by Alex Storm @alexstormtmt
After reading “Who’s Behind the Devastating Movement to Privatize Public Schools,” by Washington Post columnist Marion Brady, I was compelled to respond. The article claims, that people like myself, who can see some positives in the radical changes in schools and standards over the last few years, have been snookered. I’m not going to address every point, so as to not be redundant, and I am most certainly not arguing that privatization of public schools is the answer, but I do believe that someone who is currently working in education (me) might be better positioned to comment on some of the points of this author (a retired educator).
There are some parts of this article that are valid, but my experience with the Common Core standards and the tests to measure them are completely different from any prior standardized test. There are no bubbles to fill in, and across the board, private and public school students are scoring low because the new tests are testing something different than traditional tests.
Students are asked to read and critically think about a range of different texts. For all their answers on the math and ELA test, they must write extensively to explain their thinking. Other types of problems ask them to highlight key information, arrange paragraphs in an essay so that it makes the most cohesive argument, graph equations (rather than just bubbling in the letter next to the correct graph), solve equations and explain their reasoning. The tests also adapt to the test taker. If a student fails to answer several questions that are on a certain reading level, the test will lower the reading level on the next questions, so that the students actual critical thinking skills are being assessed, rather than them being scored significantly lower as a result of low comprehension. I don't think the standards are perfect, and I'm certain that the tests still are still somewhat exclusive to white, middle class youth because of the subject matter and prior knowledge that they expect students to have, but they're an improvement insofar as they test a kid's thinking, rather than memorization skills.
While there is a new market for curriculum and school supply kits that are going to profit the test creators, these test creators were already profiting off of the old fashioned bubble tests anyway. Let's just hope that these tests give teachers more valid measures of students' abilities.
I agree that there was a time when American schools were the envy of the world, but that was also a time when American schools were focused on sorting students into the lower class wage workers and the educated upper class. This was done primarily along racial and economic lines. As we've moved beyond the industrial age and have become more enlightened as a society, we believe that education, and higher education, are valuable for all and should be available to all. Our former 'great education' system that was envied is no longer viable if we want to give everyone opportunities, instead of pushing the low performing students out of school or halting their education at 12th grade. I don't think the privatization of schools is the answer to this, but I think there are some charters that can be models for urban schools. What needs to happen though, is the money poured into the private school industry needs to be redirected back into the public schools, who need to adopt a vastly different model than the traditional rote style. The public schools need the funding that charters have, and they need to adopt the successful teaching practices that have been tried and proven in smaller schools (i.e. project based learning, brain based teaching, meditation, longer school years, longer school days, a focus on collaboration and creativity, broad use of technology).
Being a teacher, I think my own effectiveness should not be measured solely based on test scores, but I do think it's fair that I am at least assessed on whether or not my students make growth on a test. Another initiative that Bill Gates funded is the The College Ready Promise, which is a huge teacher evaluation system. It evaluates teachers on a rubric in every area of their planning, relationships with students, execution of a lesson, professional responsibilities, and parent relationships. It asks teachers to do better and shows what it would look like to improve. At my school, this accounts for about 60% of my eval, the rest is 10% parent/student surveys, 5% staff surveys, and 25% test scores (showing improvement). The article said something about 'teachers deserving the blame' and 'experienced teachers being to set in their ways' as part of the argument for privatization. I think that across the board our teacher education system needs to improve, and teachers need way more experience in the classroom with a mentor teacher before they are ever on their own. With this rubric teacher evaluation system, it could be a requirement that a teacher must score at least all 2's and 3's to keep their job. That provides clear criteria, and at the very least if a teacher is doing that they are not harming kids, and they can see how to grow themselves.
Mr. Brady says, "Done right, teaching is an attempt to help the young align their beliefs, values, and assumptions more closely with what’s true and real". What does it mean to have students align their beliefs and values with what's true and real? This sounds like the purpose of education is to change student beliefs and values, rather than honoring individuality and embracing difference to build a more accepting society, instead of trying to make people the same. I’m sure that Mr. Brady has a ton of experience and has seen many changes in the field of education, but change isn’t always bad. I won’t invoke the “other countries are eating our lunch” argument, but I have graded master’s students’ papers that are on par with 7th grade writing. Our education system needs improvements, and it may take a few rounds to figure out how to make those changes in all schools so that all students have the same opportunities, but speaking from a school where changes are happening, it’s better to be in the trenches doing something than standing on the sidelines criticizing.