Thursday, October 30, 2014

By the pricking of my thumbs another mandate this ways comes…



Today’s “Education Reform” environment is beginning to bear a definite resemblance to a Shakespearean tragedy. Antagonists and protagonists square off each with their own agendas and motivations. Backroom deals are made and bargains struck with extreme hubris and certitude of righteousness displayed on the part of those in power. The opinions and concerns of those in the trenches are disregarded as the power elite propagate their own agenda. That agenda with its focus on standardized, centralized, top-down mandate driven school reform and accountability driven by high stakes tests is ripping our public education system apart with an ever growing number of people involved in talking at, rather than to, each other. Every time we think that maybe, just maybe, those in charge of making state and federal policy are beginning to listen, something happens that disabuses us of that notion. This most recent proposed “initiative” is no different.  

Recent events have seen educators, parents and communities expressing their concern with the extreme emphasis on high stakes standardized tests as the primary metric to determine student achievement and teacher effectiveness. One might wonder how the policy makers have responded to those concerns. The following is one example. On October 20, 2014 the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released “a set of Design Principles for a re-imagined licensure system.” In the spirit of transparency and collaboration the department scheduled several regional “Town Hall” forums the first being on October 21, 2014. However, even if we were aware of the forum that was held here in Western Mass, those of us here in the Springfield area had less than 24 hours to arrange our schedule to attend.  This “re-imagined” system seeks to tie teacher evaluations and licensure directly to students’ test scores. This initiative demonstrates how those creating educational policy in our country are completely disconnected from those of us forced to implement those policies. Not only did they not listen to the concerns expressed by stakeholders, they are seeking to INCREASE the high stakes nature of those very tests.

There are elements of the new Teacher Evaluation Instrument in Massachusetts that I find beneficial to formulating strong instructional practices in our schools. While, like many of the current reform initiatives, there is an over reliance on bureaucratic paperwork and reporting requirements, many of the changes created by this initiative have had a positive impact in our schools. The reduction of the need for formal observations commonly referred to by many educators as the “dog and pony show” has led to more authentic observations and feedback. Increased emphasis on engaging in a professional dialogue, goal setting and meaningful professional development facilitated by the evaluation process will lead to stronger teaching in our schools. However, those positive changes are now in danger as teachers must worry that their evaluations and the standardized test scores of their students will determine whether they keep their professional license. This will have a chilling effect on discourse around professional improvement and lead once again to teacher evaluation being viewed as adversarial rather than a collaborative process for professional growth.

Furthermore, as I articulated in a previous post, our students’ performance on standardized tests directly correlates to the poverty level of those schools. Were this system to be put into place it would be even more difficult to get qualified teachers to serve our poorer communities. Why would they risk losing their license? They would be safer working in a more affluent community. This proposal also penalizes teachers who work with struggling learners, be they special needs or English Language Learners. Working with those students who traditionally demonstrate less growth and lower achievement will also place those teachers’’ licenses at greater risk. The end result will be a further narrowing of the curriculum to focus on the test as teachers take every action possible to ensure that they do not lose their license.


It is time to stand up and be heard. I urge you to contact the Massachusetts Department of Education and weigh in on these new proposals. The time to speak up is now before a final decision is made and new mandates imposed upon us.  I have attached the notice from the DESE regarding this initiative following this post. Education Secretary Arne Duncan himself called the U.S. performance on the 2012 PISA tests “a picture of educational stagnation.” The scores of our students have not changed appreciably from the time of that test’s inception in 2000.  So, that being the case, why are we busy implementing more of the same policies that have led to that very stagnation? We can only hope that this time the hubris involved in this initiative will cause the downfall of this movement and allow for productive conversations of all stakeholders to propagate lasting, necessary, productive change. 

MA Licensure Policy Options Packet