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ACCOUNTABILITY ON STEROIDS

Posted: 2011-06-07

This very informative commentary is published by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation's magazine Education Forum, May 31, 2011. If you have a strong stomach, follow the hot links! While many people are worrying about the out-in-the-open charter schools' drain on public schools, Gord Bambrick observes that "the new privatization" caused by the corporate-politico demand for continuous improvement "is entirely
hidden from those outside its networks."

For a look at how long this privatization plan has been in the works, take a look at this article on APEC, from Corporate Watch, 1997. Written by Larry Kuehn, Director of Research and Technology at the British Columbia Teachers' Federation, it informed my work on Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools?

Draw your own conclusions as to how our US teacher unions do--or do not--inform their constituents.


by Gord Bambrick

Teachers know that results on high-stakes testing are not a fair indicator of school success.
Schools don't teach just numeracy and literacy. And, by any estimate, these subject
areas don't represent more than a fraction of the curriculum.

Although no teacher would be foolish enough to claim that exams in two subject
areas represent the sum of a child's learning in all subjects over three years, this is
what is sold to the public by both the government and the media. The government
boasts about improved Education and Quality Accountability Office (EQAO) results;
oversimplified headlines and sound bites do the rest.

Despite pretensions of helping the kids, it is increasingly evident that the real goal
of testing is to put a spotlight on the supposed underperformance of public education.
This is exactly how high-stakes testing gets used by dozens of pro-privatization think
tanks, many of which, like Canada's Fraser Institute, publish their school rankings in
the media. These organizations know that all tests mathematically guarantee lots of
"below average" schools and unhappy customers. This ratchets up parental paranoia,
which then can be used to drive parents into the net of school choice—non-public
alternatives that include vouchers, charter schools and home schooling. By perpetuating
the EQAO tests and publishing results it knows will be used for school rankings,
the government feeds into this narrowing of public perception.

It's no secret that Mike Harris's education reforms, such as EQAO testing, were
aligned with the dreams of the Fraser Institute (where Harris is now a Senior Fellow).
However, the same testing and accountability agenda continues with the current
government. EQAO results are now publicized on the Ministry's School Information
Finder
website. A Toronto Star article, Premier defends school shopping with
ministry data
(April 8, 2009), explains that the Ministry site, in its original design,
included a "controversial online school comparison feature known as the 'shopping
bag,'" which McGuinty claimed "helps parents pick the best education for their kids
and spurs principals to do better." Fortunately, pressure from educators and parents
groups led to that feature being deleted.

Other measures to heighten accountability
for "results" include the threat of
"intervention" from the Ontario Focused
Intervention Partnership
(OFIP). According
to the Ministry's OFIP website,
"In 2008, 1,100 schools were receiving
interventions." The degree of Ministry
intervention in schools is based strictly
on test performances, with the cut-off for
satisfactory performance set around the
number of students scoring Level 3 (i.e.
70 per cent) or better. Such an approach
is arguably more focused on justifying
putting more schools under intervention
than on helping failing students. Even
schools with above-average grade averages
will receive intervention if they do
not show continuous improvement.

Another indication of the government's
attempt to raise the stakes was the
"Provincial Interest Regulation" attached
to Bill 177, the Student Achievement and
School Board Governance Act, 2009.
The
"Provincial Interest Regulation Consultation
Paper" indicated that test scores and
graduation rates would be used as "triggers"
for "intervention" and Ministry
"takeover." One proposed trigger was
that a board had "40 per cent or more of
its schools in the bottom 20 per cent of
schools in the province based on EQAO
Grades 3 and 6 scores." Although the triggers
were eventually removed as a result
of objections from various stakeholders,
they reveal the obsession with making the
drive for constant improvement of results
into the new purpose of education.

The Ministry's own websites indicate
just how focused on results it has
become. "Case Study—System on the
Move: Executive Summary" reveals that
Ontario's strategy includes an "Education
Results Team," "stretch targets" for
achievement and graduation rates, "finely
tuned intervention strategies," "new data
management and assessment tools," strategies
to "increase pressure for accountability,
including transparency about results"
and "negotiation of targets."

Another Ministry web page is entitled
The K–12 School Effectiveness Framework:
A support for school improvement
and student success
. Among other
things, the "framework" asks schools to
ask themselves, "What actions will we
take to ensure continuous improvement?"

One symptom of increased pressure for
accountability is the rise of concerns about
teachers and administrators improperly
administering EQAO tests or inflating
pass rates. Last September it was revealed
that 10 schools in the province were being
investigated for bending the rules in their
administration of the tests.

A Toronto Star exposé, Failure is not
an option
(June 9, 2007), revealed new
pressures on teachers to pass more students
and evidence of students being undeservedly
passed. In response to such concerns,
OSSTF/FEESO created the Credit Integrity
Workgroup
to look into defining
"real" versus "artificial" student success.
Its final report, published on February
14, 2008, continues to inform Federation
positions and input to current Ministry
initiatives related to student success
and achievement.

The most worrisome result of such
pressure, however, is the opening up of
new markets for private sector providers.
Such school-improvement businesses
include for-profit products and services
such as consulting, professional development,
tutoring, teacher testing, leadership
training, benchmark assessment,
data warehousing, test preparation and
information technology.

Invariably, private sector providers advertise
based on claims of offering "solutions"
to new forms of accountability, sometimes
introduced by their own research, philanthropy
and lobbying influences. They
promise improvement of "outcomes," "results,"
"performance," "achievement," "success"
and "closing gaps."

One large and growing area of this
market is that of education consultancies,
which are hired by school districts
to raise scores. Angus McBeath, former
Superintendent of Edmonton's schools,
recounts how he hired Focus on Results,
an American turnaround consultancy. In
the company's winter 2006 newsletter,
McBeath explains:

"With [Focus on Results'] assistance,
we asked each of our schools to implement
an improvement framework.... Monthly
training...was quickly established. Instructional
walk-throughs, where staff
learned how to observe best teaching practices
and give quality feedback, became
part of the norm. Thirdly, we strengthened
the way we collect, use and display
student achievement results in order to
help our schools better use data to make
good instructional decisions."

Certainly this agenda differs little from
Ontario's. In his address Before the PEI
Task Force on Student Achievement
in
July 2005, McBeath, who upon retirement
was hired by both Focus on Results and
the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies
business think-tank, mentions that he
even brought in Ontario's Special Advisor,
Michael Fullan, who taught him that "if
[schools] persistently don't improve, then
I have to bring in another measure called
'pressure import.'" It is worth noting how
well this agenda aligns with Ontario's:
"And when are we going to have to stop
this work of measuring, setting standards,
setting targets?" asks McBeath rhetorically,
to which (not surprisingly) he replies,
"It will not stop. It cannot stop." There is
no true goal to continuous improvement,
but the true result will always be to generate
an insatiable demand for private sector
products and services.
[emphasis added]

The commercial expansion of professional
development is predicated largely
on needs created by accountability for
continuous improvement. Edu-quest
International Inc
., another improvement
consultancy, promotes founder Avis
Glaze on its website as "Ontario's first
Chief Student Achievement Officer and
founding CEO of the Literacy and Numeracy
Secretariat [who] played a pivotal
role in improving student achievement in
Ontario schools." Edu-quest specializes
in such topics as "maximizing student
achievement," "school and system effectiveness,"
"district improvement planning,"
"school improvement planning,"
"assessing school effectiveness," "self-assessment
and accountability," and "strategies
for monitoring improvement."

Wayne Hulley, president of the Canadian
affiliate
of the U.S.-based Effective
Schools, was presented as a keynote
speaker at a Toronto District School
Board (TDSB) rally for 20,000 teachers
at the beginning of the current school
year. Hulley's firm advertises on its site
that it specializes in "Workshops, presentations
and multi-day training of school
improvement teams using the 'Correlate
of Effective Schools,' the 'Effective Schools
Improvement Process' and Staff Development
to improve student outcomes."

Meanwhile, the Public Consulting
Group offers
Skovisionâ„¢ School
Improvement Planning, which "Improves
the execution of strategies leading
to greater results" and is endorsed on its
website by Waterloo's "Superintendent of
Learning: School Effectiveness."

Some of Ontario's new mandates for
accountability and professional development
are aligned to specific services offered
by American PD firms with focuses
on such areas as differentiated instruction,
assessment for learning, professional
learning communities and "closing the
gap" for underperforming races, ethnicities
or genders. PD is marketed not
only as a solution to new accountability
but also as an amplification of those demands.
School Improvement Network,
for instance, echoes the accountability
battle cry of No Excuses! How to Increase
Minority Student Achievement
DVD Program
. [4 DVDs: $645]

The Ontario Ministry's promotion
of "assessment for learning" through
"Growing Success" opens the door for
the Education Testing Service, a giant of
the measurement industry, to promote
its Assessment For Learning line of
products that purports "to improve student
achievement by integrating student involved
classroom assessment with day-to-
day instruction." Pearson, a globally
dominant education corporation, offers
similar services from its Canadian branch,
the Assessment Training Institute.

U.S.-based Solution Tree, which advertises
in Ontario, offers its own Assessment
Institute in which "Educators create high performance
schools by skilfully and
continuously assessing student progress."
Solution Tree also offers training in the
implementation of professional learning
communities, which "promote higher levels
of learning for all students." One such
Solution Tree expert is the TDSB's [Toronto District School Board] Director,
Chris Spence, who "has worked to...
promote causes that benefit students and
achieve measurable results."

It is questionable whether consulting
PD firms or the broader improvement industry
should be so focused on wringing
ever-higher results from students. Societal
goals of educating the whole child with the
whole curriculum may be replaced with
the narrower concerns of demonstrating
measurable improvement between elections
and contracts. Teachers may find
themselves accountable for using the latest
performance-enhancing pedagogies in
the face of up-to-the-minute data correlations
between "investments" and student
outputs. In Louisiana, even teachers' colleges
are being held accountable for K-12
results: "It's accountability on steroids,"
as one university president enthuses, in a
Washington Post article. Louisiana serves
as model in teacher assessment
(December
13, 2009).

More importantly, a side-effect of
commercial expansion is the erosion of
public control. School improvement puts
much control over funding, defining and
purchasing improvement in the hands of
competitors who may not care to keep
things public. The lofty ideals of continuous
improvement may well have more to
do with justifying expansion and bottom
lines than helping kids. Unlike the more
explicit privatization threat of charter
schools, the new privatization is entirely
hidden from those outside its networks.

Two recent books, Hidden Privatization
in Public Education
and Hidden Markets:
The New Education Privatization
, highlight
both the invisibility of privatization
and its rapid expansion.

In the U.K., Tony Blair's focus on testing
and accountability has come to fruition
with virtually every aspect of its system
now open for business, as revealed
in Stephen Ball's recent study, Education
plc: Understanding Private Sector Participation
in Public Sector Education
. The
lag between the U.K. system and our
own may be only a few years, due to the
commonly acknowledged architect of
Ontario's reform Michael Fullan, whom
McGuinty hired in 2003 as Special Advisor
on Blair's recommendation ( The
Globe and Mail
, May 1, 2004). Not only
was Fullan Blair's guru but he was also a
key advisor brought in to New Orleans
to help with reform after Hurricane Katrina
wiped out public schools and they
were replaced with charter schools. According
to A Fresh Start For New Orleans'
Children: Improving Education
After Katrina
, New Orleans schools
brought in Fullan to "develop and implement
a five-year plan for system-wide
capacity building."

While teachers in Ontario have been
spared the direct assaults underway in
more advanced stages of reform, the
rise of the new privatization inside our
borders is a strong hint of what's to
come. Such problems as we may soon
be facing in an increasingly borderless
economy are well documented in Mary
Compton's The Global Assault on Teaching,
Teachers and Their Unions
(2008).
Through its analysis of globalization's
impact on education, the book demonstrates
that, in the quest for profit,
international reforms are threatening
both public education and teaching
conditions everywhere. Fortunately
there is still time for us to build awareness
among ourselves and the public
about the implications of privatizing
society̢۪s most precious institution.

Gord Bambrick is a teacher at Eastview
Secondary School and recently served as
Communications Officer

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