Friday, September 03, 2010

Reform Traps

One thing I've been working through here and in my mind lately is what you might call "reform traps." This is -- and follow me here -- in response to low test scores you are forced to do something that you believe to be pedagogically sound but not likely to actually raise your test scores quickly and dramatically, which is the explicit goal of the intervention.

So, for example, a friend of mine who teaches 11th grade English got an impressive bump in his student's NECAP scores last year. One of the few advantages of giving the NECAP in October (and there are many disadvantages, including increasing the perceived achievement gap compared to other states due to summer drop-off), is that the 11th grade teacher can just do six weeks of focused test prep, and then go onto the regular college prep curriculum. Based on my anecdotal supposition, I'd say a good teacher can goose the scores between 10 and 20 percent. But this year my friend will not be prepping his 11th graders, he'll be "teaching Beowulf" as required by the new "aligned" curriculum.

On one hand, I'm not Joe Test Prep, and I'm sure he'll do a good job with Beowulf, something kids should at least have a crack at. But look, this is 2010, and what's really happening is the school is being told to compete with one hand tied behind its back if it really follows the mandated curriculum. There is no reason, at this point, to act like this test is not central to the life of the school -- it is one of only two tests which will, starting with this class, determine if they can graduate, determine if the school stays open and, increasingly, whether the they can progress in their career, get a bonus, or simply keep their jobs. Not directly confronting this feels like a big charade. A reform trap.

Hiring Brearn Wright -- reform trap.

My reaction to the turnaround measure's at Alice Mercer's school -- reform trap.

Of course, I hope all of the above actually work out, because, again, they are things I fundamentally agree with, but ultimately it feels like we're just playing a very baroque rigged game.

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