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The Twilight Zone of Education Doublespeak

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The Twilight Zone of Education Doublespeak

By Linda Dobson

Confused education

"Either President Obama is trying to mislead people, or he is unfamiliar with the policies being advanced by his very own Secretary of Education."

Through conversations with friends, I know I’m not alone in feeling as if the world has turned into “The Twilight Zone” where nothing seems “right,” whether it be politics, education, natural disasters, war, inflation, unemployment…well, you get the idea.

Nothing, however, in this Age of Doublespeak had struck this mom and grandmother quite as hard as when, on Monday evening, I read that, “President Barack Obama said that students should take fewer standardized tests and school performance should be measured in other ways than just exam results. Too much testing makes education boring for kids, he said. ‘Too often what we have been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools,’ the president told students and parents at a town hall hosted by the Univision Spanish-language television network at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C.”

According to several reports, he also said:

Policymakers should find a test that “everybody agrees makes sense” and administer it in less pressure-packed atmospheres, potentially every few years instead of annually.

At the same time, Obama said, schools should be judged on criteria other than student test performance, including attendance rate.

“One thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching the test because then you’re not learning about the world, you’re not learning about different cultures, you’re not learning about science, you’re not learning about math,” the president said. “All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test and that’s not going to make education interesting.”

Those of you familiar with the No Child Left Behind Act are aware that it’s legislation that demands 100% of students to be proficient in math, reading, and science by 2014. Now that’s it’s 2011, folks are beginning to realize this as “an unrealistic goal.” (Not to mention that you can’t legislate “proficient” test scores, but that’s for another rant post.

See also What Does No Child Left Behind Morphed into Race to the Top Mean Exactly?

The Obama administration has proposed replacing those standards with a less prescriptive requirement that by 2020 all students graduating from high school should be ready for college or a career.

Oh, the insanity. If students are ready for college or a career, aren’t they likely to be “proficient” – not excellent, mind you, merely proficient – on their tests? Well, at least it backs up the deadline for proficiency readiness by six more years.

I guess it would be easy enough to swallow the words if you’re completely unaware of what actions on these matters have been for quite some time now. But if you’ve been following along the education news, you noticed something very very wrong.

I’m Not Alone in This Twilight Zone of Education Doublespeak

Thankfully, I’m not alone in this “Twilight Zone of Education Doublespeak.” Many other writers, especially those involved in American public schooling, are keeping me company and, boy, was I glad to see that. (I was beginning to think perhaps I’d slept through a decade or so and missed a 180-degree change in the administration’s education actions.)

“Jersey Jazzman” saw it, too, so he wrote “Our President Is Confused (Or is he just another politician talking out of both sides of his mouth?)”

Sir, you’re going to have to do a bit better than this if you want teachers’ support again. Or do you think you can win without us?

Is He Trying to Mislead Or Oblivious to Policies of His Secretary of Education?

Over at Education Week, Andrew Cody titled his encounter with Twilight Zone Doublespeak “Obama Blasts His Own Education Policies” – really, I’m not kidding!

But here is what is alarming. Either President Obama is trying to mislead people, or he is unfamiliar with the policies being advanced by his very own secretary of education, who was seated just a few feet away from him at this event. As someone who campaigned and raised money for Obama, I find both of these alternatives unacceptable.
Is President Obama aware:
* that Race to the Top requires states to tie teacher pay and evaluations to student test scores? If ever there was a recipe for teaching to the test, this is it!
* that his Secretary of Education is proposing to evaluate teacher preparation programs by tracking the test scores of the teachers they produce?
* that his administration’s plan for the new version of No Child Left Behind continues to place tremendous pressure on schools attended by the poorest students, ensuring that there will still be extremely high stakes attached to these tests? This creates the most invidious inequity of all — where students most in need of the sort of wholistic, project-based curriculum the president rightly says is the cure to boredom remain stuck in schools forced to focus on test scores.
* that his Department of Education is proposing greatly expanding both the number of subjects tested, and the frequency of tests, to enable us to measure the “value” each teacher adds to their students?

President Obama, I loved the way you described the role of assessment. It should be occasional, not punitive, and used to help diagnose where students need help. What Sasha and Malia are getting is wonderful. Is there a way we could get your Department of Education’s policies to align with your personal vision?

At Mike Klonsky’s Small Talk Blog, he called it “Boring Double-Talk on Testing.”

Following the speech, Obama pushed his ed secretary Arne Duncan to plan the next wave of Race To the Top grants which force school districts to fire teachers and close schools based on standardized test scores.

Classic administration double-talk. It’s getting boring.

Here’s one more to really hammer home the Twilight Zone of Education Doublespeak from the Politics K12 blog at Education Week and titled “On Testing, What Was Obama Really Trying to Say?

When we asked the U.S. Department of Education today about Obama’s statement, spokesman Justin Hamilton clarified it, saying annual testing is still very much apart of the department’s agenda:

“While we’re open to how we can best assess student progress in subject areas like history and science, we believe annual measures in reading and math are needed to assess progress toward college- and career-readiness. More must be done to improve the quality of those assessments, so that they’re a more meaningful measure of student learning…”

But turning to another part of his remarks, if the president doesn’t like tests that are delivered in pressure-packed environments that carry real consequences for students, this Politics K-12 blogger wonders what he thinks about another widespread testing phenomenon: the graduation exit exam. Twenty-eight states require students to pass tests before they can get their diplomas.

Is it any wonder the state of government schools is what it is? Is it any wonder teachers grow tired of having to follow rules from Washington? Is it any wonder people believe the federal government has no business messing with “education?” Is it any wonder so many parents have washed their hands of this fiasco to keep their children home to learn? Things have been a mess for a long time, but whether Obama’s intent is to mislead or he’s unaware of what the Secretary of Education is doing, this is as frightening as it is disastrous. Frankly, I don’t think these people should have anything to do with children’s education, including the teachers on the front lines who, freed from the doublespeak and red tape, would likely do a better job.





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2 Responses to “The Twilight Zone of Education Doublespeak”

  1. Ben Bennett says:

    They will end up closing bad schools based on enrollment… or lack thereof as more and more frustrated parents leave tired old factory model district schools or alternatives … any alternatives that work for their children. Perhaps that is the very dynamic our president wishes to happen? He doesn’t mind when unions and teachers are upset at him. He doesn’t even acknowledge that the tea party, a growing homeschool movement or charter schools even exist.

    It’s like he is waiting for something big to happen so he can take control in a big way. In the meantime, he waits and watches as the pot begins to boil.

  2. grandma_linda says:

    Well, the pot sure is boiling…and these comments sure acted like a great big spoon stirring things up. Thanks so very much for reading and taking the time to comment, Ben!

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