Worthless to Who?

Last week I read Jack Schneider’s problematic piece in Commonwealth Magazine — another ode to the death of testing.

(Jack, by the way, is the co-host of union-funded EduShyster’s podcast and is the director of the union-backed Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment.)

Schneider writes books from a perspective we would expect — one from a person who thinks the rest of us have the luxury of getting a feel-good but mediocre education — because when you’re a white, male college professor, privilege abounds. On Twitter, Jack takes the appropriate “Brogressive” stance, but the lens is an issue — which is clearly reflected in his writing, etc.

Schneider doesn’t dwell on things like the fact that for a pretty good chunk of history, some parents have had a pretty good idea that the school they were sending their kids weren’t serving their children well, but because they had no quantifiable data to back it up, it was easy to dismiss their concerns as anecdotal. Especially low income parents and parents of color. Kind of like:

“Oh Mrs. Jones — your child’s IEP isn’t being implemented, but look at our vibrant school culture! It’s not so much about whether your child can read, but whether he finds joy in the overall concept of reading. And if he does, we have done our job here! Hope he enjoys his joyful job at the car wash now that he’s graduated!”

Uhhhh, what? No. We’re looking for more for our babies. Testing is a critical piece of evidence that parents need to make the case for better schools and a better education for our children.

Most of his piece is the same-old, tired “teachers should decide what they feel like being evaluated on …” garbage. A couple of things stand out:

 

  • We don’t just assign levels to schools based on MCAS scores. Actually, a bunch of the different metrics that Schneider says should be a part of the rating system for schools are already a part of the system. Check out this one that was just filed under the new ESSA requirements for High School English Language Learners when assigning schools levels:

 

 

  • Also, this paragraph:

 

“For the past generation we have been evaluating schools in a manner that is misleading at best—ranking schools according to incomplete criteria and fostering the misconception that schools are either “good” or “bad.” These ratings impact community morale, foster teacher turnover, shape district priorities, and trigger accountability systems. Perhaps most importantly, ratings shape the decisions parents make about where to live and where to send their children to school.”

A **major** issue I have with Schneider and his group is the fact that they haven’t bothered to convene all of the relevant stakeholders — including the ones that Schneider says are the most important ones — parents who are choosing these schools for their children. Instead, it’s populated by superintendents, who need the scores to look good to keep their jobs politically, and teachers unions, who have a vested interest in killing testing and accountability. Should THEY be the leaders of this discussion — and without parent input?

And as a proof point — take a look at the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment governing board and recent convenings — they haven’t invited parents to the table at all.

Speaking of which — when you dig into the MCIEA resources section — you can actually access their briefing for the legislature on January 30th, 2017.  The school they use as an example of the data that parents really want is the John F. Kennedy School in Somerville.

I just happen to be a John F. Kennedy School parent.

Now, fun fact — I had no idea that my child’s school was even participating in this new wave assessment pilot. Further, I was never asked to participate in this survey, let alone what kind of information I thought might be useful to be a part of a survey regarding our school committee. I even asked a bunch of parents I know who also attend the Kennedy. They had no idea what I was talking about.

What stands out to me from this data? The number of participants. Who exactly is giving them this information? Is it parents? Students? Teachers? 4,489 total respondents? There are only 470 kids in the school, so like — who are these people and how do they know what’s happening in our school and with my kid?

And how exactly do you “KNOW” what parents want in terms of information if you don’t even actually bother to ask them?

In the end, Jack’s assertion is this:

“For the past generation we have been evaluating schools in a manner that is misleading at best—ranking schools according to incomplete criteria and fostering the misconception that schools are either “good” or “bad.” These ratings impact community morale, foster teacher turnover, shape district priorities, and trigger accountability systems.”

Yes, they do. And we WANT them to.

Do we want to walk around blindly thinking our schools are working when they are failing our kids?

Do we want to keep teachers who are failing our kids?

Don’t we want districts to prioritize supporting schools that are in trouble?

And shouldn’t we make it easier for school officials to step in and help our schools when they realize they’re struggling?

Schneider is right about one thing:

“Perhaps most importantly, ratings shape the decisions parents make about where to live and where to send their children to school.”

And make no mistake, it is our choice. Stop trying to rob us of the information we need to make an informed one.

 

What do you think?

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