May 11th Resonates; Education’s Crisis Worsens; Shooting Messengers; A New Capital in Public Education; All Roads No Longer Lead to Rome

Weekend greetings, CharterFolk.

May 11th keeps coming back to me of late.

This year I used the date to celebrate one of the most important wins we’ve seen recently, one that happened on the prior May 11th.

It was a column that resonated. Many people wrote me about it. Friends asked to republish it.

What I didn’t know was that, on the same day that I posted it, the National Parents Union would go public with new polling showing that parents believe there is a crisis in public education.

This week, new data emerged showing that the crisis is worsening.

The word came from NWEA, the organization that provides data that many schools and districts use to track student progress through the use of various assessments. Here is how Karyn Lewis, one of the lead researchers at NWEA, described the sobering circumstance during her interview on the PBS Newshour.

I think what’s new about what we have learned in this most recent release of data is that, up until this point, we had seen some positive signs that we were starting to have some progress towards recovery, albeit modest progress. So it’s disheartening and disappointing that, at the end of the ’22-’23 school year, we actually have backslid slightly and the gaps between current achievement levels relative to pre-pandemic trends actually widened. And that’s because students were making gains this year at below-average rates.

It’s rather amazing to think about: The state of learning in our country is growing even worse. And lest we forget, Covid-era loses are in addition to learning loss that happened …

…prior to the pandemic.

It’s a historic loss, on top of a historic loss, on top of a historic investment to intervene, now topped off with another setback.

In recent years, Establishment defenders’ …

… primary response has been to follow the age-old strategy:

Shoot the messenger.

NWEA is a messenger, one of a dwindling number. The NEA has been trying to get rid of NWEA going back more than a decade.

And in the places where NEA forces are ascendant, we see NWEA messengers now being done away with.

It makes me wonder.

Do you think the NEA recognizes that when it goes after NWEA …

,,, it targets itself therein?

Because really, can’t an organization that purports itself to be the national “education” association …

… not an association of educators, but one supposedly representing education itself

…. can’t it see that erasing evidence that education is happening does nothing to encourage the public to keep supporting said education?

Messenger shooting takes many forms. This week we saw the latest:

It’s some new study by four professors plucked from various universities across the country arguing for the end of standardized tests. This comes on the heels of the NEA sharing its vision for an alternative.

Performance-based assessments.

Like anyone is opposed to performance assessments. The more schools that use them to enrich their academic offerings the better as far as I’m concerned.

But as a way to genuinely assess whether learning is happening across schools? As a way to generate the statistically reliable data needed to know whether we’re overcoming learning loss?

The debacle of California’s attempt to create a performance-based assessment system in the 1990s is legendary.

Its pilot year for implementation was my first in the classroom. I remember all the test kits.

Toy dump trucks pulled forward by strings tied to washers of different sizes, towing loads of different weights across simulated roads made of differing grits of sandpaper.

Kids were supposed to log their results on a handy-dandy chart and then justify their conclusions in a write-up at the end.

A fun idea for a science lesson on friction.

But a statistically valid exercise that was supposed to be identically administered and assessed across all 350 of the school’s 5th graders?

Even a first year teacher could see the folly in it all.

And California was attempting to implement it at thousands of campuses across the state, where community after community was seeing the fiasco unfold before their very eyes.

Like I say. A debacle.

Literally billions squandered, with the whole exercise completely unwound before it ever even came on line. And I’m sure it comes as no surprise to learn that CTA was one of the strongest forces calling for it all to be ripped down in the end.

Of course, NEA and CTA and many Establishment defenders remember all this.

To them, their near-term support of performance assessments is just a tactic:

Claim you want a different kind of testing so long as you can rip down the current one and erase all baselines. Then oppose the new one before it can even get on its feet.

And given that no one else has the institutional memory to remember what happened in the past or to call you out for what your role was in the prior fiasco, say whatever the heck you want in the current environment and keep going with your campaign to do away with messengers.

We saw another form of the strategy in California this week, a call for an end to research like the CREDO study that was released last month.

It came from a person who began his service as California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction back in 1983.

40 years later, California’s current superintendent deals with messengers similarly …

… refusing to release testing data until the heat was turned up on him.

They’re all different forms of the same shoot the messenger strategy.

Its effects were laid bare in another column that appeared on May 11th:

Parents simply not understanding what is happening with their own kids learning.

Active and engaged parents like those who participate in the National Parents Union know. Sadly, the vast majority don’t.

But it seems to me that, in the current environment, with technology changing as rapidly as it is, a keep-them-in-the-dark strategy seems simply not viable.

Parents stand on the cusp of unprecedented access to tools to assess the state of their kids’ learning.

One way or another parents are going to get their hands on the data they need …

… meaning the days of the messenger-shooting strategy are ultimately behind us, and its purveyors are on a path for looking pathetically out of touch, if not worse.

It’s why in so many places today we are seeing public education go in such fundamentally different directions.

I liken it to another profound change that occurred on May 11th, one going back to the era that gave start to doing away with messengers.

It was a fateful day when power in the western world moved from one locus to another.

Just like the capital of public education today is shifting.

Away from an aging colossus of school-district-centered control, and toward a whole new order where decision-making authority will rest in the hands of parents.

All of education’s roads may have led to Rome before, but they don’t any more.

They lead where parents and students choose to go, and the path they take will be better lit than it’s ever been before.

May 11th played an important role in setting us on that new trajectory. And its spirit is destined to propel us on even further and faster.

It’s why I believe May 11th is a date that is going to keep coming back to us all again and again for many years to come.