Saturday, December 24, 2005

The New Educational Privatization: Educational Contracting and High Stakes Accountability --

Another from Susan O'hanian's site. This one a study of school privatization. The introduction reads:

The institutional landscape of K-12 educational contracting is fundamentally changing. Based on industry and district data, this study identifies three distinct shifts in the content and structure of interactions between suppliers of instructional goods and local school systems. These shifts include i) elevation of test-related services and products, ii) increasing emphases on technology-based solutions. and iii) an expanding role for the state in spurring market activity. Drawing on a case study of district practice, the study provides evidence of how broader changes are influencing local contracting activities, and the dilemmas and responses generated by these pressures. The study suggests the need for new conceptual approaches to studying educational privatization that draw on the institutional analysis of organizations and also identifies critical questions for future research.

I refer to this research, first published in the Teachers College Record so that I might publish a letter in respnse, also from O'hanian.

Comment by Dick Schutz

Burch’s inquiry and analysis are breaths of fresh air rising above the data-free, tis-taint polemics that have heretofore comprised the “privatization/voucher/charter/reform/etc.” literature. Her inferences are grounded on the simplest of descriptive statistics and direct observation, but they shed more light on what has been and is now going on than all the randomized-control experiments, hierarchical linear analyses, and such bundled together. “Midvale,” N=1, is prototypical of every school district in the country. (School districts, like individuals, are each different; but at the same time they share many commonalities)

What Burch doesn’t note are the fatal technical flaws in federal educational legislation and its implementation over the time period that she considers. Zooming in on these gives sharper focus to the “lens of the organizational field.” Here are five for starters:

· El-hi educational standards are not performance standards; they’re content standards. The “standards” are largely rhetorical, formulated by logrolling committees 5-15 years ago and never revised since their initial proclamation.

· The Item Response Theory that undergirds the mandated standardized tests inherently yields relative, ungrounded scales. The terms “proficient” “below proficient” and such are fictions, based on nothing more than arbitrary segmentations of normalized distributions. Linking the tests to the content standards does not fix the flaw. The same test item formats are sliced differently, but it’s the same baloney any way you cut it. As the Midvale experience indicates, local efforts to fix the flaw have been stifled by federal mandates; and teachers who need “good data” the most are now the least likely to have such.

· The “New Science of Reading” proclaimed by NCLB is empty. Bottom line, each individual teacher is left with the responsibility of integrating the elements of the “Stone Soup science.”

· “Annual Yearly Progress,” which is to get us to “No Child Left Behind by 2014, is a statistically impossible enterprise.

· Recent efforts to introduce “flexibility” in meeting AYP requirements open the door for a whole new set of tests for kids with “specific disabilities”—that is, kids who don’t pass the current tests. By rotating carefully selected kids who are “near the bubble” into SpEd, everybody “wins.” The kids are not harried as much. Teachers get rid of their “worst” kids. Schools and districts make AYP. And the Education/War President can declare that the “Plan for Victory” is working in Education as well as in War. The arrangement gives a whole new meaning to the term, “flexibility,” but I can’t think of anyone who might object, other than maybe the kids and teachers on whom the “cruel, inhuman, and degrading” treatment is being inflicted.

Dick Schutz
— Dick Schutz
Teacher College Review online discussion

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