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Our political system has deteriorated to such a degree that policymaking in the education arena has come to resemble the selection of “hits” chosen for airplay by 1950s DJs. Back in the day, the main mode of advertising to promote the sale of records was to have the songs played on the radio. The “Payola” scandal occurred in the 1950s when it was discovered that many of the DJs were routinely making decisions about what to play not based on the quality of the music, but on bribes they were receiving from record companies. Today, our lawmakers work in much the same fashion, with campaign cash leading to laws, and lobbyists, and a growing sector of non-profit groups playing supporting roles.
These are not overnight operations. This a process for those determined to get what they want, and willing to pay the price. This week Diane Ravitch shared with us the story of the National Council on Teacher Quality. Ravitch is an unusual informant - she was on the inside of the conservative movement, so she has a perspective few of us share. According to Ravitch, NCTQ was created by the Thomas B. Fordham (TBF) Foundation because
We thought (schools of education) were too touchy-feely, too concerned about self-esteem and social justice and not concerned enough with basic skills and academics. In 1997, we had commissioned a Public Agenda study called "Different Drummers"; this study chided professors of education because they didn't care much about discipline and safety and were more concerned with how children learn rather than what they learned. TBF established NCTQ as a new entity to promote alternative certification and to break the power of the hated ed schools.
The NCTQ receives funding from dozens of foundations, such as the Broad Fund. And the work of NCTQ continues to seek to reshape schools of education. Their current project is to “evaluate” all 180 schools of education in the country. In advance of this evaluation, they have released a report titled: “What teacher preparation programs teach about K-12 assessment.” The report highlights as models districts that have won the Broad Prize, such as Charlotte-Mecklenburg:
All educators in CMS are trained in Data Wise, a structured system to improve instructional and organizational practices based on data, and every school has a data team. Teachers, administrators and coaches can access a wide variety of learning data on the district's online learning portal, which gives them the capacity to meaningfully track student performance and adapt quickly to learning difficulties.
The reports states:
It is fair to say that the school districts in the nation that do the best in the face of the challenge of educating disadvantaged students have become obsessive about using data to drive instruction.
In spite of this unequivocal statement, the report describes the research that might support this approach as “emerging,” and only finds one study that offers very weak evidence of success. The authors must have missed the recent report from the National Research Council, “Incentives and Test-Based Accountability,” which found little to no growth has resulted from becoming obsessive over test data.
The lack of encouraging research does not stop them from defining three dimensions of assessment on which schools of education are to be rated. These are:
Domain #1: Assessment Literacy: An understanding of the taxonomy of assessment and a familiarity with the different types of classroom and standardized assessment.
Domain #2: Analytical Skills: Understanding how to dissect, describe an display the data that emerges from assessments.
Domain #3: Instructional Decision Making: An understanding of how to derive instructional guidance from assessment data.
The report complains that most education school programs do not develop these domains adequately, and in particular, they favor classroom assessment practices, neglecting data from standardized tests.
One gets an idea of how political this has become when one hears how NCTQ founder and report author Kate Walsh characterizes the results:
A lot of schools of education continue to become quite oppositional to the notion of standardized tests, even though they have very much become a reality in K-12 schools. The ideological resistance is critical.
I presume that since high stakes tests have become the norm in our schools, Ms. Walsh believes schools of education ought to fall into line and drop any resistance. The evaluations NCTQ is preparing are one piece of pressure.
You can count on Arne Duncan’s Department of Education to come up with another way to put even more pressure on this last institutional base of resistance to test-mania. For the next iteration of Race to the Top, he wishes to create a system to measure the Value Added scores for graduates of teacher preparation programs, and reward programs that yield high scoring teachers, and punish those that fail to make the grade.
Our schools of education ought to be in a position to think clearly and freely about the challenges our schools face. They are certainly not perfect, but their ability to take an independent stance on education policies and practices is crucial for us to avoid a complete groupthink. But this sort of ideological unanimity in support of “obsession over data” is what our education “reformers” apparently want, and the foundations driving the corporate reform agenda will do what it takes to get it.
A reader of Diane Ravitch’s post about NCTQ clued us in to a remarkable footnote to this story. In 2004 and 2005, as No Child Left Behind revealed its ugly results, the Bush administration paid NCTQ more than $600,000 for disseminating propaganda supportive of the administration. The law required this sponsorship to be disclosed, but in numerous articles and op-eds authored by NCTQ and Kate Walsh there was no such disclosure. This was literally payola in action.
Update: Jack Hassard shares his in-depth analysis of the NCTQ report here.
What do you think? Do we have payola driving our education policies? Should our schools of education join the rest of the government in becoming “obsessed with data”?
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