Thursday, February 11, 2016

That Didn't Take Long

Oklahoma released a draft of the new K-12 standards for English Language Arts and math, and it didn't take long for OCPA to begin calling out the standards and those who worked with them. Andrew Spiropolous penned one for the Journal Record yesterday.
"So it turns out, despite the hullabaloo, that the task force charged with writing superior English and math academic standards has submitted a proposal that, poking below the surface, isn’t that different than the Common Core version the legislators ordered it to reject.
Many of us predicted this ironic turn of events after the Legislature, running in fear from the grass-roots activists opposing Common Core, noisily disposed of the hated standards. Our suspicions were raised when education leaders issued an urgent call upon the Legislature to swiftly approve the new proposal. They were confirmed when the leaders coupled their pleas with affecting tales from local administrators and teachers lamenting how the uncertainty made doing their jobs impossible."
There are a few things going on here, but what is revealed throughout the column is Spiropolous's apparent disdain for public education and those associated with it.

Firstly, those "grass-roots activists" that the Legislature was busy "running in fear from" and that Spiropolous is busy sneering at--they are voters. You know, those pesky people the Legislature is supposed to work for, and whose wishes they're supposed to take into account when governing. The article again takes a contemptuous tone regarding the role of the governed in determining governance. "The larger lesson here is that grass-roots passion unaccompanied by serious policy chops, leads, at best, to empty symbolic victories and continued popular frustration." The connotation here is that we should leave the entirety of governance to our betters--those with "serious policy chops." Our role is only to vote them in and sit quietly by while they determine what's best for us.

Unfortunately, it is predictable that those associated with OCPA would call out local administrators and teachers while refusing to acknowledge how the Legislature's inability to determine a course of action and stay with it for more than a few years makes the job of teaching in Oklahoma more difficult than it has to be. Teachers cannot teach to standards that are not written. Those standards will drive the tests that the Legislature and reformers love. Those tests will, in turn, determine retention, graduation, and course options for students; funding for schools and districts; and employment for teachers and administrators.

"The truth is that our state’s education establishment, from the state superintendent of education on down, is not committed to writing and implementing world-class standards that will distinguish us from other states."
Spiropolous's truth is not the truth. My students would be able to identify that statement as opinion. The truth, at least as every educator to whom I have spoken sees it, is that educators would like world-class standards that are age appropriate and make sense in the larger contexts of the lives of students. We would like standards that are less prescriptive and allow for professional judgement and flexibility to meet the educational needs and goals of our diverse populations of students. If Spiropolous and his ilk spent time seriously engaging educators who are in public school classrooms every day doing the work that matters, and did so with an open mind, they would come to understand that we want what is best for our students. We may disagree on what that is, but it would allow for common ground to begin a serious discussion regarding the future of public education. Unfortunately, the level of disregard they show toward educators and the work we do prevents that conversation from getting off the ground. It appears that they would rather silence us than engage with us.
"I’ll take their word that they want to do better than we have in the past, but there is nothing about these people that inspires one to believe they seek to engage in bold, creative reform.

We should give up on the idea that the state education establishment will force excellence on local schools. Instead, we must encourage districts, schools and families to mount their own efforts to foster excellence."
It would be "bold, creative reform" to allow public schools to operate along the same parameters as the best preparatory academies. In one phrase, we are in agreement: "If the state wants to help, it can free local districts from disabling mandates and regulations." One cannot tout how much better the private sector could do the work of public education while simultaneously hampering the ability of the public sector to work as the private sector does. It is as illogical as demanding the "education establishment" to "force excellence" while asking everyone else to "foster excellence." It would be bold reform to eliminate needless testing and to convert, instead, to tests that universities and career fields already use to determine readiness. Students attempting to attend an institution of higher learning usually must take the ACT or SAT, and our Career Tech students take certification tests and Work Keys. These are already established and normed. They have the added bonus of decades of longitudinal data.

For reform to be successful, it must have support from those affected. Parents, who Spiropolous acknowledges are responsible for the education of their children, have loudly rejected the majority of the reform movement's ideas. Reformers should get serious about real reform, i.e. removing statistically unreliable "accountability measures" like VAM and A-F Report Cards, limiting standardized tests, removing "disabling mandates and regulations," rather than patronizing those who must implement the nonsense they have foisted upon public education.

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