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Checkbook Reform Creates Tough Choices for Teachers

Many teachers have long clamored for that precious "seat at the table" where decisions about education policy are made. Once there, we often find the experience less than satisfying, as Teacher of the Year Anthony Mullen related recently.

But we have entered the era of checkbook reform, and the Department of Education is spending our money left and right to buy as many educational leaders as possible for its dubious ventures.

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Last month Stephen Sawchuk reported on several state consortia who are applying for $350 million in federal funding to develop new assessments aligned to the Common Core Standards. These are the projects that Secretary Duncan has assured us will move us away from dependence on end-of-year standardized tests.

What are we looking at?

...both consortia would combine results from performance-based tasks administered throughout the course of the school year with a more traditional end-of-the year measure for school accountability purposes.

There may be opportunities for teachers to participate in the development of such assessments. We may be invited to take a seat at this table. But should we?

I have serious reservations about the trajectory of this project. It seems to promote the idea that the answer to over-dependence on year-end tests is to introduce additional tests spread through the year, to make sure instruction is aligned to the desired outcomes. I can easily imagine monthly tests, dubbed "formative" in utter defiance of the true meaning of this term, which are used to coerce teachers to teach according to rigid timelines and scripted curricula.

Teachers may also be offered jobs as "data coaches," responsible for reviewing interim data, monitoring instruction and "supporting" teachers in more effective teaching to the test. Given other "reform" initiatives, I can also imagine that interim "formative" assessment data could even be used in evaluating and compensating teachers.

This is the brave new world of education reform, where the objective seems to be to make sure all students are learning the same thing at the same rate, and all teachers are using federally approved methods to get them there.

If this is what teacher leadership means today, I want no part of it.

As these opportunities proliferate, often with money attached, we need a real discussion among educators about the ethics of cashing in on phony reform efforts. What is the cost when teachers lend their names and expertise to such projects? Are we actually empowered enough to make a valuable difference in the assessments that are produced? Or are these projects doomed by the test-driven philosophy of their sponsor?

Is a seat at the table an end in itself? What if our students and colleagues are on the menu?

What do you think? Should we accept whatever opportunities are offered and hope we can make a difference? Or should we refrain from participating in projects where the results may be destructive?

image by carbonnyc, provided through Creative Commons.

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