After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Reform by Andrea Gabor

2. Testing Power: When Is Disruption Just…Disruptive?

  • The chapter continues the story of how New York City and New York State did a number of things that prevented meaningful reforms. The idea that business expertise would trump education know-how was common. Joel Klein became Michael Bloomberg’s long-serving chancellor and had no education experience. While they gave principals increased autonomy, they expected increased accountability in the form of standardized tests that were also pushed by the federal government. The story of one successful school, Global Tech, is told throughout as an example of how the bureaucracy triumphed over real school improvement.
  • Digital technology was emphasized over the work of teachers. Kindergartens changed so as to feature testing and little play. Schools that connected with other schools and organizations tended to be more successful. Creative budgeting helped but was snuffed out by central office. To make things worse, New York adopted the Common Core Standards and new tests that were not well aligned. This was widely acknowledged as one of the state’s “biggest education fiascoes.” To get more federal funding, New York also used test scores to evaluate teachers. Since the testing company wouldn’t allow past tests to be distributed there was no transparency and no pedagogical value.
  • After Klein left Bloomberg appointed Cathy Black, the chair of Hearst Magazines in 2011. This non-educator only lasted three months. When Bill De Blasio was elected mayor in 2013, he appointed Carmen Fariña as the chancellor who felt that small schools didn’t make sense as the tended to cost more. Andrea sees her efforts as another blow to progressive education. Under Fariña and De Blasio, the pendulum swung towards bureaucratic control and compliance and away from the small-school renaissance of the progressive era. With more layers of bureaucracy, there were more jobs for cronies who were generally not accomplished.

3. State of Reform: The Not-So-Quiet Revolution in Massachusetts

  • In 1993, the Massachusetts Education Reform Act was passed. It featured a democratic reform process that made it the highest performing state. Funds were redistributed progressively so that poor schools got more. Here the focus is also on a successful school (Brockton) that is under attack from recent reforms. Starting in 1993 its homegrown effort included everyone and made it one of the top performers in the state. It showed that real reform is years-long, steady-as-she-goes, and teacher driven.
  • At the heart of Brockton’s success was the idea that everyone was a reading teacher, even the PE teachers. The fact that the tests were open allowed for post-test analysis that informed the next steps. Faculty meetings focused on literary strategy. They also had strong local leadership. Unfortunately, Massachusetts also applied for and won Race to The Top funds, which ushered in the undemocratic Common Core, new tests, punitive teacher evaluations, and more charter schools. Top-down change now permeates the atmosphere that seems to be directed at undermining public schools and promoting charters that are ill-equipped to deal with students who have disabilities and English Language Learners. Like elsewhere, you can blame politics and big money sources like the Gates foundation.
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