On Sunday night, I attended the first CPSObsessed book club. It was a group of 8-10 heavy readers and/or commenters of the blog, plus CPSO herself. We came together ostensibly to discuss Diane Ravitch's book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, but the discussion eventually became a CPS/education/social policy free-for-all.
I was in heaven.
One guy mistook my stated interest in reading social/public policy issues as credentials in the field, which I both corrected and find flattering. These in-person discussions make me feel like I'm back in college, arguing political theory until Espresso Royale kicked us out when they closed at midnight. I'm older, saggier, more worldly, and more dependent on coffee, but also just as recharged by the process now as I was 15 years ago.
A central theme in both Ravitch's book and our discussion was the difference between data-informed decision-making and data-driven decision-making. The former can be useful in public schools, whereas the latter is an oft-used buzzword for a concept that is best left to those who coined it: corporate America. As Ravitch said over and over again in her book, test scores are a measurement, not the goal:
- Scores matter, but they are an indicator, not the definition of a good education.
- No Child Left Behind had no vision other than improving test scores in reading and math. It produced mountains of data, not educated citizens.
- Testing is not a substitute for curriculum and instruction.
I have said before that I believe the standardized tests my children take are just one tool in the box available to their teachers. But the test scores themselves are not really the goal. The goals are students' ability to think critically, read fluently, and master other "executive-level functioning" skills.
With a former charter school administrator in the room and the reversal of opinion on charter schools expressed by Ravitch in the book, the dual concepts of charter schools and school choice was also a topic of discussion. The parents at the discussion were pretty much all beneficiaries of school choice (either through or in spite of NCLB), but opinion was split about whether school choice is desirable. As many pointed out, there are too many variables that aren't controlled in studies of academic achievement. Do successful schools succeed because the kids chose to go there, the parents chose to be involved, or because they fit the kind of demographic profile that has historically enjoyed success? Put another way, demographic changes in a school often drive change within the school population. In CPS, it explains the nascent popularity and/or acceptability of schools like Nettelhorst, Waters, Agassiz, Audubon, Coonley, Hamilton, and Belding when even a few years ago, those schools were on most well-educated, middle-class parents' no-way-hell list.
In contrast, the group reached consensus that (the expectation of) school choice is pretty much the only thing that NCLB achieved since its implementation in 2002. One guy even said that NCLB/charters' model of run-schools-like-businesses introduced the kind of organizational instability (heretofore known by corporate employees throughout the U.S.) to the public schools. We all agreed that NCLB is on the way out; that the Powers That Be will declare victory and move on.