Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Market Price

An article in The Wall Street Journal reporting on recent speeches given by President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan notes a plan that seems as blind to the causes of the financial crisis as irreverent to the effects it would have on education.

Some may doubt the Obama administration's belief in market forces in other areas, but Mr. Duncan clearly believes those forces can work to his benefit in pushing change in education. He is taking $5 billion of that stimulus money and establishing a Race to the Top Fund that will go to states that show they have both a record and a plan to push the kinds of changes the Obama administration seeks.

But only a "limited number" of states will get funding, Mr. Duncan says, and they will have to compete to win grants. "We're going to work hard with states, but they're going to have to work with us on reform," he says. "The federal government has never had $5 billion to fund excellence....This isn't rhetoric. This is billions of dollars that are at stake." (Gerald F. Seib, reporting for WSJ)

Now, I'm no economist, but market forces seemed to play upon the the lowest natures of humankind. I may be an idealist in thinking that education, especially K-12 plays upon some of the noblest aspirations of people. And call me a cynic, but I am appalled at the idea that government will play a game of carrots (after 8 years of a playing a game of sticks) with school's in the U.S. Can we expect that greed and corruption will not overtake education till we have teacher who care less about fostering the growth of a child and more about boosting scores on a test report (for the margin of profit in paycheck)?

Yes, we need standards, but we need less, not more of standardized testing. I've already seen the loss of more than 180 curricular days go to testing by the time a student graduates high school he or she has missed a full year of hands-on participation in learning staring at bubble sheets and inauthentic writing prompts.

Of course, test scores have gone up over the past two decades. We are reluctantly teaching to the test. It's easier to do, when the testing cartels are lobbying their white-papers to politicians who want a simplified message to wave before the electorate. Teachers are busy professionals with little lobbying power compared to big business of test manufacture. As standardized tests and curriculum to prepare students for them become the main, the professionalism of teachers will become as perfunctory as that of clerks.

If I wanted to games of risk, I would have lost my shirt in Wall Street already. Now, with more than 15 years ahead of me in teaching, I wonder if I will loose my mind (and those of my students).