Ten years of reform.

I follow EdWeek on Twitter.

There it was: educationweekBlog: Is Some Rethinking About ‘Accountability’ Past Due? http://tinyurl.com/cw9dkx

I clicked on the link and it took me to Bridging Differences, the point/counterpoint blog penned by Diane Ravitch on the right and Debbie Meier on the left.

This week Debbie Meier reminds us of an important fact: The politics of the so-called Reformers, the politics of accountability through constant testing, of NCLB and national standards, has been the dominating policy for the past ten years. And what have we got to show for it?

The evidence is clear: there has been no substantial improvement in test scores or graduation rates over the past decade as we follow the agenda of the neo-Reformers. Little squiggles up, down, and flat again is the pattern for almost the entire nation—on precisely the measurement tools upon which they have built their whole case. Would the board of directors of a “real business,” after being told their business was in a state of disaster, crisis, etc., be satisfied with such flat data???? How come we’ve bought it, against all the instincts of the wisest educational practitioners and scholars? Maybe some rethinking about “accountability” is past due.

Even the business world has, alas, not been sufficiently shaken in their confidence by the failure of their own accountability system in their own sphere of expertise to wonder, “Could we be wrong?”. Instead, they are blindly prepared to see our educational system go over the cliff with them.

Organized labor is hard to kill.

Debbie Meier:

There are even two “camps,” we’re told. Those who say it’s all the schools’ fault and those who say it’s only partly the schools’ fault—the latter including the unions. It’s hard to take this seriously—no one could possibly claim that poverty doesn’t matter.

The much-hyped villainy of organized working people has a long history, too. There was a short period—from the mid-40s to the mid-70s—when trade unionism and collective bargaining were considered not only okay, but actually one of the hallmarks of capitalist democracy. One sure-fire sign of Communism’s evil nature was that it had to smash trade unions to succeed, and made them powerless, if not illegal. But organized labor is hard to kill permanently. So it was rather nice to read that the latest panacea for school reform—the KIPP schools—have been bitten by the bug; two of its schools have signed on with the American Federation of Teachers in New York City.

Michelle Rhee. She wants to “reform” veteran teachers out of the profession.

Michelle Rhee.
Michelle Rhee.

As part of DC school boss Michelle Rhee’s effort to “reform” district schools, she has placed an unknown number of teachers on a 90 day remediation plan. Allegedly these are teachers who have been marked as unsatisfactory in six or more categories by their administrator.

But when the DC teachers union asked for the names of these teachers, Rhee refused.

Why would she refuse? And why is this important to the union?

One issue is that Rhee is a liar. On the one hand she has already admitted that her intent is to fire the teachers, rather than remediate them. Remediation is the intent of the bargained process.

But, according to the Washington Post:

The 90-day plans are part of Rhee’s attempt to remove “a significant share” of the 4,000-member teacher corps, which she regards as “not up to the demanding task of educating our youth effectively,” according to the long-range action document she presented in October.

When busted for this misuse of the remediation plan, Rhee reversed herself and said,

The 90-day plan “is not just a process to terminate teachers, but to identify and support teachers who need help.”

“We think an overemphasis on all the names and numbers will not help us with the environment we’re trying to create.”

Sure, Michelle. Too much emphasis on names and numbers when you want to fire large numbers of teachers with names.

The real issue is that without the names and numbers you can’t tell if there is a pattern to the firings. You know. A pattern that involves race, gender or age. See, that would be against the law, even if  it is helpful to the environment that Rhee is trying to create.

And that’s just what the union suspects.

Nathan Saunders, the union’s executive vice president, said Rhee may be reluctant to reveal the names because she has disproportionately targeted teachers over age 40. Rhee did not respond to a request for comment on Saunders’s charge.

At least one member of the D.C. Council is also asking for more transparency from Rhee. Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) has asked for the number of teachers on 90-day status and their years of experience.

In a Jan. 8 letter to Rhee, Mendelson wrote: “I am troubled by reports that the 90 day plan may be disproportionately administered to senior teachers.”

It just may be that the “environment” Rhee is trying to create is one that would employ mostly teachers who are non-tenured, more easy to intimidate and less costly. This is what the union busters call “reform.” The rest of us just call it discriminatory and illegal. Oh, and scummy.

Bracey on the Darling-Hammond hatchet job.

Education researcher and writer, Gerald Bracey.
Education researcher and writer, Gerald Bracey.

Gerald Bracey does a good job in the Huffington Post of reviewing the media hatchet job on Obama education transition leader Linda Darling-Hammond.

Bracey joins in on exposing the misuse of the term “reformers” when referring to the defenders of corporate interests and those who attempt to sell off public schools to the highest bidder.

He refers to my blog post on the subject:

Aside from a few letters to editors and blogs, about the only published support for Darling-Hammond came from John Affeldt in the Huffington Post, Alfie Kohn in The Nation, and the San Francisco Chronicle in an editorial. Fred Klonsky’s blog called the one-sided and often loaded language used by the pro “reformers” bunch as “The hatchet job on Darling-Hammond.” Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) emphatically agreed and headlined its take on the sad affair, “The media’s failing grade on education ‘debate.'”

In the same Huffington piece Bracey says that he hopes brother Mike turns out to be correct.

Fred Klonsky’s brother, Mike, suggests that Duncan, once out from under the thumb of Chicago Mayor Daley might be “neither as bad as some on the Left have predicted or as ‘good’ as some on the Right are hoping for.” We can only hope Mike’s called this one right. In the meantime, we wuz framed.

Who are the real reformers? Darling-Hammond responds.

Darling-Hammond takes Brooks to school.
Darling-Hammond takes Brooks to school.

In a letter to the NY Times today, Linda Darling-Hammond responds to the Times’ house op-ed conservative, David Brooks. In an earlier column, Brooks claimed the title of reformer belonged to those who want more testing, charters, vouchers and union-bashing. He attacked those like Darling-Hammond as anti-reformers.

Darling-Hammond is head of Obama’s education policy group.

To the Editor:
Op-Ed Columnist: Who Will He Choose? (December 5, 2008)

I strongly disagree with David Brooks’s characterization of my views on a range of education issues as anti-reform (column, Dec. 5).

Since I entered teaching, I have fought to change the status quo that routinely delivers dysfunctional schools and low-quality teaching to students of color in low-income communities. I have challenged inequalities in financing. I have helped develop new school models through both district-led innovations and charters. And I have worked to create higher standards for both students and teachers, along with assessments that measure critical thinking and performance.

I sought to amend and reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act to incorporate these kinds of assessments, while preserving its commitment to closing the achievement gap and ensuring quality teachers. I have also fought to overhaul teacher education programs and close weak ones.

As director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, I was an early advocate for cultivating and rewarding excellent teachers while dismissing those who, with mentoring, do not meet standards.

Real reform will require all of these things, plus the kind of unifying vision Barack Obama has demonstrated — moving beyond the polarizing debates that prevent us from working together to improve education.

Linda Darling-Hammond
Stanford, Calif., Dec.

8, 2008