Supporting Garfield Teachers, Opposing Attacks on Public Schools, and Connecting this to the “Core” Issue of Decision Making

Hopefully, many are now aware of the stand of Garfield and Ballard High School teachers in Seattle, and are acting to support them in whatever way they can. They have chosen to boycott the pseudo-scientific practice of using the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) to evaluate teachers. The teachers have outlined a variety of problems with this practice.

This podcast provides useful background to this struggle as well as inspiration. It points to the need for people to think of opposing wrong headed education reform from the point of view of the interests of the public and public decision making. It is significant that the podcast originates from  Can’t be Neutral, itself an outgrowth of the work to defend Barbara Madeloni in the context of opposing corporate school reform. It is significant because it links the work of higher education faculty to those working in the K12 system, and because it raises the broader issue of the need for public purpose, action and vision for education.

One thing that should be kept in the forefront of the discussion is how the political use of MAP (and other such tests), as well as the interference of corporations in university employment practices (in Madeloni’s case, Pearson-Stanford), represent efforts to alter governing arrangements, that is, how decisions are made and by whom.

The use of the results of the MAP for the evaluation of Seattle teachers is no longer properly understood simply as “High Stakes Testing”. Such practices should instead be called something like “Undemocratic Decision Making Instruments” (UDMIs). For, what so-called Value Added Measures (VAMs) do, and they do this no matter how “valid” they are, is they remove decision making power (professional judgment) from teachers and administrators and elected school boards and relocate that decision making power somewhere outside the district, outside the public, to those who create/and or interpret the results of theses algorithms. The fact is, school boards and those they hire to manage school systems are losing the right to make personnel decisions to the algorithm and those who create and interpret the results.

In this sense, VAMs are nothing more than a technical smokescreen for removing decision making power from one entity, i.e., from elected school boards, to some executive body at the state or “national” level (e.g., National Governors Association) and private organizations such as Achieve, Inc. Achieve oversees the more “technical” work of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC), one of two assessment “consortia” for the Common Core. PARCC will be a basis for teacher evaluations in PARCC states, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia (SBAC) will be the basis for teacher evaluations in SBAC states. At least this is the plan of Obama, Gates, Broad and their fellow travelers.

Such algorithms are akin to the increasing use of medical protocols imposed by insurance and/or pharmaceutical companies…where medical professionals are required to follow X course of action even if it is not warranted or makes no (medical) sense in a particular case. Removing human judgment from human activity is neither democratic nor terribly effective. It may, however, be very useful in creating decision making apparatuses that maximize profit and ensure power is held by those who reap the profits.

Which brings me to the Common Core again. Here’s a shout out to Wayne Au for bringing listener’s attention to the Common Core State Standards Initiative during the Can’t be Neutral podcast. I worry about the success of any opposition to “high stakes testing” that does not seek to contend with what the Core means for public education.

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