This Week’s Orwell Awards

Every week, various individuals pushing the education reform agenda attempt to twist and bend the truth in ways that would make Big Brother blush. Last week, though, saw a surge in doublespeak like we’ve never seen before. Here are three contestants for this week’s Orwell awards. Who is the most deserving?

President Obama

Las week, the White House issued a “Testing Action Plan” to address the issue of over-testing. It’s going to address the problems of over-testing and make sure that our students only take meaningful and valuable tests. Sure it is.

As Peter Greene writes, not only did we go through the same exercise last year, but the document doesn’t actually make any constructive changes:

“…before you get excited about the administration taking “some” blame for the testing mess, please notice what they think their mistake was– not telling states specifically enough what they were supposed to do. They provided states with flexibility when they should have provided hard and fast crystal clear commands directions for what they were supposed to do.”

And of course, as The Perdido Street School Blog notes,

“So long as teachers and schools are rated based upon test scores, the “cap” on testing time the Obama administration educrats talk about is meaningless.  . . . With such a test-centric environment (one that was absolutely encouraged by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program and their NCLB waiver system), the Obama educrats can call for a cap on testing time all they want – nothing about the system will change so long as the scores are used to fire teachers and close schools.

Plus, the fact that Cuomo is lauding Obama’s announcement tells you everything you need to know. And speak of the devil, contestant #2 is…

Andrew Cuomo

In fairness, Cuomo has to share the spot with NYSED Commissioner Elia. We (and many others) have already talked about the fact that the Common Core Task Force is a farce. But Elia is attempting to bring farce to a whole new level with the Ed Department’s Common Core survey. In order to give feedback, you must click on each individual standard that you want to comment on. It is cumbersome and difficult and was clearly designed by people who are either completely clueless or who are actively trying to discourage participation. But what’s most glaring is what’s missing.

When people raise concerns about the Common Core, they may point to individual standards as examples, but they are generally talking about the big picture. This survey does not allow comments that address the standards in totality, and that is by design. NYSED is refusing to consider a major overhaul of the standards, regardless of what anyone thinks. So, it’s just a dog and pony show that is designed to accomplish nothing but provide a distraction in the hopes of stemming the tide of opt-outs.  So is the Cuomo/Elia team our Orwell prize winner? Nah, they don’t hold a candle to #3:

Michael Petrelli

The latest NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores are to be released this week, and there are rumors that they are going to show a drop in student performance.

If that happens, common sense would dictate that we should look at what’s been going on in education and ask if, possibly, things like the adoption of common core, the emphasis on testing, new teacher evaluations, more privatization, etc, might be having the negative impact that teachers have been saying that they would.

Sorry. Apparently, common sense has no place in this discussion, for Michael Petrelli, president of the reformy Thomas B. Fordham Institute has the answer; quoting Bill Clinton, he claims, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Failing to acknowledge even the possibility that reforms might be doing some harm, he writes,

“While those of us in education reform are working hard to make sure that demography does not equal destiny, we must also acknowledge the strong link between students’ socioeconomic status and their academic achievement (a link that some amazing schools are weakening).”

This is a level of hypocrisy unparalleled even in the land of education deformers.

In the past, when teachers and (actual) education experts have pointed out that socioeconomic status is the primary factor in student success on standardized tests, we’ve been accused of making excuses or punishing children with the tyranny of low expectations. But as soon as they need a scapegoat to explain why Common Core and the endless testing regime aren’t the miracle elixir they promised, economic status suddenly explains everything.

Keep in mind, of course, that this is the magic Common Core that was supposed to rescue students from “failing schools” and cure poverty, but somehow it can’t even stand up to an economic downturn. Besides, as Liana Heitin points out on Ed Week’s Curriculum Matters blog, Petrelli is fudging the data. He’s using data spanning from 2006 to 2014 to show that families have been hit hard by the economy, but the recession ended in 2009 and the scores being released this week are rumored to show a decline versus 2013, which does not include the downturn.

The bottom line is that a decline in scores does not prove that the reforms are hurting any more than an increase would prove they’re working. There are just too many factors involved to use a single data point in that manner. But it is very telling that reformers are constantly falling over themselves to explain why, after years of test and punish, the very people who insist that data is king have nothing to show for themselves.

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