Friday, December 12, 2014

Debunking A Reformy Attack On The Delran Education Association's Position Statement On High Stakes Testing

Once again, WHYY contributor Laura Waters has invoked the late Albert Shanker to strengthen her weak argument, this time in an attempt to imply that the Delran Education Association didn't do their homework before releasing their position statement on high-stakes testing. She even goes so far as to call their statement a "screed" that  "veers less towards serious educational discussion and more towards Sarah Palin-esque hysteria."

She better have a seriously well documented refutation of their positions to make a statement like that. Let's look at the one where she cites Shanker as her source.

In their statement the DEA wrote:
The erroneous claim that the American public school system was failing first came about in April of 1983 with the release of the report “A Nation At Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform.” 
Waters defends the report and supports her claim that it was widely considered a "pivotal moment by all those who value educational improvement" by highlighting Albert Shanker's early support.
Actually, the publication of "A Nation at Risk" is widely hailed as a pivotal moment by all those who value educational improvement. The Report famously articulated a "rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people" and was embraced by America's most famous unionist, Albert Shanker. According to former AFT President Sandra Feldman, "when Al finished reading the report, he closed the book and looked up at all of us and said, 'the report is right, and not only that, we should say that before our members.'"
While it is true that Shanker embraced "A Nation at Risk", he was also clear about what he did NOT embrace.
Many said Shanker's decision to embrace "A Nation at Risk" was a watershed moment, because conventional wisdom held that the only cure for education's ills was more money. Anything else was considered fire from the enemy. But Shanker saw that the report wasn't boosting vouchers or privatization. Rather, it spoke of preserving and improving public education, of raising standards and implementing accountability for both students and educators — even as he never stopped reminding politicians that teachers continued to need the resources to do the job. (emphasis mine)
Diane Ravitch made it clear that although Shanker supported the report in 1983, his present feelings about it and all it has come to represent may be entirely different. 
Would he be as enthusiastic about “A Nation at Risk” in 2013 as he was in 1983, now that it has become the Bible of the privatization movement? We don’t know.
However, I can speculate too. Al Shanker cared passionately about a content-rich curriculum. So do I. Would his love for a content-rich curriculum have caused him to join with those who want to destroy public education? I don’t think so.
Would he have come to realize that “A Nation at Risk” would become not a document for reform but an indictment against public education? If he had, he would have turned against it.
Now, you may be asking, why should we give credence to Diane's hypothesis as to how Shanker would feel about A Nation at Risk were he alive today?

Allow me to explain. 

Back in July of 2012 then NJ Commissioner Chris Cerf tried to make his case for charters by stating that Shanker was "one of the first advocates for public charter schools." Diane Ravitch proceeded to give Cerf a bit of a history lesson, and clarified that in 1993 when Shanker saw that charters were being used to privatize public education, he turned against them.

Enter Laura Waters.

In response to Diane's post, Waters attempted to "school" her in an earlier essay for WHYY that stated "as a fact" that "(i)f Albert Shanker were alive today, he'd still be an education reformer and would support NJ's efforts to expand school choice for poor urban students."

Jersey Jazzman took umbrage with Waters' commentary, and Diane picked up on his post almost immediately. I responded as well, but I used the words of Shanker's widow Edith, who has been quite outspoken about the fact that corporate reformers have no place using Shanker's name or positions on issues to defend the privatization movement. She had written an eloquent dissection of Joel Klein and his attempts to use Shanker's early support for charters to defend his own policies and actions.
Klein wanted the public to believe that Al was the originator of the charter school concept (he wasn’t) and that he would today be supportive of the charter school ”reform” ideology now being spread around New York City and the country as a panacea for low student achievement. Conveniently, Klein did not indicate that Al denounced the idea of charters when it became clear that the concept had changed and was being hijacked by corporate and business interests. In Al’s view, such hijacking would result in the privatization of public education and, ultimately, its destruction – all without improving student outcomes. (emphasis mine)
Diane picked up on my post, which ultimately got the attention of Shanker's daughter, Jennie.

Jennie was clearly not pleased that her father's name and legacy was being usurped once again to defend the privatization movement. She stated very plainly, in a comment on Waters' original essay, that Shanker's heir apparent, if he has one, is Diane, NOT Ms. Waters. 
Your appreciation for my father's work and vision was lovely to read. But your stance on this issue is diametrically opposed to his values and intent, and you are dead wrong to shame Diane Ravitch for her position. Indeed, if you consider your thinking to be in line with my father's, I recommend that you champion her work, as my family does. If anyone can speak for my father in this day and age, the person who should be most trusted is Dr. Ravitch.
It's unfortunate that many people who read your article will not see this comment. I would like to respectfully request that you reconsider further publicizing your characterization of my father's position on this topic. From what is in evidence in this article, despite your love for the man, you are in no position to speak for him(emphasis mine)
Ouch.

What I really love is that Waters' most recent piece was meant to shame the Delran Education Association (much as she had attempted to shame Diane Ravitch) for not "doing their homework" before they wrote their position statement.

Seems Ms. Waters, even after having been schooled by me, Jersey Jazzman, Diane Ravitch, and Shanker's wife and daughter, has a lesson or two to learn herself about invoking the name of Albert Shanker in the name of modern day education reform.

Which brings me back to Diane's question in her post about Shanker and "A Nation at Risk."
Would he be as enthusiastic about “A Nation at Risk” in 2013 as he was in 1983, now that it has become the Bible of the privatization movement? We don’t know.
But based on the above, we can be pretty sure that Diane has a better handle on how he would feel about it today than Waters.

And I think it's fair to extrapolate further and say that rest of the "lessons" Waters attempts to impart upon the Delran Education Association carry about as much weight as her insights regarding Shanker and "A Nation at Risk."

And now, a message from Albert Shanker himself...

4 comments:

  1. Not that anyone reads Laura Waters or her blog...but we appreciate Mother Crusader speaking up on our behalf. The Delran EA's 12-page position statement on testing is something that teachers in our district spent many hours developing. It's reflective of what we have actually experienced being on the front lines of public education every single day. I guess we should have anticipated attacks like Ms. Waters'...few of the reformy-types appreciate anything that comes from the mouths of professional educators. What the heck would we know about our own field anyway? Keep fighting for our public school children, Mother Crusader!

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  2. Adding:

    Laura uses Shanker's quote to criticize the DEA for challenging the claim in "A Nation At Risk" that American schools were failing. Surely, if Shanker thought ANAR was valid, EVERYONE must have thought the same. Surely, EVERYONE embraced ANAR at the time, and the report was universally acclaimed by "widely hailed as a pivotal moment by all those who value educational improvement."

    Too bad that's just not true:

    http://www.uft.org/who-we-are/history/albert-shanker

    "In April 1983, a commission appointed by Ronald Reagan unveiled a report called "A Nation at Risk," which painted a devastating portrait of American education. Educators — who increasingly were poorly prepared for their jobs and the subjects they were teaching — had lost sight of their academic mission. Students were taking frills like courses in bachelor living rather than focusing on math, science and other staples. As a result, the United States was dead last in seven international comparisons, with test scores lower than when Sputnik had been launched 25 years before. The report recommended tougher graduation requirements, lengthening the school day and a salary schedule that smacked of merit pay.

    The National Education Association immediately assailed "A Nation at Risk" as a political document. Shanker was the only major figure in education to endorse the report. He saw a great deal of truth — and a new direction for his union. He would have to spend a great deal of time persuading the education establishment — and members of his own organization — that the critics were right."

    So even though Shanker endorsed ANAR, he was -- according to the UFT's own biography -- "the only major figure in education to endorse the report."

    The idea that Albert Shanker endorsement of ANYTHING invalidates the DEA's critique of ANAR is intellectually lazy. The tut-tutting in this post is a substitute for a meaningful engagement with what DEA had to say in their document. Calling it a "screed" and exhuming the ghost of Al Shanker yet again is a poor substitute for actually discussing DEA's extensive and reasoned statement.

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