“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
-Albert Einstein (attributed)
If I crash my car right into a wall, the worst thing to do would be to get into another car and crash it right into the same wall!
But that’s what the Pittsburgh Post Gazette thinks city school administrators should do.
And the editorial board of the city’s largest remaining newspaper says this means administrators should stay the course – indeed, double down on test prep and uniformity.
“In fact, analysis of student achievement trends shows little to no improvements since 2007,” the report went on. “Although some scores went up and others went down over the period, achievement gaps are about the same — if not wider — than they were when the work started.”
You would think this would be a scathing indictment of administrators during this time who focused on test prep and uniformity to the exclusion of more student-centered reforms. In particular, during the same time covered in the report, administrators paid for new curriculum designed to standardize instruction across schools and grade levels. They instituted a value-added bonus system rewarding principals who run the schools with the highest test scores. They even increased the length of the school day to drive achievement.
They did all this, and it didn’t help a bit.
Some might see that as proof of the error of past ways.
But not the Post Gazette.
In the minds of the editorial board, this is a ringing endorsement of those policies that got us nowhere.
Wait a minute. These are the people in charge when the district apparently was stalled. If anything, these functionaries should bear the blame, not get a pat on the back. We should do anything BUT continuing their work which lead to this dismal report.
But instead, the editorial board writes, “[T]he work of Mr. Roosevelt and Ms. Lane was not in vain. They inaugurated a coherent system of reforms, made the federal benchmark known as ‘adequate yearly progress’ twice in three years, restored the district’s credibility with the foundation community, forged a closer relationship with the teachers union and generated a new sense of optimism. The course they charted is worth revisiting.”
Voters are fed up with number-worshipping flunkies who don’t see kids as anything but data points. That’s why the community has consistently replaced number crunching school directors and administrators with people who have a new vision of education – a community schools approach.
The editorial board may look down their noses at current Superintendent Dr. Anthony Hamlet who took over just this summer and the positive changes he’s been making with the new progressive school board, but he’s only doing what the public wants. And given this new report, a new direction is exactly what Pittsburgh Public Schools needs!
In the ivory tower of big media, they don’t see it this way.
In fact, the PG goes so far as to imply that Dr. Hamlet and the new board are somehow responsible for Roosevelt and Lane’s failures.
“It may be that they [Roosevelt and Lane] did not stay long enough for their efforts to take root,” writes the Post Gazette, “that the reforms became too cumbersome to manage or that they were unable to fully impose their will on a sprawling school district with many constituencies.”
Please. Dr. Hamlet’s presence has not halted Roosevelt and Lane’s march toward progress. This report demonstrates that they achieved very little. Moreover, Dr. Hamlet has only been in office since June. He hasn’t been in the district long enough to flush student test scores down the toilet – especially when for more than nine of those years he was working in Florida.
Neither can you blame the community for being fed up with corporate education reforms that apparently don’t work.
No. If this report by a consortium of the nation’s 70 largest urban school districts shows failure in ‘burgh schools, that belongs to the bosses at the top during the last 10 years. If this is a failure, it is Roosevelt’s and Lane’s, not Dr. Hamlet’s. Nor can you place it at the feet of school directors, most of whom are new to the board.
But the media mavens can be forgiven slightly for coming to such an odd conclusion, because it’s supported by the organization that wrote the report – the Council of the Great City Schools. After all, the Council suggested this push toward standardization in the first place.
In February 2006, this same Council advised Pittsburgh to “recommit to a standardized, districtwide curriculum to ensure that every classroom is focused on a common set of rigorous expectations for student learning.”
And now that same Council is saying that doing so resulted in a fat goose egg.
Great advice, Guys!
Pittsburgh residents spent $156,545 of taxpayer money to find that out.
Still, it’s not a total waste. It’s probably the most comprehensive look at the district in recent history and drew expertise from two dozen executives from eight different city school systems. It also included interviews with 170 staff and community members.
The third-party review was part of Dr. Hamlet’s transition plan and “acts as a blueprint” to transform the district, he said. It includes a detailed review of the district’s organization structure, staffing levels, instructional programs, financial operations, business services, disciplinary policies, and research and data functions.
Of particular interest is school discipline data showing that the district has an “extraordinarily high” suspension rate compared with other cities and that its disciplinary actions disproportionately affect students of color. In fact, this seems to justify moves by Dr. Hamlet to enact a restorative justice disciplinary program instead of a strict zero tolerance policy.
The report includes numerous suggestions for improvements across the board including revamping the district’s central office structure and updating the district’s outdated PreK-5 literary curriculum – initiatives that are already underway.
But when it comes to a repeated call for standardization and canned curriculum across the district, it should be ignored.
Put simply, we’ve tried that crap. It doesn’t help.
We’ve got to get beyond our love for standardized tests. We know that poor students don’t do as well on these types of assessments as middle class or wealthy students. It should be no surprise, then, that an urban district like Pittsburgh with a high percentage of impoverished students will also have low test scores.
We need to do something to address that directly, not attack a district that’s lost almost $1 billion annually in state funding for the last five years.
Moreover, this obsession with Common Core is completely unfounded. It has never been demonstrated that aligning curriculum to the Core will increase test scores or increase learning. In fact, there is mounting research to show that these academic standards are developmentally inappropriate and actually prevent authentic learning – especially in reluctant learners.
The Council of the Great City Schools is enamored with these policies because the organization has taken millions of dollars in donations from the Gates Foundation and other organizations connected with the testing industry. Even many charitable foundations have aligned themselves with this lucrative business model where corporations cash in when students fail and then cash in again by selling them the remediation and Common Core texts they convince us we need to pass the tests.
The editorial board of the Post Gazette is likewise blinded by dollar signs and data.
Like far too many non-educators, they give far too much credence to a person’s bank account than her expertise. The same people pushing testing and new academic standards also benefit financially from them. They have created at least one PAC in the city with deep pockets looking to unseat unsympathetic board members and discredit Dr. Hamlet so that they can install their own representatives.
This is a battle with plain sense and logic. It’s also a battle for control of Pittsburgh Public Schools.