Tag Archives: high-stakes testing

Education Activism for Equity: On Common Core, Pearson, and Race

Likely as a consequence of being a critical educator and my own proclivities as a non-joiner skeptic, I remain mostly an outsider in the education reform debates—although I am a 30+-year educator and an established blogger/public voice on education.

Not addressing only specific, recent debates but prompted by my own witnessing of the evolving (and muddled) Pearson monitoring controversy and how that seems as problematic as the much longer (and equally muddled) Common Core debate, I posted the following Tweets earlier today:

On Common Core (see here, here, and here) and Pearson monitoring (see here and here), I cannot be placed neatly into any major camp of the ongoing debates.

And throughout my blogging and public work on education reform, I forefront race and racism as well as poverty—noting that addressing race in the U.S. immediately prompts both harsh reactions and stunning silence.

As more context, I am regularly confronted as a union shill and union basher, depending on the detractor; although I am not now and have never been a member of a union, living and working my entire life in a right-to-work state, but simultaneously support unionism while acknowledging that organized unions (NEA and AFT) have mostly failed education.

That same pattern occurs within politics since many assume I am a Democrat (I am not) and both partisan sides bristle at my equal-opportunity criticism of mainstream politicians’ failures related to education.

None of this is intended as a pity party or a pat on my own back, but to note I am living, and thus witnessing from a privileged white/male vantage point, what I am concerned about in this post: Even—or notably among—good people with whom I consider myself in allegiance on educational goals, education activism for equity too often fails by slipping into the wrong allegiances (people and organizations) and not the ultimate goal, equity.

To understand this, I think we must return to race and other aspects of marginalized people and voices. Three powerful situations must be acknowledged:

  • Civil rights organizations with black leadership speaking out in favor of high-stakes testing and accountability.
  • Blacks identified as supporting Common Core.
  • Blacks associated with strong support for charter schools.

As well, Andre Perry has offered two important examinations of the white/black dynamic in education reform:

To understand the racial divide in the education reform debate (why do blacks support many of the policies strongly rejected by a mostly white education reform counter-movement?) requires the same considerations necessary to unpack the often misguided Common Core and Pearson monitoring debates: Simplistic analysis of white and black support fails to confront the inherent problems with white privilege and fully expand the important contributions of minority voices.

As I have examined about black support of charter schools in the context of mass incarceration, I want to flesh out the three bullet points above by arguing that all three must include “as mechanisms for educational equity.”

In other words, it is misleading to say that civil rights or minority populations embrace policy A or practice B as if those policies and practices have no goals attached to them. The support must be read as “We support X in order to accomplish Y”—and it is that Y which is vital to emphasize, educational and social equity for minorities and the impoverished.

And not to belabor a specific topic, I have continued to reject Common Core as a mechanism of educational equity because the evidence suggests:

As the absence or presence of rigorous or national standards says nothing about equity, educational quality, or the provision of adequate educational services, there is no reason to expect CCSS or any other standards initiative to be an effective educational reform by itself.

And that brings me back to my morning Twitter flurry.

Education activism for equity must not succumb to mere missionary zeal, and certainly fails when people and organizations trump the goal of equity or when winning the debate destroys the actual reason for the debate.

As I noted above, education activism for equity has failed in those ways—just as have the NEA, AFT, and Democrat Party (all of which I highlight since they are associated with being “liberal” and supposedly for both public education and economic/educational equity).

And all of this is very disappointing and disheartening—just as being alienated and ignored among those with whom I have strong allegiances is very disappointing and disheartening.

But again, this isn’t about me, although I do feel an obligation to bear witness to the failures among those I personally respect and publicly share ideologies—even when I disagree with them.

And I have failed along the way to this post, often—and will likely fail again.

But I stand by the Twitter flurry above, I stand by the unpopular positions I hold about Common Core and Pearson monitoring—despite the tensions those stands cause specific people and organizations, many of whom also pursue educational equity.

Teaching and activism are compelling pursuits for me because they both demand that we rise above personal and organizational commitments, that we rise to our individual commitment to humanity: They are all our children.

Teaching and activism require our humility, and a capacity for listening and learning, for admitting when we are wrong and moving forward.

And in both roles, we risk ourselves in order to find ourselves and the world we imagine can and should be.

See Also

Avoiding Patricia Arquette Moments in Education Reform

Responsibilities of Privilege: Bearing Witness, pt. 2

Education Reform as the New Misogyny: A Reader

Clarifying Common Core Compromise (part 2)

My initial Common Core compromise was intentionally brief—in part to make it accessible and, ultimately, as a concession that it details elements unlikely to be embraced by the political and corporate leaders driving CC-mania.

While I remain north of skeptical, able to see clearly cynicism, about the possibility that my compromise will be embraced, I did receive enough response—and many important concerns—to justify a follow up, clarifying a few key concepts behind my compromise.

First, the foundational motivation for the compromise is to highlight that both CC (and the entire accountability movement) and the USDOE are, as currently functioning, deeply flawed structures, each working to ruin universal public education. The flaws at the root of CC and the USDOE are related to bureaucracy, political/partisan corruption (a redundancy, I realize), and predatory corporations (the private feeding on public funds).

Next, the elements in my compromise are designed to re-imagine CC as a genuine mechanism of change—to end the current accountability era and spur a new era of authentic commitments to social and educational equity and opportunity and to end the USDOE as a political/partisan bureaucratic nightmare and re-invision the USDOE as a centralized and professional ministry of education that serves the public good and the people.

So here are a few clarifications directed at the concerns raised so far:

  • Ending high-stakes testing accomplishes a few key reforms: (a) ending the disaster capitalism of Pearson and other corporations that benefit from crisis discourse about schooling, feeding on precious public funds, (b) ending a historically bankrupt tradition of linking test scores to individual students, teachers, and schools (using NAEP, random sampling, and broad data sets), and thus, addressing privacy concerns (NAEP data not linked to individual students but creating longitudinal data bases by states), ending high-stakes accountability, and stemming the tide of value-added methods designed to de-professionalize teachers.
  • Transforming the USDOE to a centralized, professional, and responsive ministry of education does not mean I am calling for standardization or “government control of schools.” In fact, I am calling for the exact opposite of those concerns. Centralized does not mean standardized. Currently, the US has a public workforce composed of public school teachers and publicly funded university professors that includes all the expertise and knowledge needed to create the resources every public school in the US needs. As I detailed, the USDOE centralizes all materials, resources, and assessments (NAEP), but  centralized must not mandate for any schools. Instead, each school will base needs on the populations of students being served, and then the USDOE becomes a centralized (thus creating an equity of opportunity) resource to serve the needs expressed by each school. Education must begin with each student and work outward.
  • Although I didn’t directly note this before, I also envision once we end high-stakes testing and move to NAEP-like data sets (similar to what Finland does), we must then expand dramatically the evidence used to monitor and reform further our schools.

Is it possible for educators, scholars, researchers, and community members who believe in public education and the essential nature of the Commons for a free people to take the tool of oppression (Common Core) and turn it against the very people who created it?

I wonder, yes, I wonder.

And when I wonder, I think about—despite all its flaws—the film Gandhi, and the spirit found in key scenes of a people coming to embrace their own freedom:

Brigadier: You don’t think we’re just going to walk out of India!

Gandhi: Yes. In the end, you will walk out. Because 100,000 Englishmen simply cannot control 350 million Indians, if those Indians refuse to cooperate.

Can a spirit of non-cooperation grow from a solidarity around CC as a true mechanism of reform?

Nehru: Bapuji, the whole country is moving.

Gandhi: Yes. but in what direction?

Ending Exit Exams a Start, But Not Enough

As the first decade of the twenty-first century drew to an end, Frederick Douglass High School (Maryland) stood as a contradiction of social history, education and racial promise, the claimed failures of public schools, and the essential flaws in high-stakes accountability.

Focusing on Douglass High, documentarians Alan and Susan Raymond detail the realities of both day-to-day schooling in a high-poverty, majority-minority public schools and the unintended consequences of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), enacted in 2001 with 100% proficiency requirements mandated for 2014.

Toward the end of the film, a voice-over explains that the accountability guidelines in place during the filming excluded exit exam data from graduation requirements for students, but those test scores were included in NCLB accountability decisions about the school and its administration and faculty. Panning across the test room and the voice-over reveal many students with their heads down during those tests.

While standardized testing has been a key component of education in the U.S. for a century, the accountability movement and the impact of high-stakes testing entered mainstream education in the early 1980s. One of the first uses of high-stakes testing then was the introduction of the exit exam, designed to prevent students from being passed along through the system and thus graduating without what proponents called basic skills. South Carolina was one of the first states to commit fully to the accountability movement, establishing standards, state tests, and linking graduation to exit exams.

In 2013, SC now sits poised to abandon the exit exam: “But S.C high school students would no longer have to pass an exit exam to graduate if a state House bill becomes law–welcome news for the thousands of students who struggle year after year to pass both the test’s math and English sections.”

However, this bill does not mean SC will stop implementing those tests: “But because the test is used to determine whether S.C schools and school districts meet state and federal accountability standards, students still would be required to take the exam.”

Sponsors and supporters of this bill should receive credit for recognizing the inherent flaw in honoring one data point (the exit exam) over years of multiple data points (course grades, course credits, GPA). In fact, deciding to drop student accountability for exit exam scores is justified by decades of data on the SAT, revealing that SAT scores remain less credible evidence of student readiness for college than GPA.

However, ending high-stakes consequences for students taking exit exams doesn’t go nearly far enough. SC, and states across the U.S., must end high-stakes testing and begin focusing reform and resources on the conditions of learning and teaching before outcomes can be evaluated in any valid way.

The current plan is flawed and incomplete in the following ways:

  • Just as NCLB has proven to have unintended and detrimental consequences, maintaining teacher and school accountability on an exam that students themselves have no investment in can lead only to the exact scene depicted in Hard Times ay Douglass High—disengaged students and invalid test data. At the end of the documentary, viewers learn that the state takes over the school and replaces the administration, again based on testing many students had essentially felt no obligation to attempt.
  • High-stakes testing has now been exposed as an ineffective reform policy in education. Continuing down the new standards and new tests path is no longer reform, but digging a deeper hole in the status quo.
  • Holding teachers and schools accountable for the outcomes of students is a misuse of accountability since, as scholar and The New York Times columnist Stanley Fish explains, teachers cannot be “responsible for the effects of [their] teaching, whereas, in fact, [they] are responsible only for its appropriate performance.” In other words, ending student, teacher, and school accountability based on high-stakes tests must be replaced by policies that address the conditions of learning and teaching provided for all students by schools and teachers.
  • Ultimately, high-stakes testing is an inefficient drain on state tax dollars; the testing machine and the constant creation, field-testing, and implementation of high-stakes tests fails to produce valid data, but lines the pockets of the testing industry at the expense of public funds.

Should states end using exit exams and other high-stakes tests as gatekeepers for graduation and grade promotion? Yes.

But the current plan to continue implementing exit exams as accountability data for schools and teachers fails to recognize that the problems are the tests themselves and how they are used.

The era of high-stakes testing itself must end, and in its place, let’s instead invest our time and tax dollars on the conditions of learning and teaching.

ADDENDUM

See the following:

THE EFFECT OF HIGH SCHOOL EXIT EXAMS ON GRADUATION, EMPLOYMENT, WAGES AND INCARCERATION
Olesya Baker
Kevin Lang
Working Paper 19182

Abstract

We evaluate the effects of high school exit exams on high school graduation, incarceration, employment and wages. We construct a state/graduation-cohort dataset using the Current Population Survey, Census and information on exit exams. We find relatively modest effects of high school exit exams except on incarceration. Exams assessing academic skills below the high school level have little effect. However, more challenging standards-based exams reduce graduation and increase incarceration rates. About half the reduction in graduation rates is offset by increased GED receipt. We find no consistent effects of exit exams on employment or the distribution of wages.

“We Are Entering the Age of Infinite Examination”

In 2011, Jim Taylor entered the poverty and education debate, asking U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and billionaire/education entrepreneur Bill Gates a direct question*:

I really don’t understand you two, the U.S. Secretary of Education and the world’s second richest man and noted philanthropist. How can you possibly say that public education can be reformed without eliminating poverty?

Taylor’s discussion comes to an important element in the debate when he addresses Gates: “Because without understanding the causes of problems, we can’t find solutions,” explains Taylor, adding. “You’re obviously trying to solve public education’s version of the classic ‘chicken or egg’ conundrum.”

Here, recognizing the education/poverty debate as a chick-or-egg problem is the crux of how this debate is missing the most important questions about poverty—and as a result, insuring that Duncan, Gates, Michelle Rhee, Paul Vallas, and other corporate reformers are winning the argument by perpetuating the argument.

The essential questions about poverty and education should not focus on whether we should address poverty to improve education (where I stand, based on the evidence and the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.) or whether we should reform education as the sole mechanism to alleviate poverty (the tenant of the “no excuses” ideology found at Knowledge Is Power Program [KIPP] charters); the essential question about poverty is: Who creates and allows poverty to exist in the wealthiest and most powerful country in recorded history?

The Conservative Nature of Power

As a basic point of logic, any organized entity—a society, a business, a school—has characteristics that are either created or tolerated by those in power controlling that organization. All entities are by their nature conservative—functioning to maintain the entity itself. In other words, institutions and their norms resist change, particularly radical change that threatens the hierarchy of power.

In the U.S., then, poverty exists in the wider society and performs a corrosive influence in the education system (among all of our social institutions, our Commons) because the ruling elite—political and corporate leaders—need poverty to maintain their elite status at the top of the hierarchy of power.

While the perpetual narratives promoted by the political and corporate elite through the media elite have allowed this point of logic to be masked and ignored in American society, we must face the reality that people with power drive the realities of those without power. Yes, the cultural narratives driven by the elite suggest that people trapped in poverty are somehow in control of that poverty—either creating it themselves due to their own sloth, that they somehow deserve their station in life, or failing to rise above that poverty (and this suggestion allows the source of poverty to be ignored) from their own failure to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps.

But that narrative has no basis in evidence—since those without power have control of that which creates the conditions benefiting the elite. The powerful allow those without power to have some token or artificial autonomy—as parents with children—in order to create the illusion of autonomy to keep revolt at bay; this is why the political and corporate elite use the word “choice” and perpetuate the myth that all classes in America have the same access to choice.

Poverty as Necessary for Current Hierarchies of Power

How does poverty benefit the powerful in the U.S.?

  • U.S. cultural narratives depend on the Utopian elements of democracy, meritocracy, and individual freedom. Those ideals form the basis for most of the cultural narratives expressed by the political and corporate elite in the U.S. Poverty works as the Other in those narratives—that which we must all reject, that which we must strive to avoid. If the Utopian goals, including eliminating poverty, is ever achieved, however, the tension between the working-/middle- class and those in poverty would be eliminated as well, exposing the artificial perch upon which the ruling elite sit. The necessity of poverty works both to keep us from attaining the Utopian goals and to make the Utopian goals attractive.
  • Poverty contributes to the crisis motif that keeps the majority of any society distracted from the minority elite benefiting disproportionately from the labor of the majority. Crises large and small—from Nazis, Communists, and Terrorists to the War on Drugs to teen pregnancy to the achievement gap and the drop-out crisis—create the perception that the average person cannot possibly keep these crises under control (crises that would plunge otherwise decent people into the abyss of poverty) and, thus, needs the leadership and protection of the elite. The majority of average people can only be carried to the promised land of Utopian peace and equality by the sheer force of personality held by only a few; these ruling elite are the only defense against the perpetual crises threatening the ideals we hold sacred (see below for how we identify those elite).
  • Along with Utopian promises and the refrain of crisis, the ruling elite need the pervasive atmosphere of fear—whether real or fabricated—in order to occupy the time and energy of the majority. [1] Poverty becomes not just a condition to be feared, but also those people to be feared. The cultural narratives—in contrast to the evidence—about poverty and people living in poverty connect poverty and crime, poverty and drug abuse, poverty and domestic violence, poverty and unattractiveness, and most of all, poverty and the failure of the individual to grasp the golden gift of personal freedom afforded by the United States.

Just as we rarely consider the sources of poverty—who controls the conditions of our society—we rarely examine the conditions we are conditioned to associate with poverty and people living in poverty. Are the wealthy without crime? Without drug abuse? Without deceptions of all kinds? Of course not, but the consequences for these behaviors by someone living in privilege are dramatically different than the consequences for those trapped in poverty.

The ruling elite have created a culture where we see the consequences of poverty, but mask the realities of privilege.

Winners always believe the rules of the game to be fair, and winners need losers in order to maintain the status of “winner.” The U.S., then, is a democracy only as a masking narrative that maintains the necessary tension among classes—the majority working-/middle-class ever fearful of slipping into poverty, and so consumed by that fear that they are too busy and fearful to consider who controls their lives: “those who are stuck at a machine and supervised for the rest of their lives.” [2]

In the narrow debate about poverty and education, we are being manipulated once again by the ruling elite, within which Duncan and Gates function, to focus on the chicken-and-egg problem of poverty/education so that we fail to examine the ruling elite creating and tolerating poverty for their own benefit. By creating the debate they want, they are winning once again.

And that success derives in large part from their successful propaganda campaign about the value of testing.

The Meritocracy Myth, Science, and the Rise of New Gods

Now that I have argued for shifting the discourse about poverty and education away from the chick-and-egg problem to the role of sustaining and tolerating poverty for the benefit of the ruing elite, let’s look at the central role testing plays in maintaining the status quo of power in the U.S. And let’s build that consideration on a couple pillars of evidence.

First, despite decades committed to the science of objective, valid, and reliable standardized testing, outcomes from standardized tests remain most strongly correlated with the socio-economic status of the students. As well, standardized tests also remain biased instruments.

Next, more recently during the thirty-year accountability era, the overwhelming evidence shows that standards, testing, and accountability do not produce the outcomes that political proponents have claimed.

Thus, just as the poverty/education question should address who creates and allows poverty and why, the current and historical testing obsession should be challenged in terms of who is benefiting from our faith in testing and why.

The history of power, who sits at the top and how power is achieved, is one of creating leverage for the few at the expense of the many. To achieve that, often those at the top have resorted to explicit and wide-scale violence as well as fostering the perception that those at the top have been chosen, often by the gods or God, to lead—power is taken and/or deserved.

“God chose me” and “God told me” remain powerful in many cultures, but in a secular culture with an ambiguous attitude toward violence (keep the streets of certain neighborhoods here crime-free, but war in other countries is freedom fighting) such as the U.S., the ruling elite needed a secular god—thus, the rise of science, objectivity, and testing:

[A] correlative history of the modern soul and of a new power to judge; a genealogy of the present scientifico-legal complex from which the power to punish derives its bases, justifications, and rules; from which it extends it effects and by which it masks its exorbitant singularity. [3]

As I noted above, testing remains a reflection of the inequity gap in society and the high-stakes testing movement has not reformed education or society, so the rising call for even more testing of students, testing based on nationalized standards and used to control teachers, must have a purpose other than the Utopian claims by the political and corporate elite who are most invested in the rising testing-culture in the U.S.

That purpose, as with the necessity of poverty, is to maintain the status quo of a hierarchy of power and to give that hierarchy the appearance of objectivity, of science.

Standards, testing, and accountability are the new gods of the political and corporate elite.

Schools in the U.S. are designed primarily to coerce children to be compliant, to be docile; much of what we say and consider about education is related to discipline—classroom management is often central to teacher preparation and much of what happens during any school day:

The exercise of discipline presupposes a mechanism that coerces by means of observation; an apparatus in which the techniques that make it possible to see induce effects of power in which, conversely, the means of coercion make those on whom they are applied clearly visible. [4]

In education reform, the surveillance of students, and now the surveillance of teachers, is not covert, but in plain view in the form of tests (and even Gates calling for cameras in all classrooms) allowing that surveillance to be disembodied from those students and teachers—and thus appearing to be impersonal—and examined as if objective and a reflection of merit.

Testing as surveillance in order to create compliance is central to maintaining hierarchies of power both within schools (where a premium is placed on docility of students and teachers) and society, where well-trained and compliant voters and workers sustain the positions of those in power:

[T]he art of punishing, in the regime of disciplinary power, is aimed neither at expiation, nor precisely at repression….It differentiates individuals from one another, in terms of the following overall rule: that the rule be made to function as a minimal threshold, as an average to be respected, or as an optimum toward which one must move. It measures in quantitative terms and hierarchizes in terms of value the abilities, the level, the “nature” of individuals….The perpetual penalty that traverses all points and supervises every instant in the disciplinary institution compares, differentiates, hierachizes, homogenizes, excludes. In short, it normalizes. [5]

The political and corporate elite in the U.S. have risen to their status of privilege within the “scientifico-legal complex” that both created that elite and is then perpetuated by that elite. As I noted above, the winners always believe the rules of the game to be fair and will work to maintain the rules that have produced their privilege.

The Expanded Test Culture—“The Age of Infinite Examination”

Foucault has recognized the central place for testing within the power dynamic that produces a hierarchy of authority:

The examination combines the techniques of an observing hierarchy and those of normalizing judgment. It is a normalizing gaze, a surveillance that makes possible to qualify, to classify, and to punish. [6]

Thus, as the rise of corporate paradigms to replace democratic paradigms has occurred in the U.S. over the last century, we can observe a rise in the prominence of testing along with how those tests are used. From the early decades of the twentieth century, testing in the U.S. has gradually increased and expanded in its role for labeling, sorting, and controlling students. In the twenty-first century, testing is now being wedged into a parallel use to control teachers.

Those in power persist in both cases—testing to control students and testing to control teachers—to claim that tests are a mechanism for achieving Utopian goals of democracy, meritocracy, and individual freedom, but in both cases, those claims are masks for implementing tests as the agent of powerful gods (science, objectivity, accountability) to justify the current hierarchy of power—not to change society or education: “[T]he age of the ‘examining’ school marked the beginnings of a pedagogy that functions as science.” [7]

Foucault, in fact, identifies three ways that testing works to reinforce power dynamics, as opposed to providing data for education reform driven by a pursuit of social justice.

First, testing of individual students and using test data to identify individual teacher quality create a focus on the individual that reinforces discipline:

In discipline, it is the subjects who have to be seen. Their visibility assures the hold of the power that is exercised over them. It is the fact of their being constantly seen…that maintains the disciplined individual in his subjection. And the examination is the technique by which power…holds them in a mechanism of objectification. [8]

This use of testing resonated in President Obama’s first term as Secretary Duncan simultaneously criticized the misuse of testing in No Child Left Behind and called for an expansion of testing (more years of a student’s education, more areas of content, and more directly tied to individual teachers), resulting in: “We are entering the age of infinite examination and of compulsory objectification.” [9]

As Giles Deleuze confirms in “Postscript on the Societies of Control”:

We are in a generalized crisis in relation to all the environments of enclosure—prison, hospital, factory, school, family….The administrations in charge never cease announcing supposedly necessary reforms: to reform schools, to reform industries, hospitals, the armed forces, prisons….In disciplinary societies one was always starting again (from school to the barracks, from the barracks to the factory), while in the societies of control one is never finished with anything—the corporation, the educational system, the armed services being metastable states coexisting in one and the same modulation, like a universal system of deformation. (pp. 3-4, 5)

Next, testing has provided a central goal of sustaining the hierarchy of power—“the calculation of gaps between individuals, their distribution in a given ‘population.’” [10] Testing, in effect, does not provide data for addressing the equity/achievement gap, testing has created those gaps, labeled those gaps, and marginalized those below the codified level of standard.

What tends to be ignored in the testing debate is that some people with authority determine what is taught, how that content is taught, what is tested, and how that testing is conducted. In short, all testing is biased and ultimately arbitrary in the context of who has authority.

And finally, once the gaps are created and labeled through the stratifying of students and teachers:

[I]t is the individual as he[/she] may be described, judged, measured, compared with others, in his[/her] very individuality; and it is also the individual who has to be trained or corrected, classified, normalized, excluded, etc. [11]

Poverty and Testing—Tools of the Privileged

Within the perpetual education and education reform debates, the topics of poverty and testing are central themes (poverty is no excuse, and better tests are always being promised), but we too often are missing the key elements that should be addressed in the dynamic that exists between poverty and testing.

Yes, standardized tests remain primarily reflections of social inequity that those tests make possible, labeled as “achievement gaps.”

But the central evidence we should acknowledge is that the increased focus on testing coming from the political and corporate elite is proof that those in privilege are dedicated to maintaining poverty as central to their hierarchy of authority.

Standards, testing, accountability, science, and objectivity are the new gods that the ruling class uses to keep the working-/middle-class in a state of “perpetual anxiety,” fearing the crisis of the moment and the specter of slipping into poverty—realities that insure the momentum of the status quo.

* Reposted and revised/updated from earlier publication at Truthout.

References

[1] Foucault, M. (1984). The Foucault reader. Ed. P. Rabinow. New York: Pantheon Books. See Foucault’s discussion of “perpetual anxiety” (p. 144) in “The Birth of the Asylum” from Madness and Civilization.

[2] Ibid., p. 177.

[3] Ibid., p. 170.

[4] Ibid., p. 189.

[5] Ibid., p. 195.

[6] Ibid., p. 197.

[7] Ibid., p. 198.

[8] Ibid., p. 199.

[9] Ibid., p. 200.

[10] Ibid., p. 202.

[11] Ibid., p. 203.

Conservative Leadership Poor Stewardship of Public Funds

In South Carolina and across the U.S., conservative leadership of education reform has failed to fulfill a foundational commitment to traditional values, good stewardship of public funds. [1]

The evidence of that failed stewardship is best exposed in commitments to three education reform policies: Adopting and implementing Common Core State Standards (CCSS), designing and implementing new tests based on CCSS, and proposing and field-testing revised teacher evaluations based on value-added models (VAM).

SC committed a tremendous amount of time and public funding to the accountability movement thirty years ago as one of the first states to implement state standards and high-stakes testing. After three decades of accountability, SC, like every other state in the union, has declared education still lacking and thus once again proposes a new round of education reform primarily focusing on, yet again, accountability, standards, and high-stakes testing.

Several aspects of committing to CCSS, new high-stakes tests, and teacher evaluation reform that are almost absent from the political and public debate are needs and cost/benefit analyses of these policies.

More of the Same Failed Policies?

If thirty years of accountability has failed, why is more of the same the next course of reform? If thirty years of accountability has failed, shouldn’t SC and other states first clearly establish what the problems and goals of education are before committing to any policies aimed at solving those problems or meeting those goals?

Neither of these questions have been adequately addressed, yet conservative political leadership is racing to commit a tremendous amount of public funding and public workers’ time to CCSS, an increase in high-stakes testing never experienced by any school system, and teacher evaluations proposals based on discredited test-based metrics.

Just as private corporations have reaped the rewards of tax dollars in SC during the multiple revisions of our accountability system, moving through at least three versions of tests and a maze of reformed state standards, the only guaranteed outcomes of commitments to CCSS, new tests, and reformed teacher evaluations are profits for textbook companies, test designers, and private consultants—all of whom have already begun cashing in on branding materials with CCSS and the yet-to-be designed high-stakes tests that will eventually be implemented twice a year in every class taught in the state.

SC as a state and as an education system is burdened by one undeniable major problem, inequity of opportunities in society and in schools spurred by poverty.

Numerous studies in recent years have shown that schools across the U.S. tend to reflect and perpetuate inequity; thus, children born into impoverished homes and communities are disproportionately attending schools struggling against and mirroring the consequences of poverty.

Commitments in SC to CCSS, new high-stakes tests, and reforming teacher evaluations based in large part on those new tests are at their core poor stewardship of public funding in a state that has many more pressing issues needing the support of state government.

A further problem with conservative leadership endorsing these education reforms is that much of the motivation for CCSS, new test, and reforming teacher evaluations comes from funding mandates by the federal government.

Misguided education reform is not only a blow to conservative economics but also a snub to traditional trust in local government over federal control.

Recently, as well, a special issue on VAM from Education Policy Analysis Archives (EPAA) includes two analyses that should give policy makers in SC and all states key financial reasons to pause if not halt commitments to education reform based on student test scores—the potential for legal action from a variety of stakeholders in education.

Baker, Oluwole, and Green explain: “Overly prescriptive, rigid teacher evaluation mandates, in our view, are likely to open the floodgates to new litigation over teacher due process rights. This is likely despite the fact that much of the policy impetus behind these new evaluation systems is the reduction of legal hassles involved in terminating ineffective teachers.”

Further, Pullin warns: “For public policymakers, there are strong reasons to suggest that high-stakes implementation of VAM is, at best, premature and, as a result, the potential for successful legal challenge to its use is high. The use of VAM as a policy tool for meaningful education improvement has considerable limitations, whether or not some judges might consider it legally defensible.”

Do schools across SC need education reform? Yes, just as social policy in the state needs to address poverty as a key mechanism for supporting those schools once they are reformed.

But in a state driven by traditional values and conservative political leadership, current commitments to CCSS, new high-stakes tests, and reforming teacher evaluations are neither educationally sound nor conservative.

[1] Expanded version of Op-Ed published in The State (Columbia, SC), March 8, 2013: “Conservatives poor stewards of education funds”