10 years.
POLITICS TRIUMPHS OVER PROGRESS
Like the Czar and his Potemkin Villages, Bloomberg points to Charter schools as another success. But only 5% of the kids in the NYC system attend Charter schools and they are indirectly subsidized through the practices of class-size limits, screened intake, and 'co-locating' the schools in existing building, often taking the best facilities (libraries, gyms, lunch time hours) for themselves. And even with these advantages Charter schools haven't proven superior to neighborhood schools.
Meanwhile no attention is given to pedagogical improvements for the other 95% except the extreme emphasis on wasteful test prep. Bloomberg and his failed Chancellors have done nothing to help the teachers who are trying to help the kids who need the most help. Class sizes have increased (except in the Charter schools).
Things aren’t working well in most New York City schools and of course they weren't working well before Bloomberg came in. But children in schools where kids enter the system prepared manage to do well, despite increased overcrowding and decreased athletic and cultural opportunities. Schools where the kids start out less prepared haven’t improved.
Bloomberg could have brought in educational leaders to help in the poorest served areas of New York. His predecessors did and had some gains - albeit with less control and less money than Mayor Bloomberg.
But instead Bloomberg chose to follow this neo-conservative trend - and so he brought in lawyers and p.r. flacks. As a result he has generated the hype, another generation of kids got nothing.
Politicians have been following this playbook for two decades now, since George W Bush ran as the 'education president'. They say they care - but what they care about is not providing enough money to educate poor kids and bashing the teachers' unions. But it looks like all we have to show for this Bush initiative is another missing half a trillion dollars.
I don't know why Rahm Emanuel wants to emulate George W Bush.