As you may have noticed, we are getting swamped with messages from the corporate reformers about how it is time to restart the conversation. Presumably that is a recognition that the previous conversation wasn’t working. The American public is fed up with high-stakes testing and increasingly suspicious of the grandiose promises about the miracles that privately managed charter schools will accomplish. Having noticed that the charter schools don’t want children with disabilities, don’t want English language learners, and are likely to encourage kids with low test scores to find another school, the public is waking up to the game played by corporate charters. It’s all about the test score, which takes us back to the overuse and misuse of standardized testing. This failed conversation seems to have gotten mixed up, inevitably, with the Common Core, and the public is overwhelmingly opposed to CCSS and federal takeover of state and local decision-making.


So, in the face of a growing public resistance to their plans, we hear more and more about starting over.


In this post, Peter Greene deconstructs the latest effort to begin again, this one from the Center for Reinventing Public Education in Washington State. CRPE was founded by Paul Hill and has been an advocate for “portfolio districts” made up of charter schools, public schools, and other types of management. The basic idea of the portfolio is that district boards should act like stockbrokers, keeping the winning stocks and selling the losers. But the losers, in this case, are public schools that would be closed and replaced by charters.


The authors of the proposal that Greene dissects are our friend Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (a relentless advocate for Common Core), Paul Hill, and Robin Lake of CPRE.


As you can imagine, Greene is critical of the report, but he does see some useful issues raised. The proposal says:


States should hold schools, not individual teachers, accountable for student progress.


Hey look! Something that is, in fact, different. Not new, actually– threatening to punish just schools is what we tried under NCLB, and it didn’t work. Not to mention that we don’t know how to do it, just as we don’t know how to hold individual teachers accountable. This is no more useful than saying “Santa should lend us his naughty and nice list for accountability purposes.”


The article also provides a list of Things To Worry About While Pursuing Accountability.


How to avoid specifying outcomes so exhaustively that schools are unable to innovate and solve problems.
How to drive continuous improvement in all schools, not just the lowest-performing.
How to coordinate and limit federal, state, and district demands for data.
How to prevent cheating on tests and other outcome measures.
How to motivate students to do their best in school and on assessments.
How to give children at risk new options without causing a constant churn in their educational experience.
How to adjust measurement and accountability to innovations in instruction and technology.
This list is actually the best thing about the whole article. There is nothing remotely new about the list of Things To Do– it’s the same old, same old reformster stuff we’ve heard before.


But this list of problem areas? That’s a good piece of work, because it does in fact recognize a host of obstacles that generally go ignored and unrecognized. These are “problems” in the sense that gravity is a problem for people who want to jump naked off high buildings, flap their arms, and not get hurt. I don’t know that CRPE, given its clear focus on charters, finance, and high stakes standardized testing, has goals and objectives any different from a few dozen other reformy iterations. But the recognition of obstacles shows some grasp of reality, and that’s always a nice sign.


Greene actually sees a hopeful sign in this proposal. The writers say:


These problems are solvable, but they require serious work, not sniping among rival camps. It is time to start working through the problems of accountability, with discipline, open-mindedness, and flexibility.


“We—all the co-signers of the September 24 statement—are eager to work with others, including critics of tests and accountability. Issues of measurement, system design, and implementation must be addressed, carefully and through disciplined trials.”


And Greene responds:


I’ll accept that from a step up from, “Shut up and do as you’re told. We totally know exactly what we’re doing.” I’m not seeing much in CRPE’s ideas that represent a new direction on the issue; it’s basically reframing and repackaging. But the recognition of real-world obstacles is more than a simple shift of tone. (And there’s still the Whose Party Is This problem). But keep talking CRPE. I’m still listening.


My guess is that the September 24 statement is a recognition that parents and educators are rising up to fight the test mania that has gripped policymakers and state education departments. More and more of the public is saying: “Enough is enough! Stop the testing madness!”


In the face of the growing tide of anti-testing sentiment–which is not so much anti-testing as it is opposition to the sheer quantity of time devoted to testing, and the billions stolen from schools to fund Pearson and McGraw-Hill–the reformers are regrouping, trying to find a way to save testing and accountability from a rising public anger. I don’t think it will work. After all, a statement from CPRE is not exactly a big newsworthy deal. The public, quite rightly, will keep on protesting, the government will keep on sending billions to the testing and technology companies, and kids will still be subjected to take tests for many hours each year for no purpose other than evaluating their teachers by failed methods.