Friday, September 21, 2012

The Insanity of Oregon Education Reforms

by Kris Alman

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, Chief Education Officer Rudy Crew does so when he tells Oregon schools to aim higher while we disinvest in education.

Few would quibble about the insanity of the unfunded “No Child Left Behind” mandate. The urgency to do something different about “failing” schools leveraged states across the nation to follow a new mandate. NCLB “flexibility” comes from US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan—a basketball player and businessman whose world-view is shaped by winning and losing.

Duncan’s legacy is Chicago Schools, the epicenter of market-driven reforms, and where community outrage still kindles.  Striking teachers fought for support services and small class sizes, eroded while he headed the Chicago Public Schools from 2001 to 2009.

Insanity is following Duncan’s lead. Oregon’s state waiver and “Next Generation of Accountability demand efficiencies and equity. Unfortunately, when austerity leverages return on education investments, accountability can only be a “proxy for just moving numbers.”

Insanity is when we measure kids’ progress with the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, a test that is not aligned with adopted standards. OAKS tests measure old state standards—ones that are not “college and career-ready” like the new Common Core State Standards envisioned in President Obama’s blueprint for education reforms and adopted by 3 territories, the District of Columbia and 44 other states.

How can any district develop improvement plans when current tests don’t measure the adopted education standards? In two years, the OAKS test will be supplanted by a new standardized test, crafted by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

Until then, the Oregon Department of Education justifies higher “cut scores”to prepare students for the increased rigors” of the new standards. This does nothing to better align the old test to the new standards; but it does make the test harder to pass!

The Oregon Department of Education has also devised “crosswalks” to transition from OAKS to the yet-to-be-created or field-tested Smarter Balanced assessments. In truth, the teacher is walking a tightrope that dangerously sways in a typhoon of chaos and above a minefield of distrust. 

A look at how the two sets of standards overlap (or don’t) would make parents’ heads spin. Spin is why we we've bought into insane education reforms. 

C.E.O. Rudy Crew ensures "greater fear to teaching and learning" when he attaches high stakes to these tests. Our child might have to take tests over and over again—even if they are developmentally inappropriate. Our child might become discouraged and drop out. Our child might not graduate with a diploma because he hasn’t passed a test. Our child’s favorite teacher might lose her job because the measures of achievement and growth are rigged against her. Our child's school might close for the same reason.

Austerity’s message is “Blame yourself.” Market-driven education policies leverage the wrong people and short-shrift public education. If we hope for a future of democracy and middle class prosperity, we should not wage class warfare in public schools.

Oregon must immediately eliminate all high-stakes testing.

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