It’s been a volatile year in public education. Locally, two major reformers hired from out of state to put Nevada’s schools on the academic straight and narrow both suddenly resigned. And nationally, the corporate-based reform movement has started falling apart.
Beginning in 2002 with the misnamed No Child Left Behind law, the education reform movement has done little more than cover its own incompetent ass with new reform (Race to the Top) after new reform (Common Core Standards). So much so that the real education of our children has been derailed in the name of testing, testing and even more testing. Subsequently, those laboring in public education have been left behind, in 2013, in a hall of mirrors, trying to figure out what is real and what isn’t anymore.
In March 2012, self-proclaimed reformer James Guthrie was named Nevada’s superintendent of schools by Gov. Sandoval. He lasted one year, resigning in March. But he changed virtually nothing substantial, though he touted the empty reformist rhetoric about merit pay for the top 10 percent of teachers (for which there is no valid measuring device), which would have cost taxpayers an extra $200 million per year. Something which Sandoval apparently wasn’t comfortable contemplating. Hence, the parting of ways.
Ironically, having once served as executive director on a famous study at Vanderbilt University that revealed such incentive pay for teachers does little to improve student achievement, Guthrie, now a merit pay proponent, has distanced himself from that study. He says it was “naively conducted.” Evidently his reported $125,785 annual salary here wasn’t enough incentive for him to tough it out and make a difference for our kids.
Also in March, Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones quit, two years into a four-year contract, “with more of his reforms in shambles than in action,” according to the Review-Journal. However, the full explanation behind his swift departure, according to district insiders, seems to have so far eluded public scrutiny.
Outside Nevada, during the past few years cheating scandals (in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C.) have plagued the reform movement. Thus it was no surprise when, this March, 35 educators in Atlanta, including former National Superintendent of the Year, Beverly Hall, were indicted by a grand jury for rampant cheating.
As if the wacky reformists didn’t already have enough problems, recently across the nation, school administrators and politicians have begun rebelling against the movement’s latest debacle: the Common Core Standards (adopted in 45 states, including Nevada). It is a questionable program that puts all kids in all schools on the same page in core subjects such as math and English, at the same time.
Of this practice, New York State’s 2010 Principal of the Year, Carol Burris, has said: “I was naïve [about Common Core]. The standards, as they are being implemented, are potentially harmful to students.”
According to the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss, these standards, suspiciously funded with $150 million from Bill Gates, have been developed and promoted, without being field-tested, by the National Governors Association, a private organization.
Last month, Indiana, which has used Common Core standards, became the first state to take legislative action to halt them. Reportedly, 15 other states — but not Nevada — are considering similar moves.
Yes, volatile is the operative word for education in 2013. Perhaps next year all hell will break loose.
CHIP MOSHER is a simple classroom teacher.