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The End of Education February 11, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Education.
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I have thought for a long time that the education reforms put in place over the past 10-15 years will ruin education in this country.

Education expert Diane Ravitch provides a clear account of the problem. She contrasts a traditional superintendent of schools with a new breed:

Whether he (or she) was a business executive, an education entrepreneur, or a lawyer, he is steeped in a business mindset. He wants results. He surrounds himself with business school graduates, lawyers, marketing consultants, and public relations staff. He focuses on management, organization, budgeting, and data-driven decision-making. He shows little or no interest in curriculum and instruction, about which he knows very little. He is certain that the way to reform the schools is to “incent” the workforce. He believes that accountability, with rewards and sanctions, makes the world go round. He plans to “drive” change through the system by being a tough manager, awarding merit pay to teachers and principals, closing struggling schools, and opening new schools and charter schools, all the while using data as his guide. He believes that the schools he oversees are like a stock portfolio; it is his job not to fix them but to pick winners and losers. The winners get extra money, and the losers are thrown out of the portfolio. When addressing the business community, he speaks proudly of his plan to give maximum autonomy to school principals, thus absolving himself of any responsibility for the performance of the schools, and then sits back to manage his portfolio. If a school fails, he is fast to close it. The failure is not his fault, but the fault of the principal and the teachers.

She then compares this fascination for quantitative measures with the  recent revelations regarding the NYC police department who were found to be fudging their crime numbers to make their performance look better.

The data mattered more than truth. Some, for example, would scout eBay and other Web sites to find values for stolen items that would reduce the complaint from a grand larceny (over $1,000 in value) to a misdemeanor. There were reports of officers who persuaded crime victims not to file a complaint or to change their accounts so that a crime’s seriousness could be downgraded. […]

For just as the police officers felt compelled to game the system to meet the demands of CompStat, so educators are now gaming the system to meet the demands of NCLB. Some states have dumbed down their tests; some have rigged the scores to produce greater numbers of “proficient” students. Some districts have narrowed their curriculum and have replaced instruction with intensive test-prep. Some schools of choice exclude low-performing students. All in the service of making the numbers, making AYP, looking good rather than doing well.

There is a general principle at work here:

This is not only a major scandal, it is a validation once again of Campbell’s Law, which holds that: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decisionmaking, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

The summary judgment:

Anyone who thinks that these methods will produce first-class education for our nation’s children is either a fool or is fooling himself.

Thus far this has primarily affected K-12 education. But this fascination with numbers is coming to a campus near you—and both Republicans and Democrats support it.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com



1. W^L+ - February 11, 2010

I think those efforts at “reform” are doomed to fail, but so are the “focus on curriculum” efforts. The world changed forty or fifty years ago, and schools still haven’t reacted.

Instead of legions of identically-trained graduates, pumped out as from an assembly line, we need a common base, with individualized specialization atop it, and garnished with independent and critical thinking, self-management, time management, tolerance for risk and ambiguity, and above all the ability to communicate and to sell oneself. Hiring a new graduate these days means having to train out much of his / her schooling, and then train in the qualities that make for a valuable employee.

Neither conservatives nor liberals get it yet, but the economic crisis is masking an economic transformation away from large, top-down organizations toward smaller, more specialized, locally-controlled organizations. I expect a lot of pain as everything that used to work in business fails. Likewise, there will be a lot of pain in education as local business leaders become ever more critical of the “output” of the traditional school system.

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