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Thompson: John Merrow's Wish/Hope List for 2015

PBS’s John Merrow, in What’s Ahead in 2015?, starts with an astute observation about the watch dog who didn’t bark. Outcomes-loving Arne Duncan had just said that his predictions for the upcoming year were more, more, more and more increases in non-controversial supports and squishy targets.

Such input-driven goals were once seen as Low Expectations!, and they supposedly made tough-minded data-driven accountability necessary. Merrow notes that Duncan skipped an opportunity to address quality, not just quantity, or to take a stand as to whether students will have better classroom experiences in 2015 due to Common Core.

Rather than make predictions for the next 12 months, Merrow offered “a wish/hope list for 2015.”

Merrow wishes we could “make it harder to become a teacher but easier to be one. Right now a lot of our policies and rhetoric are making it downright unpleasant to be a teacher.”

He wishes Duncan would back away from value-added teacher evaluations, "but that’s not likely to happen. … Mr. Duncan is doubling down, not seeking common ground.”

I agree with Merrow’s next wish, although I'd emphasize a different part of his aspiration. He wishes that “the critics of testing and ‘test-based accountability’ would get together with their opponents and agree on some fair, effective and efficient ways of evaluating teachers.” Since unions have long advocated for practical policies such as peer review and the New Haven plan, the key words are “get together.” Those who seek better means of dismissing bad teachers mostly need to take “Yes” for an answer.

Merrow wishes that practice of “drill and kill” would die. He hopes that “social and emotional learning” gains public support, as he wishes for a name that doesn’t sound so “soft and squishy.”

Conversely, he wishes “that no one ever again use(s) the word ‘rigor’ when talking about education. ... Let’s agree to leave rigor where it belongs, with ‘rigor mortis’ and other harsh and unyielding stuff.”

Since Merrow expressed his uplifting wish/hope list, Duncan articulated his position on NCLB renewal.

Sadly, the Secretary of Education is continuing to double down on bubble-in test and punish, and the politics of divide and conquer. It is even more clear that Duncan will refuse to work with teachers and unions (or Republicans) on substantive policy issues, much less the issue of better evaluations.  

Even though the Duncan administration will not listen, other stakeholders should heed Merrow's wisdom in regard to top-down reform. He hopes "that Washington has now, finally, learned the fundamental lesson of NCLB, which is, simply put, 'Washington cannot run American public education.'  Many learned that during the Bush Administration, but not the Obama Administration. Those folks apparently drew a different conclusion: 'Maybe Bush can’t run public education, but we can!'   Well, they can’t." -JT (@drjohnthompson)


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