Damn the Iceberg! Full Steam Ahead!

Governor Otter has vowed to stay the course on his education plan. In his proposed budget message, he referred to the governor’s task force recommendations for education. This task force was formed December 2012 following the overwhelming defeat of Props 1, 2, and 3 also known as the Luna Laws. The recommendations were reported September 2013 and several have been implemented.

It’s now January 2017 and common sense is screaming the question, “Isn’t now a good time to ask how things are going?”

In fact, Idaho School Boards Association President, Karen Echiveria broached the topic when she commented in the Idaho Statesman that maybe we should see if the recommendations are still valid and we should ask if what has been done is working.

Indeed. We should be asking our legislators for an accounting. The data is coming in and it isn’t looking good for school reform. One of the better descriptions of the reform fiasco is about Pittsburgh Schools but I think it’s also applicable to Idaho. In the report, the author reviews a 175-page report that concludes that standardization and Common Core have produced little to no improvement in the district over the last ten years.

Blogger Diane Ravitch continues the criticism of current reform practices when she reports on a Mathematica Policy Research study showing that $3.5 billion dollars spent by the US department of Education (that would be our money) by then Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan. $3.5 billion dollars spent on programs that parents, teachers, and administrators have warned would not work. But let’s not listen to those who know. Instead, let’s listen to business interests and non-profits that have no experience.

The results of reformster efforts are summed up by a report by the National Center for Education Evaluation which states “The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 injected $3 billion into the federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) program, which awarded grants to states that agreed to implement one of four school intervention models in their lowest-performing schools. Each of the models prescribed specific practices designed to improve student outcomes. Despite the sizable investment, comprehensive evidence on the implementation and impact of SIG has been limited. Using 2013 survey and administrative data from nearly 500 schools in 22 states, this report focuses on whether schools receiving a grant used the practices promoted by SIG and how that compares to other schools. The report also focuses on whether SIG had an impact on student outcomes. Findings show that SIG schools reported using more practices than other schools, but there was no evidence that SIG caused those schools to use more practices. There was also no evidence that SIG had significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment.”

Moving on to Idaho and we have the education committees of the House and Senate busy reviewing the administrative rules. A review of committee agendas shows a number of docket items up for consideration. These refer to administrative rules written by agencies. In the case of education, it is the Office of the State Board of Education.

Many of these proposed rules should be questioned as it is time to ask, how are things going? According to many citizens, the answer is “Not well.” Micromanagement and over regulation are terms that frequently come up.

It’s time our legislators listen and ask hard questions. The evidence is accumulating that centralized control does not work. Yet Governor Otter and his appointed State Board are determined to stay the course.

Maybe it’s time to change course and to trust Idahoans to govern their local schools. Forget the straw man argument on accountability. When Idaho districts are required to provide multiple data points to the state and when administrators have to spend an inordinate amount of time using a flawed teacher evaluation instrument, it has nothing at all to do with accountability. The accountability that is real and timely and works is not centralized. It called the school board. Local accountability has been shown to work. Centralized accountability is simply data collection on the citizens and produces a culture of dependency. What it does not do is provide timely and targeted feedback. That only happens in a decentralized system.

Centralized accountability not only kills our school trustees and administrators, it also leads to decisions that are flawed beyond measure. An example is no longer having the ISAT as a graduation requirement. I agree with that as one test does not predict student success as well as teacher assigned grades. But file this under “You can’t make this stuff up” as ISAT results will still be used to judge schools. If you question this, you’ll probably be told that federal law requires it or the legislature requires it.

Here we have a test that kids have to take that doesn’t count for them but it counts for the school because we have public officials and the club of influencers who worship accountability with a big A. How does that make the test valid? It doesn’t as most teachers and students will tell you if the test does not count it gets blown off. This is especially true for those students who face AP and concurrent credit testing.

Idahoans can chart a new course. But to do that we have to change our thinking. For too long we have accepted the message that Idaho schools are failing and that more accountability will turn the tide. All that has happened is an increase in costs, managers, and control. The control aspect should be of concern because it results in people who lose skills and who don’t think.

What can Idahoans do to chart their own course? It begins with a conversation. That conversation has begun in Iowa where there have been several bills filed dedicated to devolving the power and control the Iowa Department of Education and the Iowa State Board of Education have over local schools. While Idaho is not Iowa, the two states have much in common. It’s time to start talking because “staying the course” is making us head where we don’t want to be.


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