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Thompson: Why Reformers Are Being Beaten Up by Teachers

The corporate school reform movement has always been built around a clear and united public relations strategy. It's been a one-two punch. Reform is a civil rights revolution to create schools with “High Expectations!” that overcome the legacies of poverty. Test-driven accountability is necessary to overcome teachers’ low expectations.

During the high tide of corporate reform in 2010, their scorched earth public relations campaign against teachers and unions was doubly effective because they all sang from the same hymnal. Since then, however, reformers’ failures to improve schools have been accompanied by political defeat after defeat. Now they are on the same page with a kinder, gentler message.

Now, the most public message is that a toxic testing culture has mysteriously appeared in schools. As the Center for American Progress, in Testing Overload in America's Schools, recently admitted “a culture has arisen in some states and districts that places a premium on testing over learning.” So, the reformers who made that culture of test prep inevitable now want to listen to teachers, and create a humane testing culture.

As Alexander Russo recently reported, in Why Think Tankers Hate the Vergara Strategy, some indicate  that the Vergara campaign against teachers’ legal rights is a dubious approach. I’m also struck by the number of reformers, who complain about unions’ financial and political power, and who seem to by crying that We Reformers Are Being Beaten Up by Teachers.

Yes! Reformers Are Being Beaten Up by Teachers!

I communicate with a lot of individual reformers who agree that test-driven accountability has failed, but they can’t yet visualize an accountability system that could satisfy their reform coalition and teachers. I repeatedly hear the pained protest that, Testing Isn’t Going Away.

So, what alternative do we have?

Talk about Low Expectations! Are they saying that a democracy can’t prosper without test and punish imposed from on high? Do they believe that families and students are just as feckless as teachers, and none of us will teach and learn without reward and punish regimes that toughen us up for economic combat in the global marketplace?

Or, are they afraid to question the Billionaires Boys Clubs’ assumption that testing must drive school improvement? Are they admitting that corporate reform is driven by the egos of the corporate elites, and, if schools repudiate testing, they will stop showering money on reform and go back to their yachts?

Regardless, as Diane Ravitch explains, now is the time to redouble our efforts to kill the testing vampire. If President Obama, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates and, even, the neo-liberal CAP are sincere in seeking humane and engaging instruction for all, not just their favored selective schools, obvious solutions are on the table. A five year moratorium on high-stakes tests imposed on individuals could bring us together. (Charters or people who want to impose stakes on tests for their own children could be free to follow their passion, just as long as they don’t impose drill and kill on others.)

Equally obvious for holding schools and systems accountable is the proposal by Bill Clinton to reduce testing of each student to once in elementary, middle and high school. Even better we could limit assessments for accountability purposes to samples of students. I can’t say that I fully grasp what Linda Darling Hammond is proposing, but she has proven herself to be a wise policy analyst, and I would be open to her ideas. The only new idea for reducing testing that I completely reject is liberating teachers from highstakes testing and then doubling down on highstakes testing for students.

But, if reformers continue to refuse to respect our judgments, we teachers will continue to beat up on them.- JT(@drjohnthompson)


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Presumably all these people are deriving financial remuneration from some "reform"-supporting backer, so they can hardly speak up in opposition to the most deeply held principles of the "reform" sector.

(I know they all claim that saying this is part of the "Goliath" critics of "reform" beating up the "David" billionaire-backed "reform" foot soldiers, but I'd love to see even one publicly visible "reform" advocate cited who's not reaping financial reward for the advocacy.)

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