A Concise Primer on Privatization from Marion Brady

This is a concise primer, written by Marion Brady, on how the 1/100 of 1% have been privatizing our schools and getting away with it. -GFB

Advice column for pundits and politicians

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/01/07/a-primer-on-the-damaging-movement-to-privatize-public-schools/

Privatizing public schools: A primer for pundits and politicians

 

When, about thirty years ago, corporate interests began their highly organized, well-funded effort to privatize public education, you wouldn’t have read or heard about it. They didn’t want to trigger the debate that such a radical change in an important institution warranted.

If, like most pundits and politicians, you’ve supported that campaign, it’s likely you’ve been snookered. Here’s a quick overview of the snookering process.

 

The pitch

 

Talking Points: (a) Standardized testing proves America’s schools are poor. (b) Other countries are eating our lunch. (c) Teachers deserve most of the blame. (d) The lazy ones need to be forced out by performance evaluations. (e) The dumb ones need scripts to read or “canned standards” telling them exactly what to teach. (f) The experienced ones are too set in their ways to change and should be replaced by fresh Five-Week-Wonders from Teach for America. (Bonus: Replacing experienced teachers saves a ton of money.) (g) Public (“government”) schools are a step down the slippery slope to socialism.

 

Tactics

 

Education establishment resistance to privatization is inevitable, so (a) avoid it as long as possible by blurring the lines between “public” and “private.” (b) Push school choice, vouchers, tax write-offs, tax credits, school-business partnerships, profit-driven charter chains. (c) When resistance comes, crank up fear with the, “They’re eating our lunch!” message. (d) Contribute generously to all potential resisters—academic publications, professional organizations, unions, and school support groups such as PTA. (e) Create fake “think tanks,” give them impressive names, and have them do “research” supporting privatization. (f) Encourage investment in teacher-replacer technology—internet access, I-pads, virtual schooling, MOOCS, etc. (e) Pressure state legislators to make life easier for profit-seeking charter chains by taking approval decisions away from local boards and giving them to easier-to-lobby state-level bureaucrats. (g) Elect the “right” people at all levels of government. (When they’re campaigning, have them keep their privatizing agenda quiet.)

 

Weapon

 

If you’ll read the fine-print disclaimers on high-stakes standardized tests, you’ll see how grossly they’re being misused, but they’re the key to privatization. The general public, easily impressed by numbers and mathematical razzle-dazzle, believes competition is the key to quality, so want quality quantified even though it can’t be done. Machine-scored tests don’t measure quality. They rank.

It’s hard to rank unlike things so it’s necessary to standardize. That’s what the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) do. To get the job done quickly, Bill Gates picked up the tab, got the CCSS “legitimized” by getting important politicians to sign off on them, then handed them to teachers as a done deal.

The Standards make testing and ranking a cinch. They also make making billions a cinch. Manufacturers can use the same questions for every state that has adopted the Standards or facsimiles thereof.

If challenged, test fans often quote the late Dr. W. Edward Deming, the world-famous quality guru who showed Japanese companies how to build better stuff than anybody else. In his book, The New Economics, Deming wrote, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

Here’s the whole sentence as he wrote it: “It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it—a costly myth.”

 

Operating the weapon

 

What’s turned standardized testing into a privatizing juggernaut are pass-fail “cut scores” set by politicians. Saying kids need to be challenged, they set the cut score high enough to fail many (sometimes most) kids. When the scores are published, they point to the high failure rate to “prove” public schools can’t do the job and should be closed or privatized. Clever, huh?

The privatizing machinery is in place. Left alone, it’ll gradually privatize most, but not all, public schools. Those that serve the poorest, the sickest, the handicapped, the most troubled, the most expensive to educate—those will stay in what’s left of the public schools.

 

Weapon malfunction

 

Look at standardized tests from kids’ perspective. Test items (a) measure recall of secondhand, standardized, delivered information, or (b) require a skill to be demonstrated, or (c) reward an ability to second-guess whoever wrote the test item. Because kids didn’t ask for the information, because the skill they’re being asked to demonstrate rarely has immediate practical use, and because they don’t give a tinker’s dam what the test-item writer thinks, they have zero emotional investment in what’s being tested.

As every real teacher knows, no emotional involvement means no real learning. Period. What makes standardized testslook like they work is learner emotion, but it’s emotion that doesn’t have anything to do with learning. The ovals get penciled in to avoid trouble, to please somebody, to get a grade, or to jump through a bureaucratic hoop to be eligible to jump through another bureaucratic hoop. When the pencil is laid down, what’s tested, having no perceived value, automatically erases from memory.

 

Before you write…

 

If you want to avoid cranking out the usual amateurish drivel about standardized testing that appears in the op-eds, editorials, and syndicated columns of the mainstream media, ask yourself a few questions about the testing craze: (a) Should life-altering decisions hinge on the scores of commercially produced tests not open to public inspection? (b) How wise is it to only teach what machines can measure? (c) How fair is it to base any part of teacher pay on scores from tests that can’t evaluate complex thought? (d) Are tests that have no “success in life” predictive power worth the damage they’re doing?

Here’s a longer list of problems you should think about before you write.

 

Perspective

America’s schools have always struggled—an inevitable consequence, first, of a decision in 1893 to narrow and standardize the high school curriculum and emphasize college prep; second, from a powerful strain of individualism in our national character that eats away support for public institutions; third, from a really sorry system of institutional organization. Politicians, not educators, make education policy, basing it on the simplistic conventional wisdom that educating means “delivering information.”

In fact, educating is the most complex and difficult of all professions. Done right, teaching is an attempt to help the young align their beliefs, values, and assumptions more closely with what’s true and real, escape the bonds of ethnocentrism, explore the wonders and potential of humanness, and become skilled at using thought processes that make it possible to realize those aims.

Historically, out of the institution’s dysfunctional organizational design came schools with lots of problems, but with one redeeming virtue. They were “loose.” Teachers had enough autonomy to do their thing. So they did, and the kids that some of them coached brought America far more than its share of patents, scholarly papers, scientific advances, international awards, and honors.

Notwithstanding their serious problems, America’s public schools were once the envy of the world. Now, educators around that world shake their heads in disbelief (or maybe cheer?) as we spend billions of dollars to standardize what once made America great—un-standardized thought.

A salvage operation is still (barely) possible, but not if politicians, prodded by pundits, continue to do what they’ve thus far steadfastly refused to do—listen to people who’ve actually worked with real students in real classrooms, and did so long enough and thoughtfully enough to know something about teaching.

 

Note: I invite response, especially from those in positions of influence or authority who disagree with me.

Marion Brady mbrady2222@gmail.com

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Reform the Tests! As they are, they don’t test anything important!

A brilliant article by Marion Brady, reprinted by Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post.

Brady points out that what we are actually testing with NCLB, RTTT and so in is worse than useless. What needs to happen is that the tests themselves need to be drastically changed in ways that actually teach higher-order thinking skills. I only quote a small  excerpt to try to get you to read the entire, well-reasoned article:

” If higher order thinking skills are tested, teachers will teach them. Those who don’t know how will quickly learn.

 Of course, Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Educational Testing Service, and other test manufacturers aren’t going to volunteer to test student-initiated higher order thinking skills. Neither are the politicians they help elect and re-elect going to make them even try to do so unless they think voters give them no alternative.

So voters should give them no alternative. Unless politicians and test manufacturers can make a convincing case for not teaching the young to think, they should be told what they’ve been telling teachers who say standardized tests are a waste of time and money: “No excuses!”

It’s likely that nothing short of binding agreements between states and test manufacturers will yield the new tests. To that end, in appropriate legal language, contracts should make clear that (a) every test question in every subject will evaluate a particular, named thinking skill, (b) every test will evaluate a balanced mix of all known thinking skills, and (c) a panel of experts not connected to test manufacturers or politicians will preview all test items to assure contract compliance. No excuses.

Fairtest, Parents Across America, United Opt Out National, and other state and local organizations have strategies in place to try to persuade. Petitions and referendums invite signers. Parents, grandparents — indeed, all who care about kids and country — should get on board.

 No more multimillion dollar checks for tests that no one but manufacturers are allowed to see. No more tests the pass-fail cut scores of which can be raised and lowered to make political points. No more kids labeled and discarded, every one with a brain wired to do all sorts of amazing things. If storing trivia in short-term memory doesn’t happen to be one of those things, that shouldn’t put them out of school and on the street.”

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