District Administration May 2018 - 14

OnTopic

Daniel Koretz

able, even if the test scores are good.
When I observe classrooms, at the
top of my list is student engagement. I
want to see them motivated. I want to
see them committed to real intellectual
work, as opposed to just sitting there doing chores, doing worksheets and so on.
Different teachers produce that kind
of engagement in different ways. I want
to see what teachers are producing in the
classrooms, and not just a standardized
list of things that they should be doing.
There are many teachers and district
leaders who now equate good instruction with just getting better scores.
It's even worse than that. In many places
teachers are told that good instruction is
test prep. This is something that students
here at Harvard, who are former teachers, have been telling me for years-that
it's not just that they were told explicitly
to do test prep to raise test scores. They
were told that doing test prep is good
instruction. And they were often given
these little menus for how to do it: Do
step one, do step two, do step three.
So they don't recognize the contrast
between good instruction and test prep.
They've never seen anything else.
The clearest example I can give comes
from a former inner city teacher. She
said, "I know that what we were doing
was not what the kids really needed. But
you tell me-how else was I going to
meet the targets that were set for me?"
That, in two sentences, sums up
what's wrong with this system.
Instead of teachers asking, "What
can I do to improve their learning," it's,
"What can I do to get their numbers
up?" And in many cases that has turned
out to be simple cheating.
Let me stress one thing in the book
that doesn't get as much play as I would
like. Cheating is just a canary in the
coal mine. There's a huge amount of test
prep that produces fraudulent gains in
14 May 2018

There are probably close to 1 million
teachers who will need to be completely
retrained, because they've never seen any
other type of instruction.
performance. And if you define cheating
that way, it's everywhere. It's not just in
Atlanta, where people changed answer
sheets, or El Paso, where they made kids
disappear from the enrollment rolls. It's
all over the United States.
Are you hopeful we can change it?
I think we can. But it's going to be a
tough slog, because there are a lot of
people who stand to lose if we back away
from this. You've got all the people who
pegged their careers on these reforms.
Suddenly they're going to be in an awkward spot.
There are probably close to 1 million
teachers who will need to be completely
retrained because they've never seen any
other type of instruction.
A former teacher asked me, "Where
is the point of leverage to start changing
things?" And I think the answer has to
be partly at the top.
When you say at the top-do you
mean the federal level?
Right now, many people tend to point
fingers at the federal level because the
feds took control of this with No Child
Left Behind. But keep in mind, the
origin of this heavy-handed test-based
accountability really began at the state
level. Some of them will really have to
change their tune as well.
We don't know exactly what recipe
will work. There are huge differences in
the challenges facing, for instance, teach-

ers in low-income schools and highincome schools. So why would we insist
that they do things in exactly the same
way? It doesn't make sense to me that
they would.
Some schools have large populations
of kids who don't speak English well,
and who aren't in a position to pick it up
quickly on their own. Seems to me they
should be organized differently.
Unfortunately, many families without
resources are relying solely on schools
to educate their kids, and they're not
being served.
That's one reason I got so fed up with
the pretense. The motivation for a lot
of the reforms of the last 15 years was
to begin to reduce inequities. That was
why, when NCLB was in Congress,
people like Ted Kennedy and George
Miller supported a Republican bill. They
wanted to pressure schools to improve
things for the kids at the bottom. There's
just no evidence that it has worked.
I believe we have an ethical obligation to admit that we failed and we have
to look for another approach. And we
can argue about what that other one
should be, but it's not this one.
We've done this for more than 20
years, and that's a generation or two of
school kids who have been cheated out
of an education. DA
Tim Goral is senior editor.
District Administration



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of District Administration May 2018

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