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Thompson: Mixed Messages For Teachers From Fordham

Flickr hey rocker angry starPolicy theorists should understand the destructive force of mixed messages.  Often, the only contact that wonks have with schools is conferences with top administrators, who are on their best behavior and claiming to embrace standards-based instruction, not mandating bubble-in malpractice.

Perhaps these top-level bureaucrats really believe that teach-to-the-test isn't being imposed, or perhaps they have learned to stay on message when they are with polite company.  In reality, however, teachers have been coerced into primitive basic skills instruction.

Now, teachers are told to turn on a dime and teach the opposite - Common Core college readiness standards. Students are told, never mind, forget all the drill and kill that has been imposed during your school career, and instantly read, think, and take tests in brand new ways.

A successful transition to Common Core is inconceivable without a moratorium on stakes being imposed on schools, teachers, and students, based on primitive bubble-in test scores. But, Fordham's Victoria Sears, in The Accountability Moratorium Is Here, says that an explicit moratorium is unnecessary because "Punitive consequences associated with accountability are largely being put on hold during the transition to Common Core." (emphasis is Sears's) This statement is based on conversations with administrators in five states - so it must be true!

Sear writes that policymakers are planning to "pause the consequences" associated Common Core. She says that "Proponents of this tempered approach stress that it is simply smart implementation." According to Sears, top reformers in New York and Colorado sound like Randi Weingarten, Diane Ravitch, and scholarly opponents of value-added evaluations, "They emphasize the difficulty of gauging student learning and calculating learning gains as assessments change from one year to the next, and they contend that until the new assessments can be validated, it’s unfair to base teacher and school evaluations on state standardized-test data."

So, school leaders are told that it would be unfair to use these new tests unfairly.  Teacher should just have faith in administratrators who are told to use those assessments to punish, but to not do so unfairly.

Guess who also opposes mixed messages?  Education Week's Alyson Klein, in Duncan Allows Waiver States Extra Time on Evaluations, reports that the Education Trust opposes California's delay in attaching consequences to new tests because, "The department is sending harmful mixed signals...." But, in Slowing Down to Speed Up, the Trust's Kati Haycock recently wrote the opposite. She said that Randi Weingarten was mostly right in calling for a moratorium on stakes attached to Common Core tests because:

In many states, the first year of this new kind of evaluation will take place during the last year of the old state tests, which are not even remotely aligned with the new Common Core standards. At a time when we are trying to convince teachers to shift over to new standards, including a value-added or growth measure based on old tests is just plain nuts.

The most inconsistent supporters of the stay the course approach to Common Core and high-stakes testing was ridiculed by Sherman Dorn in Waiver Waver, ... Don't Tell Me [it's a moritorium]. He explains that "the Council of Chief State School Officers asked for “flexibility” – not “moratorium,” never that."

Dorn saves his best for Arne Duncan's mixed message regarding the one-year delay that he now allows for some states in implementing value-added evaluations:

We have a not-a-pause-or-a-moratorium policy that is an optional delay. But I guess according to the U.S. Department of Education, if Arne Duncan doesn’t use the P (pause) or M (moratorium) words, then states won’t pause or have a moratorium. This is sort of like the belief that if adults don’t use the word sex, then teenagers won’t engage in it. But, hey, if everyone can declare victory and get out, then we’re not quite as deep in the Big Muddy. So here’s to the not-so-subtle wordsmithing of Mr. Duncan.

The most curious thing about reformers' mixed messages in regard to education policy substance is that it contrasts so sharply with their ability to sing from the same hymnal when attacking teachers. I wonder why reformers, who are so skilled in political combat, are so confused when they deal with realities in schools.-JT(drjohnthompson) Image via Flickr.

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Fortunately, teachers aren't listening to Fordham at all.

The mixed messages serve the hired corporate advocacy industry, which uses them to continue churning out exhortations to teachers to collaborate in the bedlam, and see the crock as half full. Teachers aren't listening to any of you.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.