Re: [care] A change of direction for FairTest?
- Subject: Re: [care] A change of direction for FairTest?
- From: Dave Stratman <Newdem@AOL.COM>
- Date: Fri, 15 Feb 2002 12:24:19 EST
- Reply-to: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
- Sender: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
If "high standards" truly meant "believing all students can engage in higher
order, in-depth thinking and learning, and all schools can become active,
rigorous, and equitable places of learning," then I think that we would all
support the concept (we might argue over the word "rigorous")--and the
Business Roundtable and the National Alliance for Business would not.
"High standards" in the real world--that is, the world in which these and
other business organizations have mounted a sustained attempt to lower the
educational attainment of many students and to stifle and distort the
education of all of them who are in public schools--means something very
different. The corporate backers of Standards Based Education Reform (SBER)
have very cleverly coopted the language that many of us used in the 1960s and
'70s regarding "high expectations" to try and build popular support for goals
and policies fundamentally opposed to what we were aiming for.
Most of us on these lists, I would guess, oppose Standards Based Education
Reform and see the imposition of "high standards" on schools and on a society
shaped by "savage inequalities" as a cynical exercise designed to set many
children up to fail. SBER uses egalitarian language to achieve
But it is very difficult for us to build a movement against standards based
reform while FairTest and CARE work to build a movement for it.
None of us works in a vacuum; we are each greatly affected by what others of
us do, especially when we are speaking of an organization like FairTest,
which has sizeable funding from the Ford Foundation and other corporate-based
foundations to hire staff such as yourself to help it accomplish its
objectives. I think that gives us the right and duty to look carefully at
what each of us or each organization is doing. We in New Democracy certainly
welcome comments, suggestions, criticisms on anything that we publish or
present on our web pages. We are trying to build a movement against the most
powerful people in society. We have to consider democratic discussion of our
goals and strategies to be one of our greatest strengths, not something to be
When FairTest first organized the Alliance for High Standards, I was frankly
shocked. I knew that we had different purposes, but I didn't expect FairTest
and CARE to go so far as to promote imposing "high standards" on the public
schools of a state with some of the greatest inequalities in the country. It
struck me as an extraordinarily cynical act.
A few of us in New Democracy prepared a statement for discussion with
FairTest and CARE, to attempt to persuade them to adopt a different course.
We never received an answer. That's why I hope Monty's statement hints at a
change of direction for your organization.
I have printed our statement below. I'd be very interested to hear your
Editor, New Democracy
5 Burr Street
Boston, MA 02130
NEW ALLIANCE ON THE WRONG TRACK
By Dave Stratman
Recently a number of organizations in Massachusetts, including the Mass
Teachers Association, the Mass Federation of Teachers, FairTest, CARE, and
others, formed an "Alliance for High Standards not High Stakes" to oppose
MCAS. A careful reading of their "Statement of Purpose" makes clear that this
Alliance is on the wrong track.
Here is their statement and the New Democracy response:
Alliance for High Standards NOT High Stakes
*** Statement of Purpose ***
1. Abolish the high-stakes use of MCAS including its use as a graduation
requirement and for admission to public higher education. Determinations for
graduation must be based on multiple measures.
2. Establish a strong system of authentic school accountability that rests on
a balance of local and state measures and uses multiple forms of
3. The state must provide adequate and sufficient funding for high quality
public education that enables all students to meet reasonable graduation
requirements. The state must ensure that all students receive the opportunity
to reach high standards and timely and effective interventions.
THE NEW DEMOCRACY RESPONSE
The appearance of the broad-based "Alliance" is encouraging, but the approach
to MCAS in the "Statement of Purpose" issued by the Alliance will weaken the
growing movement against high stakes testing and corporate-led education
reform rather than strengthen it:
1) The Alliance endorses "high standards," but imposing "high standards" on
an education system fraught with terrible and enduring inequalities is a way
of setting great numbers of young people up to fail. High standards can only
be the result of sustained, massive effort to improve the schools for all our
children, not the cause of it. Coming before such an effort is made, "high
standards" are simply a trap for students and teachers.
2) The Alliance "Statement of Purpose" accepts the corporate critique which
has been used to justify the decades-long attack on public education: that
public schools do not meet "high standards" and that they need to be held
"accountable." But this is not what's wrong with the public education system.
What's wrong is that the system is shaped and used by the very corporate and
government forces which are calling for "high standards" and "accountability"
to reinforce the growing inequality of society and to legitimize corporate
3) Rather than rejecting the MCAS atrocity for what it is, the Alliance
statement seeks merely to negotiate within the framework that the corporate
forces behind education reform provide, in the hope of lessening the
destructive effects of MCAS. But these tests are destructive not only as a
graduation requirement. They undermine creative teaching and critical
thinking. They drive the curriculum, especially in poorer districts. They are
used as a gateway for passage from one grade to another. They increasingly
determine student success or failure at every level. For example, in Boston,
Superintendent Payzant has ordered teachers to close the gap between the
scores that students receive on MCAS and the grades they receive for
schoolwork; he is, in effect, demanding that teachers flunk more students.
MCAS must be rejected in principle and in its entirety. The Alliance has
offered a compromise on MCAS before it has begun to fight. This compromising
approach undermines the efforts of all those thousands of teachers, parents,
students and others across the Commonwealth who have been fighting to rid the
schools of MCAS.
4) The MCAS is the centerpiece of a very destructive 1993 Education Reform
Act. Much of the Act is designed to intensify competition and stratification
in the schools and to reinforce inequality. The Act promotes the
privatization of public education through charter schools and school choice.
Rather than attacking the massive and enduring inequalities in the education
system, it instead imposes uniform "high standards" on the children and
teachers victimized by these inequalities. It centralizes control over the
curriculum. It undermines the tenure and seniority rights of teachers and
removes important job protections from principals, thus encouraging
vulnerability and fear in highly politicized education systems. Through its
School Based Management schemes, it undermines districtwide ties among
teachers and parents while it places schools in competition with each other
for students, funds, and test scores. It threatens schools and school
districts with state takeover. Through "School to Work" programs, it
threatens to turn education into job training. Through its establishment of
"Gifted and Talented" programs, it creates an alleged student elite. It
establishes three different levels of certificates for students, a step
toward tiered diplomas. These and other destructive reforms must be analyzed,
exposed, rejected. By accepting the corporate framework of education reform
and accepting MCAS in principle, the Alliance statement is in effect
protecting the rest of corporate-led reform from criticism and challenge.
5) The Alliance statement does not expose the destructive motivations of the
corporate sponsors of MCAS and education reform; instead it accepts them at
their word as fellow school improvers. In this way the Alliance statement
adds credibility to the corporate backers of MCAS and sows confusion in the
public mind regarding what the fierce, high-stakes debate over public
education is really about.
6) Having accepted so much of the corporate program for the schools, the nod
by the Alliance Statement in the direction of "adequate and sufficient state
funding for high quality public education..." is like a politician praising
motherhood and apple pie. Such calls are meaningless unless we first expose
the political and structural obstacles that stand in the way of true equality
in education and explain why we don't have it. Our problem is not just MCAS
or corporate-led education reforms. Our problem is an education system which
in many different ways reflects and reinforces the inequalities of our
society—inequalities which are growing ever deeper and more destructive to
the lives of our students.
There are many good people involved in the Alliance, people who share New
Democracy's goals for complete rejection of MCAS and corporate-led reform and
for a real transformation of the schools, to make them all they should be to
serve our children well. But this Statement is not the way to achieve these
important goals which we share.
We encourage the Alliance for High Standards Not High Stakes to
reconsider its Statement of Purpose. We urge the Alliance to join with New
Democracy in our call for:
1) Principled rejection of MCAS in any form.
2) Exposure of the corporate forces behind MCAS.
3) Exposure and rejection of other destructive education reform measures.
4) Fundamental school change to benefit children rather than corporations.
Real school change must involve not greater inequality but real equality;
not greater competition and insecurity for students and teachers but real
cooperation and support; not education to meet the needs of the corporations
for docile employees and obedient citizens but education to prepare students
to understand the world and to change it: education for democracy.
AN ALTERNATIVE STRATEGY:
The "Alliance for High Standards Not High Stakes" appears to be focused on
legislative activity, and the apologetic tenor of its "Statement of Purpose"
seems geared to talking to politicians rather than to the people.
New Democracy believes that we will be much more successful if we focus
on talking directly with the people of our communities rather than with
legislators. We will have far more power if we take collective action
ourselves rather than call on politicians to act in our behalf.
New Democracy has developed a strategy for community organizing and
collective action against MCAS called MassRefusal 2002. We call for
MassRefusal by teachers, supported by their union locals, to administer the
MCAS in 2002, MassRefusal by parents to allow their children to take the MCAS
in 2002. We will ask teachers and parents to "Take the Pledge to REFUSE
MCAS." We will encourage teacher union locals to circulate Pledge forms
whereby teachers Pledge to REFUSE to administer the test if a certain percent
of local members sign the Pledge. We will encourage all teachers, not just
4th, 8th, and 10th grade teachers, to sign and support each other. We will
call for collective job action against MCAS. We will call on teacher union
locals, PTOs, PTAs, and School Councils to organize MassRefusal and encourage
them to hold Parent/Teacher Open Houses at their schools on MCAS test days to
build solidarity and to discuss what real education reform, not the corporate
agenda we've been given, would look like.
The fight over MCAS and education reform involves the most fundamental
questions regarding the future of our children, our public education system,
and our society. It must not be compromised, obscured, or surrendered. New
Democracy invites all members of the Alliance and its constituent
organizations to join us in MassRefusal 2002. Let's fight together for the
goals we all really want. We have a mission of crucial importance to our
children, our profession, our society. Together we have the power to achieve
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