People, Politics & Business

Scoundrels, Educrats, Rogues and Champions

Educational Testing: Where conservatives & liberals agree? Sigh.

CJ Westerberg, February 7, 2012 3:32 PM

PoliticalSymbol.jpg

"And if the point of education really is
the production of abstractly and measurably skillful people
who don't necessarily know anything in particular,
it's a vision (maybe a chilling one) that, at least,
should be articulated for parents - and voters -
 to decide on.
"
                                                                     -Richard Brody

Not a Good Thing


A must-weekend-read, "Test Patterns," by Richard Brody - crossing many edu-silos:  politics, policies, parenting, current teacher evaluations in NY, Arne Duncan, E.D. Hirsch, Allan Bloom, Harold Bloom, Santorum (who cannot discuss education without mentioning Rick?), indoctrination, and the essential question, "What is the purpose of education?"

The philosophic introductory excerpt:

Most children are, in effect, wards of the state. They spend their weekdays in state institutions called schools and are meant to spend evenings and weekends doing homework that's prescribed there. Education is inherently political, as suggested by the primordial work of political philosophy, Plato's "Republic," much of which is devoted to the subject and Socrates's defiance of the sophists may be the first successful challenge to a teachers' union, for which he paid with his life.

We cannot forget the recent insane public publishing of NY teacher ratings. Even if the evaluations were flawed, this idea is insanity.  Teachers are not schools, buildings, programs, or institutions. 

There doesn't seem to be much downside to challenging teachers' unions these days, as seen, most recently, in the release last Friday of New York City's ratings - deeply flawed ratings, as Amy Davidson explained earlier this week - of teachers working in grades four through eight.

Here's the "agreement", well, maybe not exactly:

In his 2010 Profile in the magazine of Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, Carlo Rotella writes that Duncan "argues for linking teachers' pay to their students' performance." Duncan said that his objective is to equalize "educational opportunity" as it divides across racial, but, he says, even more across economic lines. Liberals such as Duncan hope that the rating of teachers on the basis of their impact on students' test scores will help poor children have the benefit of teachers who are as good as those teaching the children of wealthier families. Conservatives favor the policy for bringing the free-market element of reward and punishment to education, and, along the way, weakening the protection that unions afford teachers who are deemed to be underperforming.

The personal connection:

Both sides seem to accept the view that the high-stakes testing of students is a good way to assess both their achievements and those of their teachers. The sorry state of this non-debate leaves me - as the father of two teen-agers . . . .  both of whom (one a recent high-school graduate, the other currently a high-school student) have always gone to New York City public schools . . .

Further revelations include William J. Bennett, who was Secretary of Education under Ronald Reagan from 1985 through 1988, E. D. Hirsch, Jr., "with his notion of 'cultural literacy" and "core knowledge."  References also come "from a pair of Blooms - Allan, with his critique 'The Closing of the American Mind,' and Harold, with his 'Western Canon'."

Bring in the parents:

Mayor Mike Bloomberg defends the publication of teacher-evaluation data as a way of helping parents 'make decisions' about their children's schooling. But the reduction of such "decisions' to a numbers game (who, after all, wouldn't want their children to be taught by higher-rated teachers?) deflects and even discourages parental discussion of broader, more difficult, and more fundamental educational issues in favor of prefabricated, unexamined definitions of achievement.

The piece de resistence:

But a liberal education can't aim solely at "un-indoctrination"; it's utterly implausible to
conceive of education without positive content, to imagine that public schools will develop value-free and content-free "skills"  - any more than it makes sense to think
of Plato's dramatization of Socratic questioning as merely a thorough debunking
devoid of philosophical construction. Talking about what children are learning and
what they should be learning is inseparable from measuring how well they're being taught. It's also inseparable from a discussion about the country's ideals and their realization, from an understanding of what the state is making of children, and from
a vision of what today's children will make of the country in their time.

And if the point of education really is the production of abstractly and measurably
skillful people who don't necessarily know anything in particular, it's a vision (maybe
a chilling one) that, at least, should be articulated for parents - and voters - to decide
on. It may turn out that the substance and style of teaching and learning that they
want schools to cultivate is exactly the kind that resists easy reduction to standardized testing. They may resist the paradox of an increasingly rigid and normative educational system that aims at fostering freedom of thought.


Not a long piece for The New Yorker, and better to read in its entirety for the full context, as always.  Was released by Google, so not behind the subscriber-wall (yet?).

What's your riff on this?  I'm still mulling over a few of the references  - - -

-CJW
  

 

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