Thursday, October 8, 2009

It's Good to be Paul Reville

Our Secretary of Education leads quite a charmed existence. With the noise of a mayoral and Senatorial election, there's the hope that the citizens of the Commonwealth could forget the fact that Paul Reville has sought to buy media favor for his boss on the back of public education. Remember, Paul Reville overrode repeated decisions by boards of education professionals, forcing a poorly planned charter school on Gloucester. The reason for his decision to move $2.1 million away from elected city officials to an unaccountable council? To make the Boston Globe like his boss more (seriously, that was stated reason in a leaked email). Oh, and to a please some bunch of people who publicize pro-charter pamphlets that masquerade as studies. Let's repeat the Mission Statement of Reville's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, according to the Secretary himself:

Show some sympathy in this group of charters or we'll get permanently labeled as hostile and they will cripple us with a number of key moderate allies like the Globe and the Boston Foundation.
Had this been the approach to a hospital or nursing home, he'd be gone. But since it's just a school, Reville can report his comfort with the decision and his future prospects:

In an interview with the News Service, Reville said the recent flap – news reports outlined an email he sent in February appearing to advocate for the approval of a Gloucester charter school for political reasons – would not compromise his ability to promote Gov. Deval Patrick’s education agenda.

Oh, and if you disagree with anything Reville does, you're declaring "war" on him:

We’ve got wars on whether it’s English language or charter schools ... I do think we’re in danger right now of considerably losing public respect through our internecine war here.

So, he's been apparently promised that his job is safe no matter what he does, but any disagreement equals "war". There's something about doctorates in education that seems to blow up egos. Well, this combination of safe harbor and delusion may have driven Reville's latest move which will only serve to handicap public education further -- a decision to essentially classify most standardized test questions.

The whole idea is that standardized tests inform people of a school's strengths and weaknesses. Using the data from the test, a school can improve on its weak points. So, Paul Reville chose the most efficient route to kneecapping public education -- he's withholding essential data from schools.

If your school's fourth graders performed significantly worse than most fourth-graders in the state, you're supposed to find out the reasons. Say your fourth-graders did poorly on "number sense" questions -- well, the idea of accountability is that you study these questions and the answers to fix the mistakes, or you pay the price.

Except now Reville, and his well-connected New Hampshire friends who make big money off this test, refuse to release almost all the test questions. If most sixth graders in your local school miss question #34 on the MCAS, schools probably won't be able to find out what the question was, or what the correct and incorrect answers are. Measured Progress, Incorporated knows, but they and Reville refuse to give local teachers the tools to correct this. So next year, when question #34 is repeated as question #37, Reville and company can use this as an argument that public schools can't do their job -- they whiffed on the same question repeatedly! Nevermind that teachers never learn what question this is, and have to trust Measured Progress, Inc. with education the way we trust Diebold with elections -- all this means is more charter schools are needed!

(I should mention in balance that this sudden decision was announced in the name of saving money. Apparently, this privatization model means that Massachusetts has to pay private incorporated entities a lot of money to write math problems.)

So, in between playing politics with charter schools, Reville is spearheading a drive to handicap silly teachers who are trying to...improve their teaching. You know, the whole stated goal behind the "Test Every Child" movement. Perhaps if he gets another job guarantee form Deval Patrick, Reville can skip the whole logistical mess of actually testing children, and just issue test scores and lists of failing schools.

Don't forget -- "education reform" means that teachers are accountable and the Secretary of Education is not.

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