Monday, May 20, 2013

For a Polarized Debate, a Lot of People are on Both Sides

Dan Meyer has called our attention to the recent NCTM keynote by Uri Treisman:

This is the core of Treisman's critique:

So the notion was: "Let's focus on teachers as the central driver of reform and rethink how we evaluate teachers." They had the view that teachers were the single most important in-school factor in student achievement. And math people know that was just an artifact of the way they modeled the problem.

This goes well with my conclusion that Rhode Island does have a problem with math instruction and learning, but we're largely applying these intrusive unproven systemic solutions instead of investing in math instruction.

But it is worth highlighting here that Dr. Treisman is the founder and director of the Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin. The Dana Center has had a big consultant role in Rhode Island I think pretty much since Gist arrived, for example:

$2.86 million, the second largest contract so far, has been awarded to the Dana Center for an intensive review of the Common Core Standards, a set of national standards Rhode Island has pledged to adopt. The Dana Center will also look at how local districts can align their curricula to meet the new standards.

The Dana Center has been working with the State Department of Education on aligning local curricula to state standards for several years and participated in a multi-million dollar curriculum re-design in Providence. Since the district introduced its re-vamped Math and Science courses in 2009, proficiency rates on state science tests have increased from 9.4% to 16.8%. Math results have been slower to improve, but only one year of data is available.

Dr. Treisman is also on the board of The New Teacher Project, which has been reforming teaching hiring in Providence for years now with absolutely no discernible positive effect on student performance.

My point here is not to try to brand Dr. Treisman as a hypocrite or undermine his message in this keynote. What all this illustrates is the incredible institutional momentum that was created for Race to the Top. The Dana Center doesn't belong to Dr. Treisman, it is essentially a business run by UT, so yeah, it is going to follow the money and try to do what's best for kids along the way. Treisman doesn't have the option of shutting down the Center and laying off its employees if he doesn't like the direction the wind is blowing.

Maybe Dr. Treisman is a useful "critical friend" to TNTP, I don't know, I'm not saying he has any power there.

I guess what I'm trying to point out here is that this is a very pointed critique of the country's -- and Rhode Island's -- overall reform agenda by someone who should be considered one of Deb Gist's key allies when it comes to actual teaching and learning issues. Might be another sign the wind is changing.

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