Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"Liveblogging" the Readiness Report

I'll be doing a more summative response to the Readiness Report (pdf) tomorrow, but for now I thought I'd "liveblog" it. That is to say, give my first impressions as I read through it. Don't know why, but consider it notes for later reactions. I usually put the relevant page numbers (as shown by Adobe, not the report) after the comments. And no, I don't always go in order...I don't read chronologically. Or if you want to skip ahead, look at "final reflections" down at the bottom.

  • I'd be happier if the decision hadn't been taken to make this part of Brand Deval. He writes the opening, gets the frontispiece quote, and ends it with his campaign slogan on the back. Not obnoxious, but definitely unnecessary.

  • A line on international comparisons mentions "Chinese Taipei". That may be how it's phrased in the original report, but I wish that the Deval Patrick Eternal Campaign would have the cojones to call the country Taiwan, or at least the Republic of China. Let the Communists freak out -- let's respect democracy in Asia.(6)

  • Good, fair opening that doesn't shy away from mentioning the success of our K-12 public education system. Doesn't keep them from using the word "crisis" twice, but at least it's not entirely dishonest. (4-5)

  • Interesting dichotomy here. This year and the next two, lots of newer teachers will be eliminated due to budget cuts. Meanwhile, 20% of experienced teachers are slated to retire in the next few years. We're gonna need a lot of teachers in about four years. Recent high school graduates, a lucrative choice beckons... (11)

  • The title "Falling Behind Internationally" suggests that things are getting worse, yet the data merely shows that we are behind the international leaders. Needless alarmism. (9)

  • Ugh. The TIMSS exam. The World Bank dismissed the integrity of this comparison years ago. (8)

  • The word "only" in the phrase "15.1% students in public K–12 schools who claim English as a second language — this number is only expected to increase over the next decade" is unnecessary. It sounds alarmist, or outright racist. (10)

  • "Imagine driving the same car your parents and grandparents drove last century.
    Imagine using the same appliances." Imagine using the same roads Mom & Dad used in 1996! Or following the same religion as your grandparents! Oh, wait...specious argument ahead. (12) There are great ways to make the modernization argument, but this isn't it.

  • "One of the biggest errors in the conception and early implementation of 1990s education reform was to think that setting high standards, creating the curriculum frameworks to achieve those standards and strengthening accountability for results would be enough." Duh. I bet heavy money plenty of people in education were telling you this back in the mid-90s. (12)

  • "We set the right goal — 'all students at proficiency.'" Anonymous Congressional staffers have admitted an understanding that this goal was in fact incorrect, but the only politically feasible one. I compare it to mandating that all patients should be able to run a 10-minute mile, or it's the doctors' fault. (13)

  • "We are off to a strong start. Over the past 18 months..." More campaign claptrap. Shut up about this crap if you want me to take you seriously. (15)

  • My God, where is he going to get the money for all this? (16)

  • Doesn't sound like a bad idea, this "Child and Youth Readiness Cabinet". Hopefully it won't be loaded down with private industry and education college types, as was this group. I've been saying for years that it's a matter of time until we end up with a "Department of Children" that merges DYS, DSS, public ed, children's health, etc. (17)

  • "Develop a comprehensive, statewide child and youth data and reporting system that will enable development of a 'Readiness Passport' for every child and youth enrolled in Massachusetts schools...the data and reporting system as well as the Readiness Passport will increase the efficiency, effectiveness and collaboration of [stakeholders]". Hahaha. The only things additional paperwork do is confuse families, frustrate students, burden staff, and give politicians something to wave in front of cameras. (18)

  • I find it insulting to read "By 2020 all Massachusetts teachers will enter schools with realistic expectations of the realities of the classroom, based on practical field experiences during their training." (19)

  • "Maintain the current MCAS graduation requirement and strengthen the system by adding complementary measures of student growth and 21st century skills. This could include a culminating, multidisciplinary senior project on a student-selected topic of interest." I have an idea...have students do this every other year or so, and kill the MCAS. That's real education, but expensive and doesn't fit easily into a spreadsheet. This plan sounds like MCAS plus, aka "find more ways to fail students, blame schools, and give our buddies in private industry more state $$". (17)

  • "Reform the state teacher certification and licensure processes as well as other teacher development policies to eliminate bureaucratic barriers" Amen!! (21)

  • Much of the teacher prep section reads as giveaways to teacher colleges...their influence on the project is showing here. Strange that one big solution is finding ways for college to take more money from aspiring teachers. (20-21)

  • The money! Oh good heavens, we'd need a casino in each house for the state to make the money he's planning on spending here! Oh...we're going to establish a Commission. (25)

  • Readiness Schools. A third kind of charter school, one that is "typically union", at the behest of apparently any small group of people. Even better, the state can force a town to open a charter "Readiness" school if it feels like it. This isn't good for local control. I love the conversation on charter schools, which goes like this: "These state regulations will make you a good school. If you aren't a good school, I mean really suck, we'll exempt you from state regulations. But we won't change 'em. Uh-huh." (27)

  • "Better align the public education system to real-world needs by analyzing and communicating the academic, skill and training needs of emerging and high-growth business and industry sectors" Good-bye art, music, citizenship... (28)

  • "a Statewide Master Teacher Contract Initiative" Right-wing union busting of the worst kind. Despite all the promises to spend money, a reminder that this report is written for a guy who worked double time to cut corporate taxes. (28)

  • "explore options for advocating for the reallocation of federal Title I and special education funds for early education and care programs." You mean that money can go elsewhere?? (28)

  • "dramatically reducing the number of school districts in the Commonwealth." What means "dramatically"? Sounds like a real state money and power grab here. (35)

Final reflections

This is first and foremost a political campaign document, not a policy document. It slanders the existing, demands the unrealizable, and promises the unattainable. Anyone can solve any problem by promising the kind of money that is outlaid in this report. For teaching colleges. For consultants. For testing companies. Money for schools. For teachers (maybe). For what would be a stunningly bloated and empowered public education bureaucracy in Boston. And on and on. Small wonder the final punch is Deval's campaign slogan. Expect this to be waved at the media far more than at state legislators.

That said, with so many omnibus initiatives, there are some good things, some bad things, and a lot of meh. I was happy not to see an over-emphasis on science and math education in this document. People hone in on these facts like zombies, forgetting that it is in creativity that America excels. We lead the world in patents, and that is the truest source of our economic strength...better ideas made better. Those are not measured in test scores, and it is by working with students in history, English Language Arts, and the fine arts that advantage is preserved. We're killing what makes America great in our attempt to imitate what makes Japan good, and I'm glad to see that isn't too reinforced in this document.

Furthermore, there's a good, clear understanding that education is a lifelong continuum, and our citizens are hurt by its division into exclusive fiefs. If I wanted one major push in education, it would be centered on creating a system that smoothly transitions from pre-K through college.

The union-busting (in the form of statewide contract, and charter schools) is disappointing. The drive to wrest local control of schools in the form of forced charter schools, "dramatic" reduction of school districts, and an increasingly byzantine system worries me as well. Such a large bureaucracy thrives on money and power.

I guess that at the end of the day this feels like a missed opportunity. There are so many little things that could make schools improve soon and quickly. I was shocked to see nothing on school administration: superintendents, curriculum supervisors, and principals. There is immense turnover here, and quality personnel is rare. Schools' ambiguous legal status in many fields is resulting in higher legal expenses, and I'm similarly disappointed that isn't addressed either. Almost nothing on family involvement, the biggest challenge to public education today. I'm sorry, but this does feel like an outsider's document.

Deval wanted a document that dreamed big, and he got it. Affordable college, widespread adult education, second-language's all great stuff! But the price tag remains such a stumbling block. This report may end up a valued resource for future discussions on education policy in this state, but it is not, nor can I conceive it ever significantly becoming, policy. Which makes it good politics.

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