Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Columnist Joe Nocera Is Just Not That Into "Education Reform"

Posted By on Tue, Sep 2, 2014 at 9:51 AM

Maybe this is wishful thinking, but I'm beginning to sense that the reform/privatization movement is losing some of its momentum. Don't get me wrong, it's still going strong. The Billionaire Boys Club continues to spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year promoting it. State legislatures, Congress, even Obama and his Ed Sec Arne Duncan are mostly in its corner. But I swear, the movement is beginning — just beginning — to show signs of wear and tear.

Case in point: a column by Joe Nocera in the New York Times. Nocera is a generalist who writes about politics, the economy and social issues, with a little education thrown in every once in awhile. Usually when generalists write about education, their columns boil down to, "Our schools are failing, so we might as well go along with the 'education reform' notions of high stakes tests, de-professionalizing teaching and privatization. They make it sound good, and let's face it, our schools are going to hell in a handbasket. We've got to do something, and we have nothing to lose, right?"

Not so Joe in this column, Imagining Successful Schools. He's discussing a report by Marc S. Tucker on education accountability. Here's the very encouraging (for me, anyway) money quote.

[According to Tucker] the American reform methods were used nowhere else in the world. “No other country believes that you can get to a high quality educational system simply by instituting an accountability system,” he says. “We are entirely on the wrong track.” His cri de coeur has been that Americans should look to what works, instead of clinging to what doesn’t.

The solution isn't charters, vouchers and test, test, test, according to Nocera's summary of Tucker's work. Here's what's important.

The main thing that works is treating teaching as a profession, and teachers as professionals.

When it comes to testing:

Tucker would not abolish tests, but he would have fewer of them. And they would have a different purpose: In the high-performing countries, the tests exist to hold the students accountable, rather than the teachers.

And here's what Tucker suggests when a school is, to use the phrase made popular by the "reformers," failing:

When a school falls short, instead of looking to fire teachers, the high-performing countries “use the data to decide which schools will receive visits from teams of expert school inspectors. These inspectors are highly regarded educators.”

Nocera decided not to go along with the educational snake oil salesmen who pull a bottle of magic elixir off the back of their wagon and promise it will cure all our educational ills. Instead, Nocera went to someone who doesn't pretend to have easy, feel-good answers to very tough problems. And that gives me hope. Maybe the word is getting out that the "reformer's" reforms don't really do much good.

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