Sunday, April 28, 2013

Virginia Doublespeak: New Legislation for Public Schools

The day job has made it too hard to get to the keyboard lately, but I have been thinking about our Virginia Governor's new education initiatives and George Orwell's 1984.

Here is legislation signed into law recently in the Commonwealth:  (Bold face type is the Governor's language.  All else is mine.)

HB2098 (Tata) / SB1189 (Martin): Red Tape Reduction Act. This legislation strengthens the ability of school divisions to request waivers from the State Board of Education from certain state requirements. Local school divisions may be released from Board of Education-approved regulations and standards of quality requirements.

"Red Tape Reduction Act" is Orwellian in the extreme.  This is a run-around the Standards Of Quality (SOQs), an agreement that the state will maintain certain levels of quality -- like class size and functioning school buildings -- so that teachers can do their work.  It was a quid pro quo for the Standards of Learning (SOLs). Teachers and other professionals are held to the SOLs while the state agrees to hold to the SOQ's.  We have not seen any slackening of SOL standards -- in fact the bar has been raised -- since 1995.

HB2076 (Stolle) / SB1131 (McWaters): Local Approval of Public Charter Schools. 
This [is] legislation to eliminate the requirement that local school boards who originate a charter school application must apply for authorization from the state Board of Education. Currently, school boards who wish to start a public charter school in the Commonwealth must first submit their application to the state Board of Education. This legislation will eliminate the process of receiving state Board of Education approval in addition to the consent of the local school board. Several Virginia localities are interested in establishing public charter schools, however, the best providers in the country have policies that conflict with multiple approval requirements for expansion.

"This legislation will eliminate the process of receiving state Board of Education approval in addition to the consent of the local school board."  According to McDonnell the "best providers in the country" have policies that conflict with our state requirements.  Really?  So we have state requirements for certain levels of education that are in conflict with the "best providers in the country?"  Who, exactly, are these best providers and why do they get a pass on our standards?  Maybe Virginia can look forward to cushy charter deals like the ones forged in New Jersey with non-educators.

HB2084 (K. Cox) / SB1175 (Ruff): Teach for America Act. A significant achievement gap still exists between our students. While the task will not be easy, TFA has been successful in working with schools to close the achievement gap. Teach for America recruits and trains the best and brightest recent college graduates from across the country to accept full-time teaching assignments in hard-to-staff schools. This legislation will allow for TFA to operate in Virginia and begin placing teachers in hard-to-staff schools starting in the 2013-2014 academic year.

Oh boy.  Virginia now can enjoy these highly (un)qualified teachers working with the students who are hardest to teach.  If you've followed this blog, you are aware of the dangers of that.  We can also look forward to high teacher turnover in the most unstable teaching environments as well as the further de-professionalizing of our teaching force.

HB1999 (Greason) / SB1207 (Stanley): A-F School Report Cards. Creates a pathway for the DOE to report individual school performance using a grading system in addition to the standards of accreditation. Simplifies the current school accountability system to an easy to understand A-F grading system. This school grading system will help parents to fully understand the performance of their child's school. The A-F report cards will make school performance clear and easily communicated to the public. The new A-F grading system will update the current system that is often too convoluted to understand. The new report cards will recognize schools for challenging all students to reach high levels of achievement. They will also give schools a tool to encourage more parental and community involvement. When parents and community members have a clear understanding of school performance, all students benefit.

This program is endorsed by Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Excellence in Education which has recently been revealed to have ties to Corporate backers who stand to profit from the legislation written by the foundation.  Virginians can look forward to transferring more state tax dollars to the profit makers.  

Last year we had legislation that mandated at least one on-line course as a requirement for graduation.  We already know who's pockets that money will go into.

Look forward to Reform and Innovation, Virginia-style.  

Governor Robert McDonnell's (aka Governor Ultrasound) term ends this fall in compliance with Virginia's one-term limit. Let's hope the mood on education reform undergoes a major shift by then.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Dark Ages

The retired head of the Atlanta School District, Beverly Hall, has recently been indicted for cheating.

According to the New York Times, some teachers were browbeaten into changing student answers in erasure parties where wrong answers were switched to the right ones.

Thirty-five teachers and administrators have been indicted in the case.

"Every time I play those tapes, I get furious about the way Beverly Hall treated these people," [said Richard Hyde, Georgia state investigator who taped hours of teachers wearing wires.]

Some of the teachers, single parents who feared losing a job--Beverly Hall's unofficial motto was "low score, out the door"--felt unable to resist orders.  Without a doubt, the losers are students and parents who were unsuspecting pawns in the deception.

The Atlanta scandal is only the most egregious of other scandals under investigation across the country.   Some don't even attempt to fudge the numbers.  Lying about student success seems to be accepted practice when the figures don't add up.  The governor of Georgia was under great pressure from the business community to drop his investigation into the scandal.  Business leaders wanted to be able to attract more business to a state with a well-educated population---even if they weren't.

This is the state of education today which lumbers zombie-like on to more testing and accountability under the new Common Core (some estimate tests may take eight to ten hours...) in spite of good science (about what really helps kids, about how testing distorts instruction)  that is currently ignored.

History will mark this the new Dark Age.

In our national experiment on a whole generation of children, two social science truths are now playing out.
  • If you want to motivate people to work harder in intellectual work they need more autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  When our motivation is unhinged from its purpose, we get what Daniel Pink calls "crap." We seem to be getting plenty of that.
  • Secondly, when you use numbers to determine social decision-making, it leads to corruption and a distortion of the social process.  This is known as Campbell's Law.  Duh.  See above examples of how these narrow numerical definitions of success have completely distorted teaching and learning, probably our most social behavior.
I declare this particular education experiment over.

Let's get back to creating a strong, innovative teaching profession.  And stop diverting money into the pockets of test developers.

***Ironic, too, that it looks like we will be throwing teachers and administrators in prison for a failed education/business model while the real Masters of the Universe continue to run an economy over a cliff.