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Who Made Education Week the Gradebook of the Universe?

Publication Date: 2008-01-24

Quality Counts, the annual report from Education Week, rears its ugly head once again.

One of the most telling signs of Education Weekâs steadfast allegiance to the worldview offered by corporate America is their annual publication of the Quality Counts series. When I looked carefully at all 238 pages of their premier edition in January 1997, I was shocked. I wondered, "Who put Education Week in charge of the world?" Then I answered my own question: Pew Charitable Trusts was a big funder.

They stated their position as mouthpiece for corporate America right up front. "As the new millennium approaches, there is growing concern that if public education doesnât soon improve one of two outcomes is almost inevitable:
⢠Our democratic system and our economic strength, both of which depend on an educated citizenry, will steadily erode;
⢠Alternative forms of education will emerge to replace public schools as we know them."
As I wrote in One Size Fits Few: The Folly of Educational Standards,

Any time people start talking about the millennium, teachers had better duck. Theyâre in for a barrage of easy denunciations of public schools. Conspiracy theorists please note the guest list at the corporate-politico-infotainment education summit hosted by IBM: The Pew Charitable Trusts was represented, alongside Lynn Cheney, American Interprise Institute; Denis Doyle, Heritage Foundation; Chester Finn, Hudson Institute; Diane Ravitch, New York University; Secretary of Education Richard Riley; Albert Shanker, American Federation of Teachers; Lewis Solmon, Milken Foundation.
Funny thing: I thought Education Weekâs function was to report the news, putting opinion on the back Commentary page. The report Education Week has produced isnât news, itâs corporate cronyism; it offers not dispassionate reportage but deliberate deception, using statistics to to tell any lie it damn well pleases.
>People at Education Week seem to have elected themselves the Consumer Reports of public education, issuing scores on the teachers in every state. But they create categories that benefit neither teachers nor children; their categories march in lock-step behind the Education Summit called by President Clinton and Lou Gerstner. When we get the standards Education Week is calling for, the editors will be able to help the politicos issue these grades town by town, school corridor by school corridor. . Without leaving Washington. These grades aren't based on kid-watching but on paper-piling.
January 1998 brought the second edition of Quality Counts, this one a 270-page tome with tone similarly corporate-controlled. The son of Quality Counts opens with, "It's hard to exaggerate the education crisis in America's cities." The report goes on to talk of "islands of achievement" surrounded by "oceans of failure." Because the ideology is far more alarming than the rhetoric I will restrain myself--other than pointing out that the florid prose is the illegitimate progeny of A Nation at Risk.
In a category titled Teachers Who Have the Knowledge Skills to Teach to Higher Standards, the highest grade given in 1997 was an 84, which translates as a B on the Education Week scale. If I could only find some foundation funding, the Pew Charitable Trusts maybe, I'd love to spend a year deconstructing the linguistic hobbledehoy Teachers Who Have the Knowledge Skills to Teach to Higher Standards. And who's the smartest of them all? Sour grapes not being my style, I offer kudos to Kentucky, with the smartest teachers in the land in 1997.
In 1998, Oklahoma teachers were judged to be most knowledgeable, the most skilled to teach to higher standards. They received a 91, an A-. Minnesota teachers' skill level fell from B to C- in just one year; Vermont teachers fell from a B- to a C- in that same period, as did Georgia, among others. Iowa teachers, whose students' standardized test scores are among the top in the nation, rated a grace of C in 1997 and D+ in 1998. In 1997, three states ranked in the D range in terms of "teacher knowledge and skills to teach to higher standards"--Idaho, Arizona, and Hawaii; in 1998, 15 suffered this fate. Please excuse my repetition of the ungainly verbiage--teacher knowledge and skills to teach to higher standards. The words so boggle my mind that I feel the need to keep trying them out. The words do not flow easily off pen or tongue. Not to mention the underlying idea: The Pew Charitable Trusts and the folk at Education Week issue report cards on the teachers of America. . . .
What's going on here? You look at how the states are ranked and you know there is something very peculiar about the definition of "teacher skill and knowledge." The first rule of journalism is operative here: Education Week publishes the report, and so Education Week gets to make the rules. It's freedom of the press to do what they damn well please.
Education Week has decided that twenty percent of the grade depends on whether the state provides time and money for professional development. Forty percent of the mark includes such criteria as:
  • State has adopted standards for new teachers;

  • State contributes to INTASC's development of new teacher assessments;

  • State has established an independent professional standards board.

  • Certainly I am all in favor of states funding professional development, but to equate this with teacher savvy is worse than odd; it's malicious and underhanded and, well, it's loony. Have the graders at Education Week ever sat through a typical inservice presentation? Prize-winning science writer David Quammen says people who visit zoos are seeing "taxidermy on the hoof." Zoo visitors believe that the Bengal tiger (or the white rhinor, or the giant panda, or the diademed sifaka) is alive and well because they have seen it. But, says Quammen, they haven't seen it. What they've seen are images, theatrical illusion. And theatrical illusion is just what hired-gun Standardistos at Education Week are producing with their numbers. To quote Quammen again, "Snow truths do exist but they're elusive and protean. Like snowflakes themselves, they tend to melt away when carried indoors." Snow truths are a nice metaphor for teaching truths because they immediately draw us to what we heard as children: No two snowflakes are alike. Education Week Standardistos need to take off their hubris cloaks and start looking at snowflakes.
    We need only to read elsewhere in the booklet to find direct refutation of the grades handed out under the name of teacher knowledge and skills. Take Maine. Rated at the bottom of "teacher knowledge and skills," Maine is at the top of another chart titled All Students Achieving at High Levels. How did those Maine students score so well if their teachers are so incompetent? . . . .
    Education Week's rating of teachers would be shameful even if it made sense. But let's recognize this cur for what it is. This hound isn't just flea-ridden; this dog has mange. And I'd watch for frothing at the mouth. . . .

    That was then. Now we have Quality Counts Vollume 27, Number 18, January 10, 2008, titled Tapping Into Teaching. They express thanks "for expertise and assistance" from people at: Teaching Quality and Leadership Institute, Education Commission of the States, Council of Chief State School Officers, American Federation of Teachers, Education Trust, among others.

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