I voted for Barack Obama, and I’m still a supporter, but I’m growing more and more doubtful that things are going to change much from an education perspective any time soon in terms of leadership from above. This post “Is Arne Duncan Really Margaret Spellings in Drag?” by Diane Ravitch in Bridging Differences (a blog every educator should be reading, btw) coupled with a slew of articles like this one titled “Utah to buy education technology with stimulus funding” from The Salt Lake Tribune are pretty telling not only in where the conversation about education remains but the total lack of vision on the part of those making the decisions.
In the Ravitch post, she writes:
It turns out that Duncan, like the Bush administration, adores testing, charter schools, merit pay, and entrepreneurs. Part of the stimulus money, he told Sam Dillon of The New York Times, will be used so that states can develop data systems, which will enable them to tie individual student test scores to individual teachers, greasing the way for merit pay.
And it’s telling that in the lede to the piece from Salt Lake, we get that assessment piece again.
Utah will use some of its federal stimulus money to pay for high-tech teaching software and new computer labs in Utah’s poorest schools as part of an effort to use new technologies to boost test scores.
I mean, how sad is that line when you really think of it. “Boost test scores?” Heck, we can do that in a nanosecond by making the questions easier, if that’s all that matters. (Read the comments if you really want to get depressed.) Sure, spending all that money, in Utah’s case about $500 million, on computers and assessments and other goodies may do something to boost the economy, but it will in no way “virtually reinvent the schools” as state superintendent Patti Harrington suggests. Even the poor ones. That actually takes some vision and some practical understanding of the world as it is, not as it was.
You want to make the most of the stimulus? Invest it in getting teachers and students connected, and in professional development that goes far, far beyond the one-day Powerpoint workshops many are mired in to something that focuses on how learning changes in a networked world. One that helps teachers see the world differently and helps them re-envision their classroom practice. I mean how many of the people in charge would even begin to understand this statement from Kathleen Blake Yancey in the new NCTE report on Writing in the 21st Century?
First, we have moved beyond a pyramid-like, sequential model of literacy development in which print literacy comes first and digital literacy comes second and networked literacy practices, if they come at all, come third and last…perhaps as never before, learning to write is a lifelong process.
I can’t imaging that Arne Duncan or Patti Harrington or most decision makers would have any sense of what that shift represents in terms of curriculum and instruction, and their brains would implode should they try to figure out how to use common assessments to measure those literacies. Frankly, I’ve yet to find anyone at the state level anywhere who has a footprint that would suggest writing literacy at the level NCTE is discussing right now. Call me a snob.
So, you want to use the education piece of the stimulus to boost the economy? By all means, keep your brain in the box. But if you really want to use that money to improve learning, use it to help the teachers in the schools understand how to help the kids in the classrooms become the readers and writers and mathematicians and scientists that will flourish in a networked world.