‘A’ is for achievement, not acquiescence

Grades will reflect achievement, not behavior, in Milwaukee’s elementary and middle schools, reports the Journal-Sentinel.

According to MPS, the updated report card identifies the skills students need to master in each grade level, and replaces overall letter grades with an AD for advanced, PR for proficient, BA for basic and MI for minimal. Proficient is the level expected for a student’s grade level.

The report card offers separate feedback about a student’s work habits, behavior and effort — such as following rules or arriving to class prepared — on a scale of 1 to 4.

High schools will use the traditional A-F system to generate grade-point averages necessary for college applications.

This could be an effort to help boys, write Ann Althouse. “I suspect that the credit-giving business had been perverted into an enterprise of teaching compliance and tolerance for boredom and constraint.”

Godin: Schools steal dreams, teach compliance

Seth Godin’s manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams (What Is School For?), argues that schools are designed to keep kids out of the labor force and train them to be “compliant and productive workers.”

Our current system of teaching kids to sit in straight rows and obey instructions isn’t a coincidence–it was an investment in our economic future. The plan: trade short-term child-labor wages for longer-term productivity by giving kids a head start in doing what they’re told.

. . . As we get ready for the ninety-third year of universal public education, here’s the question every parent and taxpayer needs to wrestle with: Are we going to applaud, push, or even permit our schools (including most of the private ones) to continue the safe but ultimately doomed strategy of churning out predictable, testable, and mediocre factory workers?

The economy has changed dramatically, Godin writes. Teaching compliance is counterproductive now.

Justin Baeder takes on Godin’s thesis here and here on Ed Week‘s On Performance blog.

. . . certainly, the public school curriculum has not kept up with the times to the extent needed to effectively prepare students to compete in the economy.

But were schools ever explicitly designed to create compliant workers? Godin goes so far as to draw a sharp dichotomy between teaching a rich set of skills and teaching obedience. Is it really impossible to teach obedience and creativity at the same time?

I’ve heard the schools-as-factories argument before and found it unpersuasive. The average American never has been a factory worker — and few factory workers needed much education until recently. Furthermore, if we’re educating for compliance, we’re doing a lousy job of it.

That said, it’s worth discussing Godin’s ideas on educating leaders.

Reformers turn into compliance police

Education reformers used to push for holding schools accountable for results, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. Now many reformers, desperate for change, have become compliance cops, “engaging in the same sort of regulating and rulemaking and program-creating and money-spending  that we once abhorred.”

As I wrote yesterday, for example, Race to the Top wasn’t satisfied with rewarding states that already had a track record of boosting student learning. Instead, it lavished money on those jurisdictions willing to pledge themselves to a set of prescriptive reforms that reflected the regnant progressive orthodoxy, circa 2009. Its focus was on rules, process, promises, and money.

To correct for meaningless teacher evaluations “reformers push for rigorous sheep-from-goats evaluation systems that take student learning into account.” But they’re pushing for change at the state level. Districts hire and evaluate teachers.

How do you make sure that districts, and principals, actually use the new evaluation instruments that the state develops? That they truly differentiate among teachers, and take action accordingly? There’s only one way to be sure: we’d better have a strategy to enforce compliance.

Tom Carroll, a charter leader in New York, urged charter schools to turn down Race to the Top money because it came with dictates on how to evaluate and pay teachers.

“The true test of one’s character isn’t how one handles adversity, but how one handles power,” Petrillii concludes. Now that school reformers have some power, what will they do?