Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Education Disaster!

The Wednesday 8-13-14 “Trib” has an opinion-page article warning that the two demoted Waco ISD principals were not the sole cause of their schools’ poor performance on the new standardized tests.  I agree,  and want to present my opinion about the truth of poor performance,  and extend it to statewide,  not just Waco ISD. 

And permit me to be extremely blunt,  in the interests of total clarity.

There is a 3-part disaster that has overwhelmed the public school system in this state (and I contend elsewhere,  too).  Until those three things are all fixed,  this horrible disaster will continue.  Those three things are:

(1) Tying funding to the outcome of a low-ball standardized test,  in the name of a political slogan (“accountability”) that has nothing to do with how education actually functions in the classroom.

(2) “Social promotion”,  meaning passing students to the next grade or class,  even though they have not mastered the necessary skills to succeed.

 (3) Grade inflation,  which has made GPA’s and diplomas meaningless in both the workplace and in the hunt for admission to college.

The standardized testing disaster is about 30 years old now.  Its hallmark characteristics are (a) the perennial promise that “things will improve because we will hold people accountable”,   (b) the perennial result that things do not improve,  and (c) the testing standard is always a minimum “low-ball” expectation of student performance. 

One operational definition of insanity is repeating the same things over and over,  and expecting a different outcome.  TEAMS,  TAAS,  TAKS,  now STAAR,  nothing about this series of test incarnations is really any different at all.  Nothing has ever improved,  excepting some very limited local exceptions (which prove to have nothing to do with testing and “accountability”,  upon close inspection). 

Question:  why are we still doing this,  when it is quite demonstrably insane? 

Answer:  follow the money.  Not only is this a mindless scheme for allocating increasingly-scarce resources from an increasingly-stingy state,  but also it has spawned an enormous parasitic business community supplying testing materials and “test training” materials for students,  for profit. 

That’s where a lot of the money now goes,  that used to go to school funding.  A lot of the rest funds the burgeoning bureaucracy instead of schools themselves.  Miseducation-for-profit.  Evil.

Anybody who has ever set a goal for others knows that you must set the mark high.  A few will reach it,  most will fall short,  that’s just life.  If you set the mark high,  many of those falling short will still perform acceptably.  If you set the mark low,  all those falling short will fail. 

All of these standardized tests have been and still are low-ball marks.  Wrong idea!  Worse-than-useless. 

Tying funding to the standardized test puts extreme pressure on schools to teach only to the test,  which is a low-ball mark,  guaranteeing failure,  actually.  Money talks louder than the law,  as we all already know. 

So it doesn’t matter that the law says “teach your subject”,  the money says otherwise.  “If it ain’t on the test,  it don’t get taught”.  Bad idea!  Very great evil!

The other two evils are older than the standardized testing disaster.  I saw their beginnings around me in the mid 1950’s. 

Social promotion comes from being more concerned about self-esteem than about demonstrable mastery of knowledge and skills.   But,  the workplace only values mastery of knowledge and skills,  it doesn’t care one whit about self-esteem!   None of my contemporaries who were “socially promoted” ever did well in subsequent grades. 

So,  social promotion demonstrably doesn’t work,  and it is the wrong preparation for the workplace.  Why are we still doing this?  Extremely bad idea! 

Grade inflation comes about from not grading student results on an absolute standard (grading-on-the-curve).  The old absolute standard was usually 70% for passing,  as determined by experience in previous centuries.  It worked then,  it’ll still work now.  Simple as that. 

Generally speaking,  there is content appropriate to each grade or course,  and test materials of many kinds have long been available to assess whether students have mastered the content.  For centuries,  this is how teachers at all levels did their jobs quite effectively. Graduating students actually knew their stuff.  But no more!

Why did we quit doing this?  It has made diplomas worthless.   Graduates are unfit for the workplace.  This is completely insane!

Final comments:

In earlier decades,  accountability came about entirely locally by the principal knowing whether or not his teachers were doing their jobs effectively.  That was his job:  to know and to act.  The superintendent’s job was to know whether his principals were doing theirs,  and to act.  The school board’s job was to know whether its superintendent was doing his job,  and to act.  All local,  with the school board accountable at the local polls.

This local control system that worked so well has been usurped by state (and now federal) bureaucrats intent on micromanaging and controlling all aspects of education to a one-size-fits-all formula.  It’s all based on the demonstrably-insane idea of low-ball standardized testing,  which today so profoundly distorts classroom teaching and curriculum away from what was developed over the centuries.  It is also very expensive to operate vast bureaucracies like that. 

Please be careful who you elect to statewide office:  they have been driving this disaster for the last 3 decades,  at the very least.  All that we really need from the state is (a) the money,  and (b) a proper list of what to teach in each grade and class (which we already have).  Local control supplies all the accountability we ever needed. 

I’m not sure we need anything from the feds.  Their money always has insane strings attached.

The rest of the insane state education superstructure that we have let build up over the last few decades needs to be destroyed,  and not replaced.  There would be a lot more money to go around directly to the schools that way. 

Beware:  this same insanity is also beginning to creep into higher education! 

To paraphrase Smokey the Bear:  only you can prevent this disaster,  at the polls. 

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