Children and Literacy Be Damned

Education Trust, and its Midwest component, is at it again.  This Gates backed foundation just released a report pointing out that “the trajectory” of Michigan’s education system has Michigan headed to a state ranking of 44th in the country in 4th grade reading by 2030.  In an article on this report, the Detroit News fails to write where the state of Michigan is in the year 2015, but I guess that is much less newsworthy, though it would (at least seemingly accurately) show our present condition.

However, to do so would be to undermine the true purpose of these reports.

The fact of the matter is that these reports put out by Education Trust are not meant to be accurate representations of the current state of education. They are meant to raise alarms and to paint our schools as failing.  

But, before going there, let’s take a closer look at this supposed reading issue. In “Beware Grade Level Reading”and the Cult of Proficiency,” Paul Thomas points out that standardized testing necessarily limits what we mean by “reading.” Thus, the “data” that Midwest Education Trust uses for its report has already bastardized the real life experience and purposes of actual reading.

“…advocating that all students must read at grade level—often defined as reading proficiency—rarely acknowledges the foundational problems with those goals: identifying text by a formula claiming ‘grade level”’and then identifying children as readers by association with those readability formulas…While all this seems quite scientific and manageable, I must call hokum—the sort of technocratic hokum that daily ruins children as readers, under-prepares children as literate and autonomous humans, and further erodes literacy as mostly testable literacy.”

And Thomas raises the necessary question too often unasked in the use of such faulty data:

Who benefits from the use of such data?

We get some hints when we look at Education Midwest’s call for “accountability.” The report reads, “If we’re going to hold our students accountable for reading by third grade, the state must hold adults accountable for doing everything they can to get them there. Leading states like Tennessee and Massachusetts have shown that a key to real reform is ensuring that teachers and principals are held accountable for their students’ academic success. This means creating an accountability and assessment system that can accurately measure student performance and growth in reading and giving schools the support – and accountability – they need to raise levels of reading performance.”

“Systems of accountability” means “systems” that are tied to high-stakes testing. And, as Thomas has pointed out, “accurate” in this case leaves much latitude. These simply represent more of the same failed policies (see the response to these in the current opt-out revolution) that necessarily remove teacher voice and professionalism from the process.

As Thomas puts it, “This narrow and inadequate view of text and reading (and readers) serves authoritarian approaches to teaching and mechanistic structures of testing, and more broadly, reducing text and reading to mere technical matters serves mostly goals of surveillance and control.”  That’s what is meant by “accountability,” surveillance and control.

This surveillance and control is necessary whenever change is being implemented from the top down.  And top down change just doesn’t work, for a variety of reasons, but most importantly here because the voices of actual educators, people like Phd. and reading expert Paul Thomas, are not included in the change. Actual educators who actually are professionals are ignored while those who speak for corporate interests are heard.

In her expose of Education Trust and its founder, Katy Haycock, Mercedes Schneider writes,

“She (Haycock) has become ‘the system.’ Given her continued push for top-down, test-driven pressure on states to ‘prove’ a papier-mache form of ‘equality of opportunity’ via ever-elusive, gap-closing test scores, it seems that Haycock is unaware of her role in perpetrating a failing system.

Test score worship cannot create equality of opportunity. It can only sabotage.

In that 1990 article, Haycock asks this question:

How do you design a wonderful, model curriculum and make sure all schools implement it?

The problem is with the question. The idea of ‘making’ schools implement curriculum designed by some ‘you’ is top-down.

Change absent ‘bottom-up’ investment is not genuine change and will never succeed for that reason.”

So here we have Education Trust Midwest pushing the same old, top-down, “achievement data,””accountability” system that has been tried and has failed, failed absolutely. It continues to push an agenda at the expense of children, for the benefit of corporate profit.  Education Midwest triumphs Florida as a state leading this accountability effort.  How is this working, and who does it benefit there?  In Florida, according to a telling new article, Corporate Interests Pay to Play to Shape Education Policy, Reap Profits“:

“FEE staff sought legislation that would count the state test, known as FCAT, as more than 50% of the state’s school accountability measure. FEE staffer Patricia Levesque wrote to a state official that she had negotiated the related language with state legislators, who were now ‘asking for the following which, the Foundation completely supports: FCAT shall be ‘at least 50%, but no more than 60%’ of a high school’s grade.’ Pearson, the company that holds the $250 million FCAT contract and sponsors FEE through its foundation, has an obvious financial stake in ensuring that FCAT continues to be at the center of Florida’s education system.” (Emphasis added)

Read the whole article, it’s important in showing who profits from these “systems of accountability.”

Again, we know the formula. Decry schools as failing, defund them, then privatize them. As Noam Chomsky puts it in regards to the commons,

“… if you can defund it, it won’t be in good shape. And there is a standard technique of privatization, namely defund what you want to privatize. Like when Thatcher wanted to defund the railroads, first thing to do is defund them, then they don’t work and people get angry and they want a change. You say okay, privatize them and then they get worse. In that case the government had to step in and rescue it.

That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.”

So public education funding continues to decline, and now we need evidence, as faulty as it may be, that education is failing. Thank you Education Trust. With this formula firmly established, all continues to ripen for profit.

Actual evidence is irrelevant.

Thomas makes this clear.

“Thus, alas, there is simply no reading crisis and no urgency to have students on grade level, by third or any grade.

The cult of proficiency and grade-level reading is simply the lingering “cult of efficiency” that plagues formal education in the U.S.—quantification for quantification’s sake, children and literacy be damned.”

The Detroit News opinion on this report ends with these disheartening lines.

“Lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder have begun some of this work, but the education establishment is still wasting time fighting over essential and inevitable reforms. Michigan is in an education free-fall, and cannot afford further delays in fixing its schools.”

I guess I am just wasting time in asking that people consider education from the perspective of evidence that is actually related to learning rather than falsity of the privilege that comes wrapped in the language of “achievement.”

I guess that corporate interests will rule, children and literacy be damned.

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