Sunday, December 11, 2011

Melody Sings Off Key Again

Scott McCloud asks the key question about education reform
What will it take for Americans to stand up and fight not just against our schooling systems but also against educational reform efforts that take those systems in wrong directions?
McCloud points out that U.S. efforts are a model for reform; unfortunately, it's a model for how not to reform education.  He quotes a an Alberta Views article that concludes,
By contrast we can also learn what not to do from reform in the US, whose education system is in decline. Its elements, implemented over the past two decades, are largely ideological: "market-based" reforms (the application of "business insights" to the running of schools); an emphasis on standardization and narrowing of curriculum; extensive use of external standardized assessment; fostering choice and competition among schools, often with school vouchers; making judgements based on test data and closing "failing schools"; encouraging the growth of charter schools (which don't have teacher unions); "merit pay" and other incentives; faith that "technologically mediated instruction" will reduce costs; an overwhelming "top-down" approach which tells everyone what to do and holds them accountable for doing it. 
On  the other hand, McCloud notes,
it's pretty clear what we should be doing instead. As a recent book, Surpassing Shanghai, notes, school systems around the world (like Japan, Finland, Singapore, and Shanghai) that consistently outperform the U.S. on international assessments do things very differently:
  1. Funding schools equitably, with additional resources for those serving needy students
  2. Paying teachers competitively and comparably
  3. Investing in high-quality preparation, mentoring and professional development for teachers and leaders, completely at government expense
  4. Providing time in the school schedule for collaborative planning and ongoing professional learning to continually improve instruction
  5. Organizing a curriculum around problem-solving and critical thinking skill
  6. Testing students rarely but carefully -- with measures that require analysis, communication, and defense of ideas.
 Marc Tucker makes a similar point in this Atlantic post
You would think that, being far behind our competitors, we would be looking hard at how they are managing to outperform us. But many policymakers, business leaders, educators and advocates are not interested. Instead, they are confidently barreling down a path of American exceptionalism, insisting that America is so different from these other nations that we are better off embracing unique, unproven solutions that our foreign competitors find bizarre.
Some of these uniquely American solutions -- charter schools, private school vouchers, entrepreneurial innovations, grade-by-grade testing, diminished teachers' unions, and basing teachers' pay on how their students do on standardized tests -- may be appealing on their surface. To many in the financial community, these market-inspired reform ideas are very appealing.
Yet, these proposed solutions are nowhere to be found in the arsenal of strategies used by the top-performing nations. And almost everything these countries are doing to redesign their education systems, we're not doing.
 Melody Schopp's Department of Education, however, continues to focus on tests.  South Dakota will continue to "hold schools accountable for student proficiency and closing achievement gaps through continued annual public reporting of disaggregated student outcomes in math and reading."  A high school's "student achievement score will be based on the percent of students scoring proficient or advanced on the statewide assessment in reading and math delivered in 11th grade."

Other alleged reforms are not specified because Schopp is looking for an "appropriate" or "valid" "assessment tools" from SMARTER Balanced consortium.  Since, SDDOE's document is jargon laden, I'll lapse into a cliche:  it seems as if SDDOE is trying to sell a pig in a poke.

There's nothing in Schopp's draft that will improve South Dakota's K-12 education.  The draft indicates that SDDOE will continue to push schools to test more and insure that students learn less.  Instead of adapting what works, SDDOE will conform to the nationwide trend of serving as bad example of education reform.


caheidelberger said...

Not to run interference for Melody, but her department's hands are tied. They can't do real reform. Look at the first four items on that list of things other countries do: every one of them requires real investment—i.e.; more cash. Even school time for collaborative planning would require more money, since we'd have to hire more teachers to cover more classes to give teachers time to do that planning.

Melody knows full well the Legislature won't hand DoE that money, and no Daugaard appointee will ever use the bully pulpit of such an appointment to argue hard for such serious cash. DoE thus has to wallow in jargon and testing to make it look like it's doing something, even though you and I and every teacher in this state know that these tests don't improve education.

LK said...

You're right that there's little chance that SD will actually invest in education, but I doubt that the "evaluation tools" that the SMARTER Balanced folks will provide come free.

I'm also a lot angry that SD's elected and appointed leaders seem to be willing to scream nullification about every federal mandate except those governing education. Granted, I think nullification is a constitutionally suspect doctrine, but it is nonetheless curious that education is the only spot that gives this state pause. Heck, this state held out longer on 3.2 beer and 18 year old legal drinking than they did on education.

Schopp says STEM is the key to the future. The available evidence says that SDDOE's reforms won't work. If teachers are supposed to use data driven practices, I'd prefer SDDOE live under the same rules.