Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How school reform preserves the ‘status quo’ — and what real change would look like

How school reform preserves the ‘status quo’ — and what real change would look like

By Valerie Strauss, Updated:

If you follow the education policy debate at all, you know that critics are often called “defenders of the status quo” by people pushing market-based school reforms. Here is a piece about why it is actually the reforms that are preserving the status quo — and what real reform would actually look like. It was written by Arthur H. Camins, director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.  His writing can be accessed at

By Arthur H. Camins

A moment after my train pulled to a final stop in Hoboken this morning, another train on my left pulled away provoking the perception that I was rolling forward.  Had I not glanced to my right to see the stationary platform I might have been fooled into thinking I was actually moving. So it is with the current education reform strategies — the illusion of movement without looking around at the evidence.
There are two pillars of Department of Education policy:  increased numbers of charter schools and consequential use of standards-based assessment for promotion and employment decisions. Rather than citing evidence of causal connections to substantive changes in educational inequity, supporters claim state and local adoption of these reforms as progress and accuse critics of defending the status quo.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan has declared many times that he believes in using data. I do too. Several features of that status quo are unarguable. Evidence suggests two conditions that contribute to lower average levels of achievement of poor and lower-middle class students.  First, on average the conditions of their lives mean that compared to their more well off peers, they enter and continue through school with fewer supports for learning and greater stress that impedes learning.  Parents’ socioeconomic status and educational attainment level — in other words poverty — explain a very substantial portion of the variation in students’ level of achievement and predicts future employment and income. Second, teacher experience and expertise are not equally distributed across schools.
I will argue that the pillars of current education reform are more likely to preserve rather than change the status quo. Further, there are alternative policies that are more likely to mediate educational inequity, creating real rather than illusory movement. None of the pillars of reform will address either of these conditions at scale.  Instead, they merely give some students a competitive advantage.   Even if reforms redistribute these benefits or slightly alter the size of the advantaged group, they are still essentially maintaining the status quo, creating the illusion of movement, without fundamental change.

Read on here.

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